Prior to his team’s 91-84 loss to the Bulls at the United Center on a snowy Saturday night in Chicago, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague tried to explain how opponents are approaching defending him in the midst of his breakout season.
“They trap the ball screens a little more, things like that,” he began to say, before trailing off. “I’m just playing, man. I don’t know.”
It’s a bit more complicated than that, but whatever the 25-year-old speedster’s mentality is, it’s been working for him. Teague had 16 points and six assists on the evening, a bit lower than his season averages, but it was evident that one of the primary concerns of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defense was to not allow him to get going.
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Teague is garnering All-Star consideration around the league for his role in Atlanta’s early-season success, but first-year Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer insists that individual honors are not what motivate the emerging floor general.
“Well, I think Jeff is great. He’s got a good mentality. I think he and us, we want him to improve every day and not compare him to others or get into those kind of debates,” the coach explained. “But I know we’re very happy with his taking the responsibility and taking the opportunity that he’s had this year. We feel like he’s playing great and if he’s considered in that mix, and All-Star Game, All-Star player, that’s a credit to him and his work, and how he’s taken this challenge and taken this responsibility. Because he’s had a heck of a year so far.”
Indeed, Teague is more willing to open up when asked about the Hawks’ start to the campaign, which has seen them remain steady as the third-best team in the East—albeit in a down year for the conference—something he isn’t surprised about.
“We knew we had a good group. We’ve got great guys on and off the floor,” he told CSNChicago.com. “We knew it was going to take time for us to jell and get used the new system, but I think we’re picking it up pretty well. Still getting better now, but for the most part, we’re doing all right.”
The Indianapolis native’s laid-back approach matches his smooth game and while he’s beginning to become a more recognizable name outside Atlanta, just a few years ago, he was struggling to even get on the court, prior to the Hawks’ 2011 second-round playoff series against the Bulls. That early-career experience allows him to relate to what his younger brother, Bulls’ point guard Marquis Teague, currently on a D-League assignment, is now going through.
“Keep your head up, continue to work hard,” the elder Teague said of the advice he gives his sibling, presently a member of the Iowa Energy. “Just make the most of it when you’re down there playing. That’s all you can really say.”