Should the Utah Jazz have traded for Jeff Teague instead of George Hill?

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 22: George Hill (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 22: George Hill (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

After losing out on George Hill after one meager year, it’s hard to wonder what might have been if the Utah Jazz had instead traded directly for Jeff Teague.

The biggest splash that the Utah Jazz made last offseason was without a doubt the three-team trade that sent Utah’s Number 12 overall draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers and Indiana’s George Hill to the Utah Jazz. Although it was a significant move, at the time, the trade was met with some mixed reactions.

Some felt Utah was too hasty, giving up a pick for a player with just one year left on his contract. Others thought that the Jazz should have traded straight for Jeff Teague who had up to that point been a better offensive player during his career and even had reached All-Star status in the East. Still others thought that Utah had made a great move, bringing in a solid veteran who fit their mold while also issuing a bold signal that the rebuild period was officially over.

For the early part of the season, the latter of those opinions absolutely looked to be the case. George Hill shined in Utah as it appeared that the Jazz had found a gem. In the month of November, Hill averaged 20 points per game on an electrifying 55.4 percent from the field and a blistering 52.5 percent from deep.

In every possible way, he looked like a match made in heaven for the Jazz. He was prolific on both ends of the floor, fit with the locker room and matched the team culture. In no time at all, news of the Jazz front office being anxious to pursue an extension rose to the forefront.

However, as luck would have it, things deteriorated quickly from there.

Hill soon found himself hampered with a number of injuries including a lingering toe issue that seemed to bother him all year long. The Jazz still engaged with Hill on extension talks in February, but eventually those broke down. There was reportedly still mutual interest between Hill and the Jazz, but when Hill failed to be able to suit up for Utah’s final three playoff games against the Golden State Warriors, that seemed to be the final straw.

The rest is pretty much history. After the Utah Jazz traded a first round pick to acquire Ricky Rubio this summer, the writing was essentially on the wall for Hill. He would then go on to sign a three-year, $57 million deal with the Sacramento Kings, which likely wasn’t nearly the deal he was seeking and probably wasn’t even as lucrative as what Utah was planning to extend him at in late winter.

Nevertheless, the deed at that point was done and Hill was gone. Although there’s no denying that he played an instrumental role in helping the Jazz return to the playoffs for the first time in five years, it’s also inarguable that his one-year rental was somewhat disappointing as he spent much of the year sidelined with injury and was ultimately unable to establish himself as a meaningful part of Utah’s future and championship pursuits.

With that all being the case, there certainly is an argument that the Jazz actually lucked out and will be better off with Ricky Rubio instead of Hill. Rubio is significantly younger than Hill and has two years remaining on a very reasonable contract. Beyond that, as I touched on earlier in the week, Rubio actually landed higher on Sports Illustrated’s list of Top 100 NBA Players than Hill did. Therefore, pinning Rubio as a more valuable player isn’t a stretch in the least.

However, speaking of the Sports Illustrated Top 100 list, interestingly enough a player that came in ahead of both Ricky Rubio and George Hill was none other than the other point guard involved with Utah’s daring trade a year ago – Jeff Teague. While of course I realize that the Sports Illustrated Top 100 isn’t anywhere close to an end-all by any means, it’s still worth noting that Teague came in at 55, just ahead of Rubio (61) and Hill (63).

And of course, hindsight is always a funny thing because making a trade never comes without risks and it’s always impossible to know what will work out best both in the short and long terms. However, with Teague being figured as hypothetically a better player than both Utah’s former and current point guard and considering that he could have been had from the Hawks by way of a direct trade rather than looping the Indiana Pacers and George Hill into the mix, it’s hard not to wonder, should the Utah Jazz have simply traded straight up for Jeff Teague instead of George Hill?

Now this is a complex question with a number of different possible answers that we’ll obviously never know. But there’s certainly a number of pros and cons regarding both scenarios. First off, for the record, even though things didn’t exactly pan out how the Jazz might have liked, Hill was an excellent fit in Utah from both a basketball and personality standpoint.

Meanwhile, Teague had a bit of a hard time meshing with Paul George and his teammates in Indiana despite being an Indianapolis native. I have a hard time believing Teague, who has appeared to be a good teammate, was the root of the problem there by any means, but there’s a chance that perhaps Teague would have hindered Utah’s chemistry last season.

