How the Indiana Pacers Can Maximize Jeff Teague’s Abilities

Apr 24, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) shows emotion after making a shot against the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Pacers 98-85. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) shows emotion after making a shot against the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Pacers 98-85. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

If Nate McMillan wants to get the most out of Jeff Teague, he should try a few of these adjustments that will help the lightning-quick point guard thrive.

Jeff Teague and I have a lot in common. We have roughly 99.5% similar DNA. We both have two eyes, two ears and a mouth. And we both live with our mothers.

Granted, one of us does so by choice.

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But the biggest similarity between Jeff and I is our inability to maximize our potential. Ya see, Jeff has never really morphed into the primary ball-handler some hoped he would.

And I know what you guys are thinking: “JEFF TEAGUE MADE AN ALL-STAR GAME!”

First of all, that was right in my ear. Calm down. We can be mature about this.

Second of all, I know. I know he made an All-Star game. How well-deserved that was can be debated, but I’m not going to argue that Jeff Teague hasn’t had some nice years.

Still: Someone who lives in the paint as much as Teague does should churn out high-percentage looks. That has never been his MO.

Unlocking Super Efficient Jeff Teague

So what’s this guy’s deal? How do you unlock Super Efficient Jeff Teague?

As with so many others, it starts with his shot.

Teams don’t worry about Jeff Teague shooting. Hell, they want him to shoot. They go under every screen against him in the playoffs, and they have no problem dropping back, daring him to attack the rim.

And Teague has no problem taking them up on that invite; he has the wheels to get wherever he wants, whenever he wants.

But as with many mighty mouse point guards, he struggles to finish in traffic. He often settles for low-percentage floaters, a key reason he shot only 50% on shot attempts within 10 feet this past year.

These struggles plague his pick-and-roll game, making him ill-equipped to play with a traditional roll man; defenses dream about bricky pick-and-roll combos that can’t force them out of Thibodeau-style ices and drops.

Forcing help rotations is the extremely well known secret to a productive offense, and Teague just doesn’t scare people enough to cause defensive breakdowns. To get the defense reeling, the Pacers will need to grease the skids a bit.

Now, for those of you that know my writing (Hi, Mom), you know I can sometimes get a little bit too far into the basketball weeds. It’s a blessing and a curse. Well, it’s not really a blessing to be honest (I do NOT do well at parties), but I can’t help myself. This next part gets pretty heady and analytical, but just bear with me, all right? All right.

The Pacers can subsidize Teague’s pick-and-roll penetration by having him start really far back, and running really fast …

Jeff Teague in the Pick and Roll

Mind-numbingly complex as it may be, Usain Bolting into the occasional ball screen is an easy way to break the defense and draw a crowd at the rim. Staying in front of Teague is hard enough when he starts from a standstill. When he starts from a full-on sprint? Impossible.

With a longer runway, Teague can put more distance between himself and the defending big by the time he reaches the paint, forcing help defenders to commit and opening up kickouts to shooters.

Similarly, “pistol” sets could leverage Teague’s speed for easy looks in semi-transition:

In this action, the point guard brings the ball downcourt, passes it off to a teammate at the angle, and sprints full-speed into a handoff towards the baseline. The premise is the same as before: Jeff Teague is fast — faster than almost anyone in the NBA. Staying on his hip when he’s in top gear is no easy task, and there will be times where dudes just get burned.

Even when Teague’s defender thwarts the initial action, the Pacers could transition into an angle pick-and-roll, and ask Teague (Lillard in the still below) to inject a dose of confusion by continuing his baseline jaunt.

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Originally on the weak side of the pick-and-roll, Teague’s defender is responsible for tagging the roll man — putting a body on him to prevent a clean roll to the basket for a dunk.

As Teague continues down the baseline, toward the opposite corner, he drags his defender along with him as the rest of the offense shifts up the floor accordingly. Now the closest defender to the rim, with no one on the weak side, Teague’s defender is responsible for helping on both the ball-handler’s drive to the basket and the big’s roll — a tough task for anyone, especially a small unversed in the art of big man rotations.

Forcing a defender to be mindful of this impromptu change in assignments while they’re already focused on keeping up with a flyer like Teague throws one more variable into the defensive equation, increasing the odds of a breakdown. If no breakdown occurs, the defense is still in the precarious position of having their point guard, typically their smallest defender, be the last line of defense at the rim.

