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Did Jeff Teague prove in last year's playoffs that he is ready to run an NBA team?
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With Teague, Hawks may finally get the point

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:39AM

Let the record show Atlanta was famously burned twice: In "Gone With The Wind" and the 2005 NBA draft.

Hawks fans know. The club needed a point guard but took Marvin Williams instead with the No. 2 overall selection, passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams. A curse was born that day, and the Hawks have frantically tried to compensate for their mistake ever since.

They wasted millions on free agent Speedy Claxton, wasted draft picks on Acie Law (taken 11th) and Salim Stoudemire, then spent (wasted?) millions and assets by trading for and extending an old Mike Bibby. And they still didn't have their man.

(We should add the Hawks compounded their mistake by giving Marvin Williams a nearly $40 million extension two summers ago.)

Once more, the Hawks tried again for a point guard, getting Jeff Teague with the 19th pick in 2009, but kept him on the bench for much of the last two seasons, raising suspicions that Teague was another failed decision. And that was amplified when the Hawks surrendered their No. 1 pick in 2010, Jordan Crawford, to get point guard Kirk Hinrich at the trade deadline last spring.

But maybe the Curse of 2005 is over, because it appears the Hawks have their man, and he isn't Hinrich. No, Hinrich will be Wally Pipp if what we saw from Teague last May in the playoffs is a sign of what's coming.

Not only did Teague score 21 points in three of the five games in the second round, he did it against league MVP Derrick Rose. It was astonishing, only because no one saw it coming. Teague at times was the best Hawk on the floor, even outplaying Joe Johnson, and he showed all the elements -- leadership and the ability to play under control -- that were perceived weaknesses.

"To be honest," said Teague, "I really didn't even notice it was the playoffs and the big stage."

It makes you wonder if the Hawks knew what they had in Teague, who saw 10 minutes a night as a rookie, then 13 last season, by two coaches, Mike Woodson and then Larry Drew. Only when Hinrich was injured late in the season and knocked out of the playoffs did Teague get the call.

Was Teague a poor practice player? Was he really not good enough to supplant Bibby last season? Why didn't the Hawks have Teague split time with Bibby to give him experience? Had they known Teague was good enough to start, the Hawks surely wouldn't have traded for Hinrich and given up Crawford, a promising scorer who could've been an inexpensive replacement for Jamal Crawford as sixth man.

Anyway, Teague appears to hold no grudges, and even says the last two years were filled with learning experiences.

"Maybe I didn't fully understand the NBA game," he said. "But I really didn't get the chance the last two years. When Kirk went down I felt it was my time. I felt I could do that all year. It's just about having the opportunity to play."

The main issue with Teague was leadership, but if he was hesitant to take charge, it was understandable: He was a young player and it's not easy playing alongside Joe Johnson, who controls the ball. Well, Teague took the ball and the keys away from Johnson against the Bulls. He's not very vocal but says he can compensate with the lead-by-example method.

Hawks center Al Horford said: "He needs to be aggressive on the court and assertive as a leader. That's going to help determine what type of team we're going to be."

Also, is Teague a true point guard, or someone pretending to be one? Pass-first or shoot-first? That's why the Hawks traded for Hinrich, and it was a decision Teague didn't see coming.

"I was a little disappointed," said Teague. "I guess (the Hawks) didn't see me as a point guard at first. I was trying to tell them I played point guard my whole life. But I think Kirk and I will work well together when he gets healthy. He can play both (guard) positions and I can play a little at the two."

But Teague makes it clear which position he prefers.

"I see myself as a basketball player, but I'm definitely a point guard. On the defensive end I love guarding the ball."

Two impressive weeks in May is not enough time to accurately judge the future of a player. The basketball graveyard is filled with those who teased and then regressed. But forgive the Hawks for thinking big and confidently about Teague, given their atrocious history with point guards and their inability to find one that'll stick.

"I just got a feeling that I'm their man," said Teague. "I never want to leave Atlanta."

The three-step plan

1. Josh Smith appears lighter and ready to embrace whatever role the Hawks want, which has always been an unresolved issue. Smith and Al Horford, arguably, are both out of position and must play power forward and center out of necessity. Sometimes that causes matchup problems for the other team, sometimes for the Hawks. A natural center obtained in a trade would fix this "problem."