Beyond that, Teague presented the same issue that Hill ultimately did – he only had one year remaining on his contract and was hoping to then cash in after proving himself in 2016-17. Thus, perhaps the Jazz would have run into a similar problem of Teague denying extension talks and instead looking to go elsewhere in free agency.

However, given the fact that Teague ironically ended up signing a contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves that was identical to George Hill’s – three-years, $57 million – I truly think there is a chance that if Teague had found success in Utah, the Jazz may have been able to get him to stay and perhaps even at a reasonable rate.

Given that he left his hometown team to join an unheralded (albeit on the rise) Minnesota team, it’s not unreasonable to think that if Teague had felt like playing in Utah was the best basketball situation for him, he very well could have stayed.

Operating under that lofty assumption, the question that then remains is whether or not Teague would have indeed been a better option for the Jazz last year than George Hill and for the future than Ricky Rubio. Looking at last season, it would appear that Hill had the edge in most aspects.

He averaged 16.9 points per game compared to Teague’s 15.3 and shot 47.7 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from deep whereas Teague went 44.2 and 35.7 percent, respectively. Not to mention, Hill was far and above the better defender.

However, Teague was also a much better distributing point guard last season as he dished out a hefty 7.8 assists, nearly twice as many as Hill’s 4.2. Beyond that, the number that really jumps off the page is a simple, but important one – games played. While Hill only suited up for 49 regular season games and missed Utah’s final three postseason contests, Teague didn’t miss a single game all of last season.

Durability is an absolute luxury and if Teague had been with Utah and played all 82 games, there’s no telling just how much more it could have benefited the injury-riddled Jazz in comparison to Hill bouncing in and out of the lineup all year long.

When looking at the comparison of these two players’ career stats, the trend largely continues. Although Teague has averaged more points per game over his career, Hill has been the more efficient of the two. Furthermore, Teague has been the better passer and despite playing two fewer seasons than Hill, he has actually played one more game, further exemplifying his durability.

Also, it’s important to recall that Hill had one of the best years of his career in his lone season with the Jazz, so who’s to say that Teague, playing alongside the likes of Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and Co. couldn’t have also had an incredible season. If the Jazz would have traded directly for him and if he would have ended up extending with Utah, there’s also an argument to be had that it would have benefited the Jazz more than going with Rubio who they have now.

Teague’s certainly a more prolific scorer and though not as flashy or well known of a passer as Rubio, he’s not all that far behind him in assists. Over their careers, Rubio has averaged three more per game, but last season Teague narrowed that gap significantly to a difference of just 1.3. Time will tell whether from here on out Teague or Rubio becomes the better player in the next two to three years, but as of right now, it’s not hard to say that Teague would be the better option.

So, in summing this all up into something a little more comprehensible, while it’s impossible to know exactly how trading directly for Teague would have wound up, here are my main thoughts. Teague may not have fit quite as well as George Hill did, but his durability and history as a scorer and assist-man may have actually made him a more valuable piece had he been an identical one-year rental like Hill was.

If Teague had, like Hill, parted with the Jazz after one season, it likely wouldn’t have made the Jazz all that much better or worse for their wear. However, given the fact that had he felt he was in a good situation, he might have re-signed, I’d say from what we know now, he could have very well been a more effective weapon down the road than Rubio, albeit on a significantly more costly contract.

Nevertheless, if Rubio proves to be a seamless fit and has the breakout year that I believe he’s capable of, perhaps he will eventually be able to put all possible regrets of not just trading for Teague in the first place to bed. So far the Spanish point guard has exhibited awesome off-court chemistry with his future teammates and if that carries over to the hardwood, he could be in for a special season.

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On the contrary, though, especially if Teague elevates his game even further in Minnesota, Utah Jazz fans may always wonder what may have happened if the team had rolled the dice on Jeff Teague instead of adding a guy in George Hill who for a brilliant moment seemed like the ideal answer at the point guard spot.

It’s impossible to look back and ever know for sure what could have been, but with any luck Utah’s future will turn out bright enough to the point that fans and the organization as a whole take comfort in knowing that not trading for Teague and not extending Hill worked out for the best as it allowed Rubio and/or Utah’s younger guards the opportunity to prove themselves at the team’s helm.