Sunday, October 7, 2012
Pre-Season Opener: Teague Looks Terrible on Defense
I can't get over how bad Jeff Teague was defensively in this game. It reminds me of Michael Cunningham's post on AJC.com after Rajon Rondo's Game 3 triple-double. Cunningham looked at every Hawks defensive possession against Rondo on Synergy and concluded that Rondo got to the basket at will against Teague and Jannero Pargo, but didn't score a single basket while guarded by Kirk Hinrich.
On a similar note, Norris Cole didn't score a single basket or have a single assist while guarded by Lou Williams. I was impressed by Williams' constant hustle at both ends of the floor as he fought through screens and stayed in front of Cole and Terrel Harris. Offensively, he initiated plays and never forced his own shot unless the clock situation demanded it. He even blocked an attempted 7-footer by LeBron James to preserve a 55-54 Hawks lead with 6:37 to play in the 3rd.
The discrepancy in defensive effort was especially apparent in the 3rd quarter, when the Hawks opened the half with Williams, Al Horford, Josh Smith, Damion James and James Anderson. Cole was silent until Teague checked in for Williams with 6:35 to play. Then Cole started getting into the lane as you can see at 1:29 of this clip after a weak steal attempt by Teague, leading to a Chris Bosh dunk.
Despite Cole's activity with Teague on the floor, the Hawks closed out the 3rd with a 70-66 lead. Williams then opened the 4th with Smith, Anthony Tolliver, Ivan Johnson and Anthony Morrow. This unit easily handled Miami's combination of Ray Allen, Robert Dozier, Rashard Lewis, Dexter Pittman and Harris as it stretched the lead to double figures before Teague checked back in for Williams with 6:13 to play.
Teague matched Korver for worst +/- among the starters (+5) while Williams matched them, playing primarily with the second unit. From watching video highlights of the Hawks' playoff series loss to the Celtics earlier this year, there's no question that Teague has the speed to stay in front of Rondo. As with Rondo, Cole's ability to get into the lane against Teague and inability against Williams is purely a function of contrasting defensive effort.
I'll close with a few observations about other players making their debut with the Hawks. DeShawn Stevenson looked like a player who was a starter for a world championship team two years ago, then was under-utilized by a lottery team last year. He played his ass off, scoring 11 on 4-for-7 shooting, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range, and contributing hard-nosed defense at multiple positions. He could start at shooting guard or small forward for the Hawks.
John Hollinger had some Twitter hate for Damion James, commenting that, "James really can't play offense. LeBron [is] just totally ignoring him." He later tweeted, "If I were Damion James, I'd start brushing up on the Cyrillic alphabet," possibly a reference to James heading to Europe. I couldn't disagree more. I think James makes this team based on what I saw today. Credible defense, 6 points and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes against the best player in the world is not nothing.
Korver saw only 17 minutes and didn't shoot well, but he made quick decisions with the ball and notched 3 assists against no turnovers. Ivan Johnson is still a work in progress. He hustled and had a nice drop-step move on the baseline, but was out of position on consecutive Bosh dunks.
Tolliver looked decent. He didn't do anything spectacular but he looked like he belonged. Anderson looked like he belonged in Europe. Even when he did something good, pulling down a defensive rebound and pushing it across half court, he still ended up flubbing a hand off to Teague that went out of bounds for a turnover.
Morrow shot 0-for-5, an inauspicious debut for a one-dimensional shooter. Johan Petro also shot 1-for-6 and looked like a good candidate to be replaced by Keith Benson, who did not play. In all, this game suggests that the Hawks have a better bench than the Heat. Hard to draw many conclusions from a meaningless preseason game, but I can say this. If Teague wants to be the starting point guard for this team, he needs to start studying game film of Lou Williams fighting through picks.