It’s no secret that the Atlanta Hawks have entrusted the starting point guard position to the 23-year old Dennis Schröder. Over the past couple of seasons observers could clearly see Schröder pushing the previous incumbent Jeff Teague for crunch time minutes. Last season especially, Mike Budenholzer would often stick with, or go back to Schröder during the closing stretch of games on those occasions when young German guard could find that often elusive balance between a healthy aggressiveness and just enough to control to let him play at his highest level.
When comparing Schröder and Teague even from a distance it is plain to see that their personalities could not be more dissimilar. Teague could play at very high levels having confidence in his speed and handle, but was just never going to be an alpha player that successful teams need taking control of offensive possessions during crunch time. I have always felt Teague would be most effectively deployed with an alpha wing scorer, which perfectly described the situation he finds himself in with the Pacers and his new teammate Paul George. Schröder has never lacked confidence or the alpha mindset but we will not know how much of that he had to bottle at times while trying to accept the role of the backup point guard.
Three images of Schröder stay with me from last season. Firstly, I remember when Budenholzer decided to sit Schröder for consecutive road games against the Rockets and Knicks following possibly one of his worst games of the season against the Pacers in which he went 2 of 8 on field goals with just one assist and two turnovers. This was also the point in the season in which the Hawks coaching staff decided to pivot on their defensive scheme after accepting that the team’s offense was just never going to reach the unbelievably good level of play from the prior season in which the offensive dominance led them to 60 wins and to the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The image that strikes me from the two-game stretch of DNP-CD’s was that throughout both games Schröder was engaged from the bench encouraging his teammates often with the towel flap he has made famous. No sulking, no withdrawing, ever encouraging, ever engaged. One of those two games might have been the Hawks most impressive win on the season coming back on the road in Houston down 19 points halfway through the second quarter following an absolute offensive blitz by the Rockets. Each rotational unit that played in this game needed every ounce of encouragement they could get; led by Schröder, the bench did not fail to provide never ending visible support and encouragement.
Secondly, I remember a game in Milwaukee that was hard fought and came down to a final possession in the closing seconds of a tie game. Schröder had played maybe his best game of the year at that point (16 points on just 11 shooting possessions ) to lead the Hawks back into contention for the potential win. The Hawks called timeout after the Bucks turned the ball over with 11 seconds to play with the scored tied at 95-95. After catching the inbound pass, Teague took a couple of dribbles in the key to ready himself to initiate the action, just two dribbles as I recall it all the while Schröder was jumping up and down on the bench waving his arms and towel as if trying to magically get Teague to get into his action more quickly. Schröder was aware (maybe Teague was not?) that the Bucks had a foul to give and that they would take it as soon and Teague threatened with an attack. They did so with seven seconds to go. Outside of 10 seconds remaining teams can usually draw up a primary and a secondary action to make multiple offensive options available. Less than eight seconds and the options are much more limited. Schröder watched Teague dribble that option away with visible frustration that he disguised as encouraging more urgency from his teammate. In that moment, the differences in their on-court personalities could not have been more visible.
Last, I remember the last game of the 2015-16 season, the sweeping loss at home to the Cavaliers (again). The entire NBA universe had basically accepted the series as good as over before the game even started. But Schröder literally willed the Hawks into contention in this game with 25 minutes of maybe his strongest, most alpha play of his career. He scored 21 points on 18 shooting possessions and had 6 assists and just 2 turnovers. Down the stretch of the well contested game, most observers could see that the Cavaliers were just simply to strong and too physical for that Hawks team. Schröder took the Hawks’ final 5 shots all within 4 feet of the rim converting 3 of them (I will take 60% at the rim from my point guard anytime… Steph Curry, Goran Dragic and Chris Paul were the only starting point guards to produce that over the 2015-16 season. ) Schröder was throwing every bit of his 172 lb frame at those Cavaliers and came up just short. Interesting that the player who hit consecutive field goals prior to Schröder’s run of 5 attempts: Kent Bazemore.
Statistically, Teague was a more effective player across the board than was Schröder last year. And Schröder will need to be a more consistent shot maker, he will need to turn the ball over with less frequency, he will need to be decisively better in transition offense if this Hawks team is going to have success. But it will be more than mildly interesting to see how the turnover in mindset and personality at the point guard position plays out as the season gets underway. Schröder has the keys to the Hawks offense. Here’s to hoping that one more year of maturation has him prepared to elevate his play as he takes on significantly more responsibility for his team.