Yes, it was just a preseason game, but Jeff Teague looked like the player the Boston Celtics hoped he can be when it matters.
Jeff Teague was brought to Boston to provide quality minutes behind Kemba Walker, a job that has only taken on added pressures considering the state of Walker’s knee that will keep him out to begin the new season.
In his first go-around in the new role, Teague shined in a losing effort. He lead all Celtics with 18 points in under 19 minutes off the bench, shooting 3-of-5 on twos while draining all four of his looks from beyond the arc in a 108-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I thought Jeff Teague was excellent tonight,” Brad Stevens said after the game.
Not only did Teague stand out as one of only three Celtics in double figures, he did so in a way that projects nicely for the challenges that lie ahead in trying to find his place on a contender.
A one-year slump last season aside — playing 25 games for the lowly Atlanta Hawks doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing — Teague has been an excellent standstill 3-point shooter in recent years. From 2014-19, a modest career 35.6 percent outside shooter canned 40.7 percent of 460 catch-and-shoot treys.
Teague might take over for Kemba on most nights, but he’ll still be sharing plenty of court time with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two breakout stars whose roles will increase given their trajectory and the departure of Gordon Hayward.
For that reason, part of what Boston’s offense will depend upon is Teague’s ability to capitalize on the attention his star teammates draw, which he did late in the second quarter against Philly.
Teague only registered one assist against the Sixers, but it was indicative of how he can seamlessly fit into a Celtics team that ran the sixth-most pick-and-rolls per game last season.
In the play below, Teague rejects a Tacko Fall screen before the big can even get into place. Matisse Thybulle was expecting to fight through that screen, but Teague froze and got by the standout defender with an in-and-out dribble while drawing the attention of Tacko’s man, Toney Bradley.
With Bradley forced to cut off his driving lane, Teague sees the opportunity to dump the ball to Fall in a perfect position to throw up a righty hook that drops in.
Across 34 games with Minnesota last season, Teague generated 1.05 points per possession running the pick-and-roll, placing him in the 90th percentile. Even in his early 30s, Teague possesses selective explosiveness that, along with tight handles, are used to evade defenders and set up himself or others.
Fall won’t see significant playing time this season. Tristan Thompson, however, is a likely starter who has significant appeal as a screen-and-roller. The last time Thompson played alongside competent playmakers — that might be underselling LeBron James a bit — he generated an average of 1.23 points per roll possession from 2015-18.
Daniel Theis was also a moderate roller last year ranking inside the 65th percentile. However much court team Teague shares with either, they will both set him up for one of the ways he operates best.
“I’ve played with a lot of talented bigs,” Teague said in a previous media availability session when asked about how to work with new bigs, specifically in the two-man game. “You learn each other. You figure it out where guys are comfortable with catching the ball. But it’s gonna be a work in progress.”
You can argue the weight of Teague’s stellar debut when considering the intensity of a preseason game, Boston’s first action since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But while neither Tatum nor Brown could capitalize on the lackadaisical context, combining to shoot 5-of-24 from the field, Teague did, creating optimism about his ability to do so when the games truly matter starting next Wednesday against Milwaukee.