The changing of the guard is complete.
Atlanta Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder has been operating at an extremely high level this season, and that was once again true on Saturday night. Schröder scored a career-high 11 points while also setting a career-best with 5 steals in the comeback victory over the New York Knicks, but more importantly, Saturday night signified the completion of the shift from Shelvin Mack to Schröder as the team's backup point guard.
At least for now.
Schröder was on the floor for more than 20 minutes of playing time against New York, while Mack played just over 4 and a half minutes, with the entirety of that time occurring with another Atlanta point guard on the floor. This is not a "new" trend, either, as the 2013 first round pick eclipsed Mack in minutes against both the Hornets (by a lopsided margin) and Spurs earlier in the week.
The movement to Schröder as a more primary option has, non-coincidentally, aligned with some high-level play from the rangy point guard, and head coach Mike Budenholzer had this to say about his young ball-handler following Saturday's game:
"All of us are gaining a lot of confidence and comfort with Dennis. He’s come in and had a big impact."
"I think his teammates are feeling good about him. I’m feeling good about him."
Going back to his improved play in the Las Vegas Summer League, there has been wholesale change in Schröder's comfort level in operating the offense. As a rookie in 2013-2014, he was routinely benched as a result of inconsistent and spotty play, and Shelvin Mack's emergence (one that helped him receive a significant contract in restricted free agency) gave Budenholzer little reason to continue deploying Schröder in high-leverage situations.
However, things are different now, and that is evident by Mack's usage. In fairness, the 24-year-old Mack has struggled this season, shooting just 21.4% from the floor while posting a 8.5 PER, but aside from his personal shortcomings, the pure difference in raw talent is evident between the two. It is no secret that Dennis Schröder possesses the upside worthy of a first-round investment, but at 21 years old, there is reason to believe that is plenty of growth remaining.
Dennis, after Saturday's game:
"Coach trusts me now. My confidence is great right now. I just try to play my game. I think I am successful with that."
"Last year, I thought about it every time, when I got the ball in my hands. But now, I just play and I think it’s great."
In the world of Mike Budenholzer, performance and results are all that matters, and because of that, we could see Shelvin Mack returning to the floor in a more prominent role at any moment over the next few days and weeks. However, Dennis Schröder has not given his head coach any reason to revert to last season's rotation, and for as long as he is playing with the aforementioned confidence that he readily admits to holding, the sky is the limit for the youngest member of the Atlanta Hawks roster.