DEERFIELD, ILL. — Entering the NBA at 19 years old is a difficult task and for Marquis Teague, coming off an NCAA national championship at Kentucky, playing on a veteran team like the Bulls and for a demanding coach in Tom Thibodeau, it certainly wasn’t made any easier.
The Indianapolis native had his moments, faring decently against the likes of Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday, both All-Star point guards, in short stints, as well as stepping up when called upon in Game 7 of the Bulls first-round playoff series win over the Nets in Brooklyn. But the point guard largely received inconsistent playing time and experienced his share of struggles, so a positive summer-league performance in Las Vegas was definitely an encouraging sign for his immediate future.
Still, Teague enters this season as season as the third point guard on the depth chart, behind starter Derrick Rose and backup floor general Kirk Hinrich, not to mention the training-camp presence of veteran journeyman Mike James, a favorite of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau going back to their time together in Houston, as well as a stint in Chicago during the 2011-12 campaign. But the soft-spoken Teague, now 20, exudes confidence these days, some of which has to do with a much-improved outside jumper, his biggest weakness as a rookie, but also knowing what he’s in store for heading into his second season in the league.
“I’ve got a year under my belt. I feel like I got a lot of experience. I played in the playoffs, Game 7. I’ve been working hard over the summer, so I’m just confident in my abilities. I’m just ready,” he explained Sunday. “I just know what to expect. I’m in better shape, just more prepared.”
Teague isn’t concerned about having to battle for playing time and actually welcomes the challenge of having to do so, a tribute to his competitive nature and understanding of how Thibodeau operates, especially after teammate Jimmy Butler had a similar experience as a rookie, then witnessing his second-year emergence last season.
“I would love for that to happen. I never know. I know I’m going to put all my effort towards it, working hard every day, making sure I’m doing everything I need to do, so hopefully that could happen for me,” he said. “You don’t want anything handed to you. Everything you get, you’ve got to work for, especially playing for somebody like Thibs. You want to work for everything you get. That just pushes me to work even harder every day.”
While Thibodeau wouldn’t fully commit to Teague claiming a regular role in the Bulls’ rotation, he didn’t rule out the possibility and in general, seemed pleased (at least as much as the tight-lipped coach would let on) with the speedy youngster’s development.
“He could,” Thibodeau allowed, when asked if Teague could see consistent minutes.” I think he had a very good summer, worked hard. The one thing is I think he’s a far different player today than he was a year ago. For certain.”
Given the aforementioned Hinrich’s ability to play both guard positions, one opportunity that could present itself to Teague is playing alongside the veteran in somewhat of a dual point-guard second-unit backcourt for short stints when Rose is resting, particularly against opponents who go small, or even to allow Rose to play off the ball to form a speed-merchant duo if Hinrich is again plagued by the injury bug.
“I definitely see us doing that. I’d love to play with Kirk. He can defend either position. He’s so unselfish. He’s easy to play with,” Teague said.
Thibodeau is a man of routine, so perhaps it’s wishful thinking, unless Teague goes above and beyond any preconceived expectations. While limiting turnovers and using his quickness to become a factor as an on-ball defender are also priorities, at the top of the list is progressing into at least a semblance of an outside-shooting threat, something Teague believes he’s started to address.
“I’m very comfortable. I feel like every time I shoot, I’m going to make it,” he said. “I put in a lot of work, a lot of repetitions, so I’m confident every time I shoot it.”
That alone is a big step from his rookie season.