January 17, 2020, 2:29 pm
The NBA’s trade deadline is on the horizon, and on Thursday the Hawks and Timberwolves got a fairly surprising deal done in the early stages of the expected cycle. Atlanta dealt shooting guard Allen Crabbe to Minnesota in exchange for point guard Jeff Teague and wing Treveon Graham.
The move’s ripple effects could be huge, especially if the Wolves can follow through on their reported interest in some big-name additions, but on its own merit the trade is easy to understand from each team’s perspective, and a particularly smart, low-risk gamble for Atlanta.
In acquiring Teague, the Hawks reunite with a respected veteran who made his name during the franchise’s most recent run of success.
Selflessly, Teague accepted a bench role for the Wolves, allowing the team to get a longer look at Jarrett Culver’s playmaking. The team has since chosen to start fellow veteran Shabazz Napier, and while Teague is not the player he once was, there’s a not-insignificant chance that he’s a starting-caliber guard who was simply forced into a new role by the circumstances in Minnesota — though it can’t go without mention that Teague never really seemed to fit in Minnesota’s new system, and that his departure is a symbolic dismissal of one of the final remnants of the ill-conceived Thibodeau era.
His arrival will be a huge lift to Atlanta’s second unit. The backup PG role has been a subject of discussion since training camp opened and the other options on the roster have failed to impress. Cam Reddish is struggling mightily in his first taste of the NBA, while Kevin Huerter and DeAndre’ Bembry are better used as supporting playmakers rather than guys who can take the reins for extended stretches. Evan Turner has fallen out of the rotation entirely. Brandon Goodwin has emerged as the most viable choice so far – at least in that he allows Huerter and Bembry to play at more optimal positions – and while that’s a nice find for the organization, it’s not exactly something that the team would probably like to be dealing with.
Teague’s defense has declined substantially, and he’s become an increasingly reluctant shooter despite going .379 from deep so far this year, but there should be few doubts that he can still keep an offense flowing at a reasonable level. Teague’s 33.7 assist percentage ranks him 17th in the league among qualifiers, and the Wolves’ offensive rating is 107.9 with him on the floor (second on the team) and just 101.0 without him.
That’s of extra importance to the Hawks, as Trae Young’s on/off splits are even more gruesome. When Young is on the court, the Hawks boast a 108.2 offensive rating. Without him it drops to a ghastly 90.7. That 17.5 differential is the biggest in the league by a comfortable margin, excepting a few garbage time players (apologies to Max Strus at an absurd 89.0 and Devon Hall at 28.3).
Moreover, beyond giving the Hawks a fighting chance with Young off the floor, Teague may also allow Atlanta to dial back on Young’s minutes in general. The Hawks have the second-worst record in the league and despite the lack of quality in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, a 9.5-game deficit is almost impossible to make up in the time remaining. Teague’s not going to move the needle a ton in that regard but it will give Atlanta an easy way to inch Young down from 35.2 minutes per game without sabotaging the minutes of everyone who has to play with the second unit point guard.
If you’re the calculating sort, the fact that Teague – one of the best point guard options available on the trade market – was absorbed into Atlanta’s cap space means that he can be included in another trade before the deadline. Perhaps a contending team comes calling with a package that’s worth more to the Hawks than a few months of high-quality backup minutes. The Hawks can now offer a player of value on an expiring deal if they want to make a move for the future, in addition to the other expiring contracts of Turner and Chandler Parsons.
As for Graham, it may be a struggle for him to find minutes considering Atlanta’s depth, but a switchable 6’6” wing who has made 20 starts this season has value – either as a reserve for the Hawks or a low-cost flier at the deadline for another team. This trade could have been completed without Graham’s inclusion, which means that the Hawks have some plans for him, whether that’s a bench role or simply arming themselves with another minimum contract to dangle in future trade talks.
Considering what they surrendered, it’s hard to see how this deal doesn’t go down as a win for the Hawks.
While the Wolves might be able to find a use for Crabbe’s shooting, the biggest benefit to them likely comes in the form of an open roster spot and some additional cash to work with as the deadline approaches. He was an obvious candidate to take a back seat in Atlanta, and the Hawks happily took back a little more salary to fill a vital spot in the rotation. That has value regardless of the team’s playoff hopes.
Travis Schlenk was able to improve the current product without sacrificing any of the team’s future flexibility, as both Teague and Graham will be unrestricted free agents this summer, and it’s highly likely that they have more to give Atlanta going forward than Crabbe. These next few months could serve as a fine audition for both players too, though obviously anything can happen in free agency.
All told, the Hawks now have one of the top backup point guards in the league and a minimum-salary wing that could be of use as either a player or another trade asset. Atlanta’s cap space was cut from $4.8 million to $2.6 million as a result of the deal, though the team’s future finances are essentially completely unchanged.
Whatever happens next, the Hawks are a better team today than they were yesterday and didn’t have to make any real sacrifice to make it happen.