Extension Candidate: Jeff Teague

This will be a critical season for Jeff Teague, which might make the remaining two months of the offseason even more important. The Hawks brought in serious competition at the point guard position when they traded for Devin Harris. The pair put up similar numbers last season, with Harris averaging 11.3 points, 5.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game with a 16.0 PER for the Jazz, while Teague put up 12.6 PPG and 4.9 APG to go with 2.0 turnovers per game and a 15.8 PER. GM Danny Ferry gave an initial vote of confidence to Teague, as Lang Greene of HoopsWorld wrote earlier this summer. 

“He’s still a young player,” Ferry said. “Last year was the first time where he just played. He got to play, totally green lighted. It will be interesting to see how he matures this year and continues to develop with things. It will be more his team. We don’t have Joe (Johnson). We don’t have Marvin (Williams). It will be more of Jeff’s team than it has ever been. I think he’s capable of stepping in and doing a good job with that.”

Teague was third behind Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in minutes played last season, so between that and Ferry's statement, it appears he'll get the initial nod as starter during training camp. That arrangement might not last. Johnson has suggested he and Harris could play together in the backcourt, as Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, but with Lou Williams and Kyle Korver around, minutes at the two-guard spot will be tough to come by in Atlanta. The uncertainty should be enough to prompt Teague and agent Mike Conley Sr. to gauge Ferry's interest in a long-term extension before the October 31st deadline to do so. Though it would be a hedge against the 24-year-old's continued improvement in his fourth NBA season, an extension could provide security and a leg up on Harris, who's set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Teague's case centers around his play since the 2011 playoffs, when he stepped in as the starter for an injured Kirk Hinrich and averaged 11.8 PPG and 3.5 APG while shooting 51.4% in six postseason contests. He remained in the starting lineup for all 66 games last season, even when Hinrich was healthy, and drastically outdid his numbers of 4.2 PPG and 1.8 APG in 11.9 minutes per game over his first two seasons. His peripheral statistics demonstrate that his increased production has not simply been a function of more playing time, as his true shooting percentage (.551), turnover percentage (15.1) and win shares per 48 minutes (.131) were all better last season than in either of his first two years.

Despite that improvement and Ferry's stated confidence, the Hawks are likely to be a reluctant partner in extension talks. The team appears set on clearing space for the future, with only about $18.484MM committed for 2013/14. Harris, a former All-Star, has struggled in recent seasons, but at age 29 is still a reliable option at the point capable of delivering a career year. Given their similarities, it would seem wise for the Hawks to sit back and let the play of Harris and Teague this season dictate who they'll re-sign this summer. Even if Teague, given his age, appears to be the better long-term option, he'll be a restricted free agent next summer, when Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Jose Calderon, Darren Collison and others could all be part of a crowded buyer's market.

Teague's agent needn't look far for a comparison, as son Mike Conley Jr. averaged 12.0 PPG and 5.3 APG with 2.1 turnovers per game and a 16.8 PER in his third season back in 2009/10, numbers similar to Teague's last year. Conley got a five-year, $40MM extension from the Grizzlies, but that was under the old CBA. Teague isn't eligible for a five-year extension in the current set-up, and given the Hawks' leverage, I doubt they'd go for $8MM a year. If Teague would be willing to settle for $6MM a year over three seasons, a deal that would bring him to unrestricted free agency at age 28, I think that might get the job done.

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