To most Atlanta Hawks fans, it was inevitable that Dennis Schroder would one day be the starting point guard. He has the talent, temperament, and will to be more than a back-up point guard, and in the summer of 2017 the Hawks made Schroder the full-time starter by trading away Jeff Teague. In late October, Schroder signed a four-year extension with the team, solidifying his status for the next several seasons.
The Dennis Schroder era in Atlanta has been tumultuous this season, as the 23-year-old struggled for the first few months. Many questioned whether or not he had the skills to start on a good offense, and his play was a contributing factor to the team’s skid in November that wiped out a 9-2 start. However, Schroder has been much better since early December, and is showing the potential that Atlanta saw in him this summer. Without the flashy numbers of highlight reels of many of his peers, he has developed into a capable hub for the offense to flow through.
By almost any metric, Schroder had a difficult November and December. While any statistical arguments should come with the caveat that the entire Hawks team was wildly inconsistent in November and December, some of the advanced numbers seem especially damning. For example, Atlanta posted a net rating of negative-6.7 points per 100 possessions with Schroder on the court in November.
However, since November that number has been steadily rising. The Hawks posted a negative-1.5 net rating with Schroder on the court in December, and so far in January (as of the 24th) that number has climbed even further to a positive-0.7. While no player should ever be evaluated on the strength of one statistic alone, Schroder’s on-court net rating rise provides a decent look into how he has matured as a player this season.
Perhaps most encouragingly, the Hawks’ defensive rating with Schroder on the floor improved by 4.3 points per 100 possessions from December to January as well, suggesting that the young guard has become more consistent as a defender. Schroder is also a member of one of the top-10 four-man defensive units in the league, proving that he can at least stay on the floor with good scorers. This is not to argue that he has emerged as an elite defender from the point guard position, but rather that there are signs of improvement and skill.
However, the biggest gain that Schroder has made this year comes from offense. He is shooting better across the board, particularly on 3-pointers and shots at the rim. While the season is still young enough to take these numbers with at least some measure of restraint, the fact that Schroder is making 3-pointers at a respectable rate (36%) is enormously encouraging. His improved percentage at the rim — 54.6% this season as compared to 51.7% last season — is also important, since it enhances his ability to blow past slower defenders.
Atlanta doesn’t need Schroder to be a top-five or top-10 point guard to field a good team, and few expected this of him when he signed his contract extension in October. Most people familiar with the team also didn’t see his early struggles as a cause for concern, since going from a back-up to a starting role is never easy. However, the Hawks do need their young point guard to play well for this team to have any chance of postseason success, and his improvements this season point to a bright future.