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What is the Next Step for Dennis Schroder?

Atlanta’s point guard still has room to grow

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Close to a month ago, my colleague Jeff Siegel wrote a player review for Dennis Schroder. I’d encourage everyone to read it, since it’s a good exploration of Schroder’s experience and growing pains, and Siegel’s conclusion that “Atlanta has to be happy with how he’s performed in his first season behind the wheel for the Hawks” is one that I agree with. However, much of Schroder’s value to Atlanta comes from his future value and potential, elements that I’d like to cover now.

In essence, Schroder’s future growth is one of the most important objectives for the Hawks right now. Beyond that, there are concrete reasons to believe that his best years are still very much in front of him. Schroder often gets overshadowed by some of the higher-profile veterans on the team, but he is easily one of the most important players in Atlanta. Even if he has already carried a starter’s load for a full season, he still has the age and potential of many prospects.

A quick glance at Basketball-Reference’s leaderboards for the 2016-17 season show Schroder’s name in several places. He finished 12th in assists, 16th in assists per game, and 13th in assist percentage. All of these are good marks, but he also ended the year with the sixth-most turnovers. His presence on this list isn’t necessarily terrible though, since players like James Harden, John Wall, and LeBron James all had more than he. In terms of raw data though, it isn’t the most encouraging statistic.

As a whole, it seems safe to say that Schroder played essentially at the level of a league-average starting point guard. One could make a decent argument that his comparative lack of shooting skills (more on that in a moment), and other weaknesses should place him in the lower end of the “starter” tier, but it’s difficult to claim that he should fall any lower than that.

Schroder also had an excellent playoff series, including moments where he matched Wall blow for blow. Playoff series are small enough in sample size that they often don’t point to future performance. As important as it is not to overreact to a six-game set though, it is undeniably encouraging that Schroder looked confident as the starter on a competitive playoff team.

And it’s here that things get really interesting. If Schroder is an average point guard now, at age 23, it’s conceivable (and perhaps even likely) that he could continue to grow. Atlanta fans have rightly been ecstatic about Taurean Prince’s maturation and potential as a rookie, and he and Schroder are essentially the same age. Prince is easily one of the most exciting players on this Atlanta team right now, but it’s important not to forget that Schroder