His field-goal percentage down from his career average but his three-point percentage up, Timberwolves point guard Jeff Teague is scoring 12.7 points per game, his lowest average since 2011-12.
He considered himself a scoring point guard the six seasons since then, but times change and teams change, and Teague said he has changed for the common good as a facilitator and playmaker alongside such other scorers as Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford.
Tom Thibodeau signed him to a three-year, $57 million contract last year because of his ability to both score and create for others by breaking down opposing defense in the pick-and-roll.
Nearly four months into his ninth season, Teague calls his new role a new way to play, one in which he has looked more to pass than score.
“It’s just not how I play,” said Teague, who averaged 15.3 points last season with Indiana. “But someone has to make a sacrifice, and it was me.”
He has started 47 of the Wolves’ 58 games, having been sidelined in November by a sore Achilles’ tendon and in late December/early January by a knee ligament sprain.
Thibodeau, the Wolves coach and president of basketball operations, repeatedly has called Teague one of the league’s best point guards and said the 29-year-old has played himself back into good form after that knee injury sidelined him for two weeks.
“He lives in the paint and he plays off guys,” Thibodeau said. “He was playing at a really high level before his knee injury. I think that set him back, but he’s back to playing well. He has his rhythm shooting again, and that’s a big part of what he does.”
Thibodeau also said Teague has done what Butler, Towns, Wiggins and others have done for the team, only from a position that makes the team run.
“When you’re a point guard, that’s how you have to play,” Thibodeau said. “You look at the strengths of your team. There are a lot of scorers on the team and so when you look at the way we’ve played offensively — we’re fifth in scoring, third in offensive efficiency, when you look at all the offensive categories — it tells you how good we’ve been. The important thing is the winning and understanding what goes into that. Everyone has to sacrifice something for the team.
“For Jeff, maybe it has been some scoring opportunities. But all of our guys have sacrificed some of that. Jimmy’s shots are down. KAT’s shots are down. Wigs’ shots are down. But the team is winning, and that’s the most important thing there is.”
Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson uses the word “adapt” as much as “sacrifice” when he discusses changes his teammates have made in their games.
“You can’t really just say Jeff,” Gibson said. “Mostly everybody has been adapting, even our bench, even Jamal. Everybody has been adapting. That’s what happens when you play on a good team, when you play on a good roster, when your focus is on trying to go deep in the playoffs and do things special. There’s always going to be somebody or a couple guys who are going to have to sacrifice their main goals to help the team.
“Jeff is one of those guys. He’s a veteran. He understands when he can get his good looks at certain times in a game. He understands it’s bigger than just going for his. He’s trying to go deep [in the playoffs]. He’s trying to win games.”
The Wolves are 35-24, having won 13 consecutive home games going into Tuesday night’s game with Houston.
“It is what it is,” Teague said. “You know, we’re winning, so that’s all that matters.”