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Passive Jeff Teague Hurting the Timberwolves

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Inconsistency has plagued Jeff Teague this season.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Jimmy Butler trade shook the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise up, there has been little to complain about. Going 7-3 without the disgruntled star has brought joy to the hoop heads of the Twin Cities.

However, this is professional sports, and no team or player is ever exempt from criticism. Lately, Wolves point guard Jeff Teague has been at the forefront of that. It’s been an up-and-down season for the 30-year-old, averaging 12.5 points and 7.5 assists on 40.2 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

The numbers aren’t atrocious, but it has been a season to forget thus far. He has pushed through a number of nagging injuries, but his struggles have deeper roots than just health issues. The main thing that drives Wolves fans’ insane is his puzzling decision-making.

Before the inefficient campaign he is currently toiling through, Teague had nailed over 35 percent of his three-pointers for the last three seasons. He is the definition of a capable-but-not-great shooter, which makes his reluctance to take open shots, especially at the end of the shot clock, even more puzzling.

When the ball is worked around the horn to him, or the defender goes under a screen and dares him to shoot the open trey, Teague often opts to decline the golden opportunity. Instead, he chooses to put the ball on the deck and force his way into a contested floater or kills possessions by holding the rock until late in the shot clock.

Take a look at this example. It’s a situation Teague has found himself in far too often:

Denver guard Jamal Murray goes and stays under the Taj Gibson pick, allowing Teague to fire an uncontested 3-ball if he pleases. Coach Tom Thibodeau has constantly implored his team to take as many good looks from long-range as they can, so he would have no problem with his point guard firing away. Teague refuses to shoot it though, hesitating and over-dribbling before driving his way directly into a blocked shot.

It isn’t just from deep that his love for getting closer to the rack hurts him. Teague is currently 8-16 from midrange, which is the best percentage of any Timberwolf who has taken more than two attempts, yet he still shies away from open mid-range jimmies. Cutting out midrange attempts is good, but his fixation for getting into the restricted area, and not being deliberate in decisions, hampers him and his team.

In the clip below, Teague receives a pass from Derrick Rose with fields of space with Cavaliers rookie Collin Sexton failing to keep track of him, resulting in a perfectly open jumper, right? Nope. He pump-fakes the air and drives into not one, but two Cleveland defenders. The outcome is an off-balance, off-handed, circus shot that has little chance of ever going in.

When he isn’t turning down open looks and making hair-greying shot selections, Teague is prone to over-dribbling and essentially doing nothing for 15 seconds or more of the shot clock. For the most part, Teague has a pretty tight handle on the ball, but he uses it in a way that doesn’t benefit the squad at all. He often just pounds the air out of the orange while floating around like a fly looking for a window to escape through in a locked room.

When he does decide to pass the ball, he has usually wastes too much time messing around and his options dry up quickly. He is infamous around Wolves world for his sloppy entry passes, but his pick-and-roll passing is just as questionable.

On this play, he picks up the ball and waits for the Taj Gibson screen, after he goes around the pick he has multiple options instantly. First, he could pocket pass to Gibson who is making a hard roll. He could kick the ball to Robert Covington (who is shooting 38.9 percent from long-range this season) wide open at the top of the key, just a few meters from Teague, or he could quickly make a cross-court pass to Karl-Anthony Towns who is alone in the corner. He declines the first two options, hesitates, fakes, then finally lobs a weak pass to KAT that is subsequently picked off by Mason Plumlee.

This has become a common theme for the Wolves offense when Jeff Teague is on the floor:

Even with Minnesota in a run of form that has fans foaming at the mouth, it’s easy to see why their starting point guard can get on their nerves. Frighteningly, he can be even more lackadaisical on the other end of the floor.

He is far from a physical specimen, so nobody expects Teague to dominate on the defensive side of the ball. What fans and pundits alike do expect is effort — it goes a long way in this game.

Alternatively, what we get is a version of Teague that looks lethargic, disinterested and disassociated defensively. He rarely looks to dig his heels in and make a stop, and is more than willing to forfeit on the play the moment any opponents’ screen enters his vicinity:

In the example above, Teague completely gives up on trying to defend 3-point sniper Patty Mills as soon as he is lightly picked off by LaMarcus Aldridge. Luckily for Minnesota Mills clanks the triple, but it’s a high-risk, low-reward play. He has lamented Tom Thibodeau on multiple occasions for not switching as much as other teams do, but there was nobody in sight to switch with him here. Sometimes you just have to fight through and try to get a hand up.

Of course, it isn’t always choppy waters on the Teague ship. In the increasingly rare games where he is picking his spots on offense well and using pace, ball-handling, and finishing ability to his advantage, he can be a tough task for any defense.

Three games stand out in Teague’s game logs this season. The season opener against San Antonio where he dropped 27 points on 8-12 shooting, a 22-point (6/14 FG), 9-assist night in Dallas, and the first game post-Butler where he racked up 24 points (8-14 FG), 11 assists and 3 steals. However, outside of that it has been a pretty disastrous season.

His bad games are compounded by the fact that reserve guards Derrick Rose, who is playing at a high level again, and Tyus Jones, the plus-minus king, are clearly more effective on the court.

With a $19 million player option to opt into next season, it seems unlikely Teague will be leaving via trade or free agency anytime soon. The only option for him is to adjust. For the sake of the Wolves’ playoff hopes, that needs to happen sooner rather than later.