Jeff Teague's 'constant approach' keeps him on the path towards stardom

Kevin C. Cox

This is a big year for Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, and so far, he's progressed nicely. Can he continue to move forward and develop into the kind of player the Hawks think he can be?

BROOKLYN -- The general atmosphere in the Atlanta Hawks locker room was loose, considering the team had just lost six of their last eight entering Friday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets.

True, the Hawks did just come off a wire-to-wire, 14-point victory over the Nets two nights prior, but they were also one game removed from being embarrassed by the Chicago Bulls, scoring a franchise-tying-low five points in the entire second quarter.

"You always gotta look to the next game," Jeff Teauge, the team's starting point guard, said. "You may not play well one night, but there's always another game coming. And you have to forget about it, if you can -- you can't be too high or too low in a game; be proud of yourself in one game and then next game be so down -- you just gotta take a little constant approach to everything."

That mostly includes Teague. Since the 2011 playoffs, Teague is the only starter in Atlanta to play -- and start -- in every single game. And in each game since, win or lose, he's begun to find his rhythm and forget whatever it is he's been told he can't do as a basketball player.

Jeff Teague's rap game

"If I didn't play basketball and love it like I do I would be a battle rapper," Teague tweeted out just days before the start of the 2012-13 NBA season. Sure, he added a "lol" at the end, but, naturally, I decided to treat it as a declaration and take the bait.

I asked Teague, prior to his Hawks tipping off against the Brooklyn Nets in night two of their home-and-away set last Friday, about the tweet, knowing full well what I was most likely about to become the punchline.

"So, you want to do rap battles," I started, as Teague began to laugh. "Are you the team's best rapper?" I asked.

Click here to read more about Jeff Teague's rapping ability.

Teague, who was the 19th overall pick in in the 2009 NBA Draft, was heralded as one of the top prospects in game. But at 6'2, he often wore the tag as being a "shooting guard in a point guard's body."

In his sophomore season at Wake Forest, Teague averaged 18.8 points per game with just 3.5 assists. The scouting reports reinforced that notion, as DraftExpress described his point guard skills as limited. He was "a work in progress," according to the report, and had to "vastly improve his decision-making, as it leaves a lot to be desired."

But Teague admitted he never wanted to be a "pure" point guard.

"I never tried to be like Chris Paul," Teague said. "I mean, I watched his games and went to Wake Forest because of him -- he's one of my favorite players -- but I've never really tried to play like him."

"I think we're two different kind of players. I'm more of a scorer-type, he's more of a facilitator."

Despite that, Teague has gotten better at creating more offense for his teammates this season. He's carrying a career-best 6.6 assists per game and a 33.7 assist percentage, which is good for 10th in the league among players who have logged at least one-thousand minutes.

In the offseason, the Hawks moved former captain Joe Johnson and his lofty $90 million contract to the Nets. Part of the rationale was to put the ball in Teague's hands more and move away from all the 'Iso-Joe' plays.

"We had Joe Johnson playing on the ball, in isolation plays," Teague said. "The opportunity this year just presented itself for me to be more of a play-maker and play with the ball in my hands. Joe is a great player, we're just running different plays now."

Teague also feels the depth and talent on the Hawks has made his job as offense facilitator a much easier transition. But that's not to say he doesn't look to create on his own. He wants to prove himself as a dual threat.

"We have a lot of scorers on this team, and when I have some easy shots, some easy baskets, I just try to knock them down," he said, noting that even as he's facilitating the offense, he never lost the ability and desire to create his own offense. In his words, "It's all about winning, whatever we can do to win."

The progression and talent in Teague's game isn't lost on Johnson, now with the Brooklyn Nets.

"He's got all the tools; He's fast, quick, explosive…he just has a little learning to do. He's going to be a great point guard in this league one day," Johnson said of Teague, adding, "he'll be an All-Star."

Hawks' team captain Josh Smith agrees, saying of Teague that he "he has room for growth and improvement, and if he continues to put the time and effort into it, he'll be a really good point guard."

"All his life he's been a scoring point guard," Smith said. "He has speed and quickness, and his ability to pass the ball is definitely helpful to the ball club."

And that's to say that we still haven't seen the best of Jeff Teague, as Johnson will tell you. What we have seen is a player who's progressed and adapted to a point where he no longer carries that "limited" tag when talking about his play-making abilities. He still has some "learning to do," as both Johnson and Smith will tell you, but he remains constant in his approach to the game, looking at ways to improve rather than stressing on what he could have done differently.

He embraces his "limitations" as a method of motivation, which, as a result, may earn him an All-Star nod one day.

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