HANSEN: Why Jeff Teague is, in Fact, the Right Man for the Job

(photo credit: Jim Faklis)

The additions the Minnesota Timberwolves made leading up to the 2017-18 season had many around the basketball world intrigued and excited.

And for good reason. Whenever you add two NBA All-Stars, a reigning Sixth Man of the Year and a hard-nosed veteran in the post, that certainly helps a team in the hopes of ending a 13-year playoff drought.

But those additions came at the expense of shipping away some faces that have become very familiar in Minnesota over the years, mainly Ricky Rubio.

Rubio was traded to the Utah Jazz just before free agency after spending the first six years of his NBA career with the Wolves. During his time in Minnesota, Rubio’s offensive production – or lack thereof – came under scrutiny for most of his stay, and most of it was warranted. It was, and still is, Rubio’s biggest flaw in his game. His defense, though, was where many thought he stood out over many other point guard options.

Some might wonder why the Wolves, led by defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, would trade away one of their best defensive players. Who could fill in and do a similar – if not better – job than what fans have seen from Rubio at the point?

The answer lies within one of those four additions Minnesota made during the offseason: Rubio’s replacement, Jeff Teague.

Thibodeau and Wolves general manager Scott Layden took some heat after spending nearly $5 million more per year for a player many viewed as a step down from Rubio. But in fact, Teague is very similar, and even just a step up from Rubio on both ends of the floor, all while likely bringing the point guard style Thibodeau has been looking for since arriving in Minnesota.

Let’s take a deep dive into comparing these two point guards, starting with going back to last season:

Offensively, last season was Rubio’s best of his career to date, averaging a career-high 11.1 points, 9.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds. Teague, who played his first and only season with the Indiana Pacers, had a year that lined up just above his career averages, tallying 15.3 points, 7.8 assists and four rebounds per game.

And unlike what Rubio was last year under Thibodeau, you get the feeling that Teague is more of a Thibodeau-type player. And actually, the statistics back that up as being true.

But beyond the initial stat lines of both players, here’s a deeper look at each player’s offensive production from that season:

 Player 3-point % 2-point % Effective FG% Catch and Shoot Pull-ups
Rubio 30.8%  44.3%  44.8%  48.1%  43.5%
Teague 36.0%  47.2%  49.1%  55.6%  47.9%

Teague’s ability to shoot from beyond the arc, as well as shoot a pull-up jumper or catch-and-shoot from anywhere on the floor, outshines Rubio by a decent amount. Plus, Teague is actually a threat to score in the pick-and-roll game, which Rubio hasn’t been able to consistently do so far in his career. Many of those differences have already been on display this year, and is another dimension Teague adds to the Wolves the point guard before him lacked.

Now, let’s get to defense. In an area where many thought Rubio was one of the top point guards in the league in, Teague managed to do a little better:

 Player Opponent 3-point % Opponent 2-point % Opponent FG% in the paint Defensive Win Shares Value Over Replacement
Rubio 36.1%  49.9%  58.5%  1.7 (133rd in NBA)  1.7 (69th in NBA)
Teague 35.8%  49.2%  57.9%  2.4 (70th in NBA)  2.6 (36th in NBA)

No, the differential isn’t as noticeable as it is on the offensive end, but it just shows that these two point guards are very similar defensively and are capable of being a few of the top defensive point guards in the NBA.

Fast forward to this season, Teague has carried that offensive and defensive production to Minnesota and has fit in nicely to the new-look Wolves. So far through 11 games, he is averaging 13 points, a career-high-tying 7.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and a career-high 1.9 steals per game. Teague has also stepped up on both ends against the likes of All-Stars Russell Westbrook (twice), Kemba Walker and Steph Curry (for some of the game, anyway).

If you look back at Thibodeau’s success in his previous head coaching job with the Chicago Bulls, he had Derrick Rose, a point guard who could be a solid defender, while also being able to turn it on at any moment on the offensive end.

When Rose played under Thibodeau from 2011 to 2015, he averaged 21.8 points, 6.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and shot an effective field goal percentage of 47 percent. Defensively, he recorded a defensive wins shared margin of 2.1 while maintaining a defensive rating of 104.

So far in his career, Teague has averaged 12.6 points, 5.6 assists, 2.4 rebounds and has shot an effective field goal percentage of 48.9 percent. Defensively, he has had a defensive wins shared total of 2.0 and a defensive rating of 106. Teague hasn’t been and won’t be what Rose was offensively during that four-year span in Chicago, but Teague has been a rather similar player to Rose throughout his career, making him a nice fit in a Thibodeau system.

Teague hasn’t been unbelievable to start this season, with inconsistency being an issue early on in the season, appearing once again in Saturday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns. But on this current Wolves team, he doesn’t have to put up crazy numbers every night. He has, however, shown spurts of what he’s capable of and has proven to be another weapon on both ends of the ball, which wasn’t the case with Rubio in past seasons.

That versatility on both ends of the floor is something Minnesotans haven’t seen in the past handful of years. And that’s why Teague should, in fact, become a nice fit at point guard for the Wolves.

Catch Mitchell every Monday on Locked On Wolves!

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