Of course, it’s not reasonable to ask Teague to spend all game in a sprinter’s stance; he’ll get tired, sloppy and careless. He needs a more permanent solution.

Enter Myles Turner.

Jeff Teague and the Pop Man

The best pop men force defenses to abandon their traditional coverages; even coaches from the ’80s would wince at the idea of dropping back and giving up wide open 3s to big-time jumpshooters.

Turner is on his way to becoming a big-time jumpshooter. He shot 40.7 % on long twos this past season, and his form screams “YAK YAK!”

If Turner stretches his range out to the great beyond this season, teams will be forced to corral Teague higher on the floor to have any hope of running Turner off the 3-point line, and Teague should have no problem slicing through ill-positioned doubles and poor-angled shows.

And by coming out to the perimeter, bigs forfeit the main advantage they have on Teague: Length around the basket.

Teague isn’t a finish-up-over-you kind of guy; even bigs he dismisses at the point of attack can usually bother a good shot by staying close enough to ward off a lay-in.

But venturing out to defend the 3-point line means forfeiting the possibility of recovering to defend the rim. Teague should end up with cleaner finishes and more clean-cut finish-or-pass decisions at the goal:

Still: Turner won’t always be there to help him out, and with Paul George playing major minutes, Teague will often have to surrender primary ball-handling duties. Part of optimizing Teague offensively is making his presence felt behind the scenes.

Jeff Teague Off the Ball

Despite shooting 40% on 275 attempts from deep last season, Teague probably won’t provide much gravity; he’s a 35.5% career three-point shooter — barely above average. The smart money says his numbers regress.

Even so, Teague isn’t Tony Allen: teams have to closeout on him. When they close out fast, he can glide by them with ease, keeping the possession alive. When they laze their way out to him, he can loft uncontested — a result the Pacers have to be fine with.

Of course, there will be games when Teague isn’t feeling it — because he was up late doing chores at his mom’s house — and his jumper draws nothing but iron. Teams will ignore him more than the local Starbucks barista ignores my advances (I’m not giving up yet, Sandra), and the Pacers, perpetually one non-shooter away from asphyxiation, will struggle to score. It’s imperative that Indiana find ways to get Teague involved besides simple backcuts (although some backcuts are nice too, don’t get me wrong).

Unleashing his inner screener may be the way to go.

He could play a crucial role in the Spurs’ famous hammer action, something that Frank Vogel started incorporating into the Pacers attack more and more over the past few years.

Tim Duncan’s man is responsible for help at the rim against the pick-and-roll. Fixated on the primary action, he does not see Duncan screen for Marco Belinelli, freeing him for a wide open 3 from the corner.

The Pacers could essentially slide Teague into Duncan’s spot by inverting the roles of big and small — having Myles Turner spot up at the top of the arc, while Teague chills in the weak side corner. Teague’s man would then have weakside help responsibilities at the rim, and Teague could screen for the same corner looks when his man slides down into the paint against drives.

Ball screens with Teague as the screener could warp defensive matchups. Teams rarely, if ever, ask their smalls to drop against pick-and-rolls; guards aren’t comfortable doing it, nor do they have the requisite length to simultaneously defend screener and ball-handler.

So when guards screen for their colossal counterparts, teams are forced to hedge, trap or switch — essentially double-teaming the ball-handler (if only for a moment) or granting an undesirable matchup.

Paul George/Teague ball screens could throw an opposing point guard into the torture chamber with George, where he can either exploit the mismatch for a high-percentage look, or fast-track passes to surrounding shooters when a double arrives.

Should teams stubbornly refuse to switch, Teague could slip the screen for a free run towards the basket.

Maximizing Jeff Teague in Indiana

While it’s hard to know if Nate McMillan will make any of these exact adjustments, these are the type of little quirks that will be key to maximizing Jeff Teague’s abilities during his stay in Indiana.

Eight years into his NBA career, he is who he is: A point guard without the off-the-dribble bombs or rim-destroying drives to bend defenses to his will.

Next: Myles Turner's Top 10 Plays

Teague will never be capable of carrying a top-flight offense on his back, but with enough creativity, and the right pieces around him, he can be a very valuable cog in giving the Pacers the faster, higher-scoring offense that Larry Bird is demanding.