Back in April of 2017, 28-year-old Indiana Pacers point guard Jeff Teague had just completed his eighth campaign as a pro and had recorded what were then career highs in games played, total minutes, rebounds and assists—the last of which, 7.8 assists per game, had been 7th best in the league.
Though Teague’s Pacers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by eventual Finals runner-up Cleveland, there was no doubting Teague’s value on the court.
Cut to now, four years later. Teague is a member of the talented but underperforming Boston Celtics. After being one of the first players off the bench through the Celtics’ first 23 games, Teague has played a grand total of only 25 minutes over the last five. His last meaningful minutes came with Kemba Walker taking the night off for rest, an embarrassing 108-102 loss to the woeful Detroit Pistons on February 12. Teague had eight points, two assists and two turnovers. He has not seen the floor since.
So does this mean that Teague has fallen out of favor with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens and could be on the precipice of getting erased from Boston’s rotation altogether? And if not, Boston fans may ask, why?
Not Living Up to Expectations
When Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge signed Teague this offseason, the Boston head honcho had moderately high expectations:
“He still has some juice,” Ainge said during a preseason presser. “He had some 30 point games last year. And we still think he can step in, especially early on, to bridge the gap until Kemba comes back ready to go. But also play a significant role off the bench or in a starting role.”
But now, entering the heart of the season, and as the March 25 trade deadline approaches, it’s not hard to understand why many Celtics fans won’t exactly cry in their beers if Teague remained a benchwarmer the rest of the season.
The Wake Forest product is putting up the worst numbers of his career (save for 3-point percentage), averaging 5.8 points, 2.1 assists and 1.6 rebounds in 17.6 minutes. And Teague often appears blasé on defense and unwilling to consistently move the ball or make the obvious pass on offense.
Adam Taylor, host of the CelticsPod show, pointed out in early February:
“In 52 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball handler, Teague has passed off to the roll/pop man just once. Instead, the veteran guard prefers to force the issue, attempting scoop lay-ups, pull-up jumpers or veering to attempt to draw contact – he’s been largely unsuccessful in each of these areas.”
Unsuccessful indeed. Teague is shooting an ungodly 32.8% from the field with an effective field goal percentage of .391 that would make a polar bear shiver. And as far as drawing contact, the 90% free throw shooter is averaging only 1.2 made free throws a game.
Furthermore, the emergence of rookie point guard Payton Pritchard as an effective shooter and energetic on-ball defender has had the effect of making Teague look lethargic and well beyond his playing days.
‘Thank You for Saving My Life’
Even if coach Stevens does continue to sit Teague more and more in favor of his younger benchmates, it doesn’t seem likely the Indianapolis native will hold a grudge. After all, in some sense, Stevens is why Teague has had an NBA career in the first place.
After he was signed by Boston late in 2020, Teague told NBC Sports Boston that, as a high schooler, he’d received some tough-talk advice from Stevens, who was recruiting him to play at nearby Butler University.
“I played basketball, obviously, but school wasn’t my favorite thing to do,” said Teague. “So [Brad] pulled me into a room at Butler as a sophomore in front of my dad and he basically showed him my grades. I had been hiding report cards for some years. And basically just told me, ‘If you want the opportunity to play college basketball, you have to bring your grades up.’”
When Teague’s dad finally saw his son’s grades, he was enraged. From then on Teague prioritized school more than he ever had ever in the past.
“I had to get my act together, man. Basically got my focus right,” said Teague, who has made close to $100 million over the course of his career. “And every time we [would] play the Celtics in the past I would tell Brad, ‘Hey, thank you for saving my life.'”