The point guard transition from Ricky Rubio to Jeff Teague is underway for the Timberwolves, and the pick-and-roll is one area in which the change in leadership will be evident.
When the Timberwolves made the decision to sign Jeff Teague and move on from Ricky Rubio, it was clear that there would be a drastically different dynamic from the point guard position this season.
One of the things that made Rubio a valuable player for the Wolves, despite his struggles with his shot, was his elite passing and court vision skills. And one of the most effective ways that the Wolves got value out of these talents is through the pick-and-roll.
While Rubio was never overly effective at scoring himself out of the pick-and-roll, he proved himself very adept at finding the the roll-man (often Karl-Anthony Towns) diving to the basket. When defenses collapsed to stop that, he found open shooters on the perimeter. Even more impressive was his ability to find passing lanes with defenders continually going underneath screens because they simply were not threatened by Rubio taking a jumper.
There is little debate that Ricky is one of the league’s best at finding open teammates. It is, however, worth looking into the question of whether or not he is a better pick-and-roll player than his replacement with the Wolves, Jeff Teague. With Towns being such a dominant force as a roll-man, the Wolves will certainly continue to make this a major part of their offense. Being able to get consistent value out of this set is crucial.
Teague is not the passer that Rubio is, however he does offer clear offensive advantages in other facets. Perhaps most notably is his ability to create his own shot and make shots at a consistent rate. No one will mistake him for Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard in terms of being able to stop on a dime off of a screen and hit a jumper, but he is an upgrade in that regard.
According to Synergy at NBA.com, Teague shot a respectable 47 percent on pull-up jumpers last season. This is something Rubio has always struggled with, despite routinely being given open looks.
Overall, in pick-and-roll situations, Teague excelled last season. According to Synergy, he contributed .98 points per possession as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. This number was better than players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kyrie Irving. (It is fair to point out that those players were seeing more defensive attention and game plan preparation from opposing coaches than Teague did with the relatively balanced offense in Indiana, but it is definitely good company to keep.)
Teague is not the passer that Rubio is, but he is capable of hitting the open man. Rubio regularly made sensational passes in tight windows, which is something Teague will not be able to replicate. However, given the increased space that will be created with his ability to score, it may also not be as necessary. Also, Karl-Anthony Towns as the roll-man can certainly make a lot of players look better than they are.
It will be interesting to see how it shakes out, and when it comes to things like pushing the ball on the fast break, Teague most likely will not live up to what Wolves fans have come to expect from his predecessor. However, the pick-and-roll is one of the most commonly-used sets in the NBA today, and Teague’s skill-set and track record give a lot of reason for optimism.