Jeff Teague has a chance to get recognized during All-Star weekend. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images
Teague's Skills Challenge selection brings recognition
By Jon Cooper
Jeff Teague doesn't seek publicity. Never has. He prefers to let others have the glory.
That's the nature of being an old-school point guard.
This weekend, however, Teague will get the opportunity to shine and show people who he is He's one of six participants in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge at State Farm All-Star Saturday Night.
"I guess you could say that. I don't want to put any more pressure on me to do that," the 24-year-old Teague said with a laugh. "I don't think we play on TV that often, so it's good exposure. It's an honor. I watched it growing up, so being a part of it is something big for me."
It's certainly not bigger than Teague's talents. He'll have to do what he does best — handle the ball around some stationary barriers, throw a couple of on-target passes (one a bounce pass), hit a jumper from the top of the circle, and make a couple of lay-ups. The faster the better.
Sounds easy enough, especially for Teague, whose fourth pro season is his best. Heading into the break, he was averaging 33.3 minutes, 14.2 points, 6.9 assists, 11.7 field goals, 2.9 three-pointers, 38.9 percent shooting from three, and 86.9 percent from the foul line, all career-highs, and he's shooting a solid 45.9 percent. Yet he wasn't sold on going to Houston for the event. But he slept on it, let his competitive juices take over and threw his hat into the ring.
He'll now throw down against the event's defending champion Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday, Detroit's Brandon Knight, Portland's Damian Lillard, and Jeremy Lin of the hometown Rockets.
Getting on stage at All-Star Weekend is a big deal and has earned Teague further respect of his teammates.
"I'm happy for him," forward Josh Smith, who knows about being on center stage and taking the spotlight, winning the 2005 Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Championship. "It's really big. There is going to be a lot of people watching, there is going to be a lot to people in the arena. Let's see how he does under pressure. My money's on him."
Head Coach Larry Drew took it a step further.
"I'm glad we do have some representation during All-Star Weekend. I'm going to stay on Jeff about winning. He better not come back without winning," Drew joked.
Teague has taken the peer pressure in good humor.
"The pressure's added on," he joked when told about the expectations. "I'm going to go out there and just have a lot of fun."
Going out and having fun has led to Teague getting to this point in his career. He patiently bided his time, making only three starts his rookie season, including a season-ending 48-minute marathon against Cleveland, seven more his second year, before coming off the bench to star in the Eastern Conference Semis against Derrick Rose and Chicago. Last year he took over the starting spot and, this year, has made it his. He's blossomed into a legitimate offensive threat and a terror on the defensive end.
"As the point guard he means everything," Smith said. "He's definitely the energy leader, he gets us going, especially when he's playing defense at a high level. You know he's the orchestrator of everything that we have to do as far as the offense is concerned."
"He's really using his speed out there, he's setting the pace for us," teammate Devin Harris added. "Defensively he's creating havoc, and he's been aggressive on offense."
Drew believes that even though the public may not know much of Teague, the exposure they'll get to him this weekend could be a first step in earning him the kind of recognition teams getting ready to play Atlanta already have.
"Jeff is such a quiet personality, a lot of people don't really recognize him," Drew said. "But I know our opponents gear a lot of their defense in trying to stop him because he's really, really good when he's on top of his game. I'm glad to see that he is participating in [the Skills Competition], though, so other people can really see Jeff Teague. I think as he continues to grow he'll get more and more recognition. People will recognize him more and more for what he brings to the table because he, to me, is in that Tony Parker-type mold."
He'll need to bring all his talents to the table Saturday night in order to beat Parker, who is looking to become the second participant to repeat in winning the event — only Dwyane Wade has done it it, winning in 2006 and '07 — and only the third to win it twice (Steve Nash won it in 2005 and 2010). Winning would put Teague in distinguished company, and since the competition began in 2003, winners of the competition include Jason Kidd (2003), Baron Davis (2004), Nash (2005, '10), Wade ('06, '07), Deron Williams ('08), Derrick Rose ('09), and Stephen Curry (2011).
Harris, who was runner-up in 2009, likes Teague's chances.
"He's my pick," Harris said. "He's definitely fast enough. I've given him a few tips on when I participated. Hopefully he can put those things together and come out on top."
While Harris wouldn't elaborate on what he passed on, Teague was more than forthcoming.
"He was just telling me how he missed a free throw a lot of times when he did it," Teague said. "That's the biggest shot. You've got to make that one. He told me to practice that a little bit. I said, 'It's a free throw. I know I can hit that.' But it's a lot more pressure when you're just out there by yourself. So I'll work on that."
Winning would be great and something Teague wants, but getting to All-Star Weekend is a victory in itself.
"Just to make it to the NBA was a dream," Teague said. "Then when you get here you don't just want to be here. You want to make an imprint on the league. To see all the hard work you've put in, now to be able to be part of All-Star Weekend is big."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta
Second photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images