2. This will be a very interesting year for Joe Johnson, who saw his scoring average drop immediately after signing that outrageous $121 million contract. With the Hawks unwilling to deal with the luxury tax, he needs to remain the Hawks' best player in order to justify the cash, especially in the post-season.

3. There's no way Marvin Williams will ever make Hawks fans forgive the team for passing on Deron Williams and Chris Paul in the draft, but he needs to stray from his comfort zone and be more aggressive. Is that in his personality? If it doesn't happen now, then it'll never happen.

Three points:

1. The botched sale to Alex Meruelo last summer was a major setback for the franchise, if only because a new owner would've sent a clear and different message to the fan base. But now, the Hawks remain with the much-maligned Atlanta Spirit Group and presumably are back on the block, as they've been for years. When does this ownership madness ever end?

2. Can someone explain why the Hawks are such a hard sell in Atlanta? They haven't exactly been a model franchise but other teams are poorly run and still find an acceptable audience in that city. Atlanta couldn't even sell out when Dominique Wilkins played and the Hawks were a playoff staple. Ticket prices are reasonable and the Hawks are winners again and yet, attendance is spotty unless the Lakers or Knicks are in town. Tuesday nights in the regular season can be a lonely experience at Philips Arena, a nice place to watch a game.

3. The Hawks are a very poor rebounding team (28th overall) for being so athletic, and that could continue to hold them back from reaching the elite. In the post-season, it's about defense and rebounding, two areas that still plague an otherwise intriguing team.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

AT A GLANCE

LAST YEAR: 44-38, 3rd in Southeast

FINISH: Lost in Eastern Conference semifinals

2010-11 Regular Season Standings

2010-11 TEAM LEADERS

Joe Johnson

18.2 PPG

Al Horford

9.3 RPG

Joe Johnson

4.7 APG

2010-11 STATISTICS

  OFFENSE DEFENSE
PPG 95.0 95.8
RPG 39.3 40.6
APG 22.0 21.4
FG % 0.462 0.460
3PT % 0.352 0.338
FT % 0.779 0.774
  Complete 2010-11 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

JEFF TEAGUE, POINT GUARD

5.2 PPG | 2.0 APG | 1.5 RPG

Barely a role player during the regular season, Teague was a revelation against the Bulls in the playoffs. Will it translate to a starting role with the Hawks in his third season?

JOE JOHNSON, SHOOTING GUARD

18.2 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 3.5 APG

Johnson's numbers dipped last year despite a fifth-straight All-Star appearance. Whether that is due to age, or to the maturation of his teammates, remains to be seen.

MARVIN WILLIAMS, SMALL FORWARD

10.4 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 1.4 APG

Williams disappointed last season, and was often replaced during crunch time by super-sub Jamal Crawford. The talent is there, but confidence seems to be missing.

JOSH SMITH, POWER FORWARD

16.5 PPG | 8.5 RPG | 2.3 APG

Always a lightning rod amongst Hawks fans and NBA observers, the multi-talented Smith is a candidate to be moved if management decides to shake things up.

AL HORFORD, CENTER

15.3 PPG | 9.3 RPG | 3.5 APG

Horford, a two-time All-Star, has started to become a bigger part of the Hawks' offensive plans, in part because he has developed one of the NBA's best mid-range jumpshots.

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Kirk Hinrich6-4190GSteady and reliable vet might be better coming off bench.
Tracy McGrady6-9230FOne-time star is capable of providing 10 minutes at the wings.
Zaza Pachulia6-11275CClumsy offensively, but he is tough and the team's only natural center.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: G-F Tracy McGrady. F Vladimir Radmanovic, C Keith Benson, F Magnum Rolle

LOST:  F Damien Wilkins, G Jamal Crawford

MAN ON THE SPOT

AL HORFORD, CENTER

Al Horford is rightfully praised for his leadership and maturity but he's coming off the toughest stretch of his career. It happened in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bulls, when he was badly outplayed by his friend and college roommate, Joakim Noah. Horford had only one solid game in five, struggled offensively and mostly escaped the public wrath that instead went to Josh Smith. It's not totally Horford's fault; he's still playing center when he should be a power forward.

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