Monday, August 10, 2009

Reasonable Expectations For Jeff Teague, Or, A Rookie Guard Study

Not that anyone is expecting great things from Jeff Teague in the short term, nor that anyone is especially expecting him to play a lot* in 2009-10 but I still believe it's instructive to look at what players in circumstances (somewhat) similar to Teague's have accomplished in their rookie seasons.

*The more I think about it, the more I lean toward the probability that, if Jamal Crawford, in 2009-10, plays significantly more minutes than Flip Murray did in 2008-09 then that extra playing time will come at the expense of Maurice Evans rather than Jeff Teague (who I figure for 650-1000 minutes). I'm still not cured of my modest, semi-rational epiphany that Woodson underrates Mo Evans because he doesn't dribble much and I say this as someone who finds it difficult to comprehend the concept of Mo Evans being underrated.

In the interests of building a reasonable sample size, I looked at all rookie point/combo guards drafted outside the lottery from 2003-2008 (plus Acie Law IV) who played a reasonable number of minutes as rookies. The 23 players meeting the criteria includes the starting point guards for the three best teams in the East (Jameer Nelson, Rajon Rondo, and Mo Williams) plus several other average starters or good reserves (Delonte West, Leandro Barbosa, Aaron Brooks, Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake, Nate Robinson, George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, Mario Chalmers, Jordan Farmar, Sergio Rodriguez, Chris Duhon). Collectively they averaged just over 1 Win Share per 1000 minutes played, had an average offensive rating of 99, an average defensive rating of 108, and none of them posted a league average (15.0) PER as rookies. The 23 player seasons in question account for over 29,000 minutes played.

I use these cumulative stats, rough in their estimates of comprehensive value, not because I believe them to be the ideal measure of a player's production but simply so as to avoid attempting to put each of these 23 rookie seasons in its full context as none are likely to provide an especially close and meaningful comparison with Teague's skill set and playing time situation.

The closest comps to Teague's situation figure to be the three rookie guards who have played for Mike Woodson. Even here, none are an especially good match for a gifted but raw offensive player backing up three veteran guards on a team that intends to make the playoffs. Royal Ivey was a nominally defensive-oriented reserve on a purposefully terrible team. Salim Stoudamire was presumably drafted to play (and shoot) alongside Joe Johnson, defense be damned, though it never really worked out that way for any length of time, and Woodson either never wanted Law in the first place or Law was thoroughly unable to convince his head coach of his possible utility. Probably some of both.

For the record, here's what the three did as rookies:

Ivey, Royal2003-048090.20.258.9951112337
Stoudamire, Salim2005-0612361.20.9712.51051142331
Law IV, Acie2007-08865-0.1-0.127.7931122311

I don't know what's more surprising in retrospect: that Law had an arguably worse rookie season than Royal Ivey or that Ivey played another 1500 minutes over two years for the Hawks despite demonstrating essentially no improvement. I lean toward the latter if only as a reminder that the organization's aversion to change is not simply a result of its recent, relative success.

The two most productive rookie seasons, in terms of volume, were put up by second round picks (Chalmers and Duhon) who were older, more experienced players than Teague and were given the opportunity to earn over 2000 minutes of playing time. Barring at least one catastrophic injury, Teague's not going to play 2000 minutes. Fortunately, there are some examples of rookie guards putting up good rate statistics in more limited minutes. Jameer Nelson (1612 minutes) and Segio Rodriguez (862 minutes) both put up a PER over 14. The three players to top Chalmers' WS/1000 rate (1.97) each played less than 1000 minutes for a playoff team as rookies: Aaron Brooks (608 minutes), Boobie Gibson (988 minutes), and Delonte West (507 minutes).

Even if Teague struggles mightily as a rookie hope should not be lost. Mo Williams put up a rookie line not dissimilar to Royal Ivey's before becoming a legitimate contributor* in his second (age 22) season. Leandro Barbosa didn't put his obvious talents to consistently productive use until his third (age 23) season. Even though I'm fairly positive that no one is sitting somewhere today, fingers-crossed, hoping that Jeff Teague has Steve Blake's career, Blake's three seasons as an average starter for Portland would be an above-average return on the 19th pick and came after two poor seasons (age 23 and 24) in Washington to start his career.

*It should be noted that Williams is an exceptional case and the rest of the similarly ineffective rookies (Ivey, Marcus Williams, Quincy Douby, Javaris Crittenton, and Law) are not in danger of drawing criticism for an undeserved All-Star birth anytime soon.

Admittedly, there's nothing groundbreaking to be learned about Jeff Teague's future from either the collective data or individual cases but I think it's valuable to establish the historical range of performance against which one can expect to evaluate his rookie season and for the reminder that his rookie season will probably not clearly establish the path of his career.

For those desiring more complete and sortable data, a Google document featuring the relevant information on all 23 players' rookie seasons is below:


thirdfalcon said...

great post. People need to settle down about Teague. If he turns into a starting caliber player, he would be an exception considering where he was picked (in a bad draft no less).

And yes I would be thrilled if he turned out to be as good as Steve Blake.

Q McCall said...

Excellent post and a nice reminder of how difficult it is to learn the point guard position for a rookie, even the most experienced ones.

What might also be interesting is to see if there are any particular patterns among players that have thrived/failed after poor rookie seasons. Sometimes it's just a fluke -- trades or coaching changes -- but I wonder what, if anything, might be gained from such an analysis.

Bret LaGree said...

Thanks for the compliments. It took me a while to shape the research into something coherent. I'm glad I took the time to do so.

I may have limited the scope (guards drafted outside the lottery since the hand-check rules changed) for any strong patterns to emerge even at the end of his rookie season but I intend to revisit this study after the season when, one hopes, we'll know more about where Teague stands as a player and his likely avenue(s) of development.

Bronnt said...

Bret, you know Teague much better than I could hope to at this point, so from this compiled list, who do you think profiles as his best overall comp? You talked about Steve Blake, and I imagine that's a fairly decent one, but I could also see him being more like Mo Williams or Delonte West.


Bret LaGree said...

Limiting myself to guys on that list, I'd expect him to resemble Mo Williams or Stuckey, that is, a guy who is more scorer than distributor but can actually play point guard to a useful degree. Williams is obviously farther along this development path than Stuckey so he would be, if not a best case scenario (Jason Terry), a good case scenario.

Drew Ditzel said...

not that this takes away from anything bret has said but I would say teague is a good bit more athletic than steve blake.

Bronnt said...

You're probably right, Drew, but at surface value, I can see the two being comparable. A good shooter who can play solidly at the point, and is nothing special defensively...that's basically the description you'll get of Teague from multiple sources.

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