We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:
Is Dennis Schroder ready for his starting role with the Hawks?
This season, the spotlight in Atlanta will be on the big guy in the middle making his homecoming. Dwight Howard, with all his potential and all his questions, will be the man with a three-deep hoard of media members around him every time he speaks. He’s the guy who will get interviewed on TNT pregame. He will be the face of this team for many. Howard is the lightning rod.
But he’s not the biggest key to the Hawks season.
If the Hawks are going to stay a team that has home court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, here is the question that matters most:
Is Dennis Schroder ready to be Atlanta’s starting point guard?
There are follow-up questions there: Can Schroder adjust his game to fit coach Mike Budenholzer’s ball-sharing style better? Can he turn the stretches of game-changing play into something consistent? Can players such as Paul Millsap adjust to Schroder’s style of shot creation?
For the past couple seasons — when the Hawks won 60 then 48 games — Jeff Teague was the point guard setting up the offense, Schroder came off the bench as a change of pace (and at times the two played together). Teague created shots off the pick-and-roll and was good about moving the ball to the hot hand — Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Kover, whoever. Teague is more of a classic point guard who fit well with Atlanta’s team-first system.
However, in the clutch down-the-stretch moments of Games 1 and 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season (which the Hawks lost to the Cavaliers), Budenholzer turned to Schroder. Now he’s turned to Schroder full time.
Schroder brings a different style. A more aggressive style based around his quickness with the ball. Schroder is more shoot first — except his shooting needs to improve. Schroder shot 32.2 percent from three last season, and the undersized point guard shot just 52.8 percent inside the restricted area. He doesn’t draw a lot of fouls on those drives, either.
Schroder uses the pick-and-roll differently than Teague, the young German prefers to pound the ball more and probe with his dribble when he comes off the pick. That’s probably fine with Howard, who seems to hate to come out and set high picks then roll (even though that’s his strength) because of a warped idea that big men need to ball in the post.
The questions about the new point guard come down to this: Schroder isn’t as quick a decision maker in the half court as Teague, and his decisions often weren’t as good (they were looking for his shot, not others). That has to change, and he has to be more consistent if the Hawks are going to succeed.
On the other end of the floor, Teague was smart and steady, a quality defender. Schroder is undersized, struggles against big guards, plays aggressively and likes to take gambles for steals (he uses his length that way). The Hawks were 4.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively last season with Schroder on the bench (although there is noise in that number, how Schroder does with the other starters and Howard protecting the rim behind him remains to be seen).
It’s not hard to see why Budenholzer felt it was time to give the keys to Schroder. As nbawowy.com tells us, when Schroder, Korver, Millsap and Kent Bazemore were on the court together last season, the Hawks outscored their opponents by 12.8 points per 100 possessions (it should be noted Horford was on the court for the majority of those minutes). Overall, the Hawks outscored their opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with Schroder on the court last season.
Echoing that kind of success for Atlanta this season is going to mean adjustments from everyone. Schroder has to be willing to give up the ball more readily and be a better facilitator in the half court. Coach Mike Budenholzer needs to modify his offense to play faster and more to Schroder’s strengths, plus blend in Howard (who plays the five in a very different way than Horford did on both ends of the floor). All of that is going to take some time and compromises.
The Hawks are all in on Schroder — his backup is a 32-year-old Jarrett Jack coming off an ACL surgery, he’s not taking over the job. It is Schroder that has to go from playing just more than 20 minutes a night to leading a team with playoff expectations. He can’t just do it in flashes anymore, and he’s going to have to compromise parts of his game to fit with his teammates. Starting and being a spark off the bench are very different roles.
Mike Budenholzer has bet that Schroder is ready for his turn in the spotlight.