They Smell Like the Future: Jeff Teague

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 22, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

Wake Forest Sophomore
6′1.5”, 175 lbs. (Combine measurements)
21 years old
Point guard/shooting guard
Projection: 1st round

For the most part, I try not to worry about position.  I’m not concerned with which letters appear next to a player’s name on their rookie card.  Team needs are often better defined as particular skills or even skill sets, and to boil that down to position alone essentially ignores a handful of options.  That said, Jeff Teague’s position terrifies me.  He’s obviously a pretty great talent, albeit one that could have benefited from more time playing college ball.  He’s going to be a fine scorer on the next level, and he’s in no danger of slipping out of the first round.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with scoring ‘point guards’, provided they’re surrounded with the proper accoutrements.  The Mavs got a first hand look at a dynamite scoring point in Tony Parker.  Jason Terry is another prime example.  Unfortunately, both Parker and Terry are outliers; many other combo guards in the league are high volume scorers but also high volume shot takers (Ben Gordon, Monta Ellis, etc.).  Many are turnover-prone, defensively inept, and lack the ability to set up even the most basic offensive sets under duress.

I don’t expect Teague to be an anomaly in the Parker/Terry/Gilbert Arenas mold.  He’ll score in the pros at a rate that’ll pay the bills, but likely won’t bring the average team any kind of sustained success.  The Mavs want a point guard waiting in the wings when Jason Kidd finally hangs ‘em up or leaves in free agency, but you don’t leave the keys in the ignition for Jeff Teague.  The dude is a shooting guard through and through, and one that can’t defend opposing point guards particularly well.

I guess that’s where I draw the line: defending the point guard position.  I have no problem with a combo guard on the Mavs, provided they can defend the 1.  JET, again, is an exception to the rule, but he’s weaseled his way into my heart with not just dynamite scoring, but very strong efficiency numbers.  Looking at Terry’s defensive struggles guarding either guard position, why would the Mavs wish that on a new prospect?  Why would they bring in a guy poised for a career of the same troubles, regardless of what his offensive production may be?  The Mavs are not only drafting for a contributor now, but also hopefully someone who can stick around for a new era.  That new era should not be built on the shoulders of an undersized shooting guard that has shown little defensive aptitude.

I don’t mean to undervalue him; Teague is a player.  He has a pretty valuable skill, and one that will translate to a long, well-paid career in the NBA.  Still, I can’t help shaking the feeling that Teague is best served as a back-up.  He seems destined for a shot-in-the-arm scorer, which may or may not fit a team’s needs.  The Mavs already have that player in Terry, and to a lesser extent in J.J. Barea.  They’ve pretty much got the market cornered on scoring small guards.  That’s why I don’t like Teague’s prospects with the Mavs.  If he can fool some teams into thinking he can reliably run an offense, he could end up as a long-term starter at point guard, despite his shortcomings in that role.  Maybe that works if you’re running the triangle, or if you have another player to share those responsibilities, but the Mavs don’t have that luxury.

Pro-Level Projections:

I’ve asked Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Teague.  The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc.  The projections are based on Teague’s two-year career at Wake.  For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):

(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played.  For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)

Okay, first thing’s first — a note about the player comparisons.  Teague had a stat line that had few comparison points.  There are plenty of players that do what Teague does, but few that do those same things on Teague’s projected scale; he’s somewhere between the sweet scoring two guards who dish a few assists (think Monta Ellis) and the much less effective developing prospects at that same position (think Louis Williams).  That led me to include not one, but two rookies, who have a statistical sample size of a whopping one season.

That said, there’s still some sense to be made of all this.  Teague’s career averages project to balance out in the same range as Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo’s rookie seasons.  Not bad at all, but falling well short of stardom.  Mayo and Gordon also have a bit of height on Teague, making their lives as shooting guards a bit easier.

In my opinion, Larry Hughes compared the most closely out of the three regardless.  Hughes doesn’t shoot as effectively by any stretch, but he holds the edge in rebounding.  Regardless, Teague would likely find the most success in a role similar to where Hughes should have been his entire career: coming off the bench.  Both have the speed and savvy to score off the bench, even if Hughes has been deluded by either himself or team management into fancying himself a starter.  I realize that Larry Hughes isn’t the kindest of projections, but the numbers have no agenda.  That, and the clear lack of options for comparison made things a bit problematic.

  • Jordan

    Monta Ellis a volume shooter? A career .488 shooter is one of your prime examples of a volume shooter? I know I’m picking on a very minor part of your article, but there have to be better examples than a guy who shot 53% in 07-08 (better percentage than Tony Parker that year). This guy is about as efficient a scorer at his height as you’ll ever find.

    I won’t try to fight the “defensively inept” comment though.

  • http://www.thetwomangame.com Rob Mahoney

    I’m talking Monta Ellis the point guard, not Monta Ellis the shooting guard. It’s a different game when you have a motivated Baron Davis dishing you the ball on the wing. I’m not going to tell you to throw Ellis’ statistics out the window, but things could be very different for Ellis going forward.

    That said, you’re right. Wasn’t a very good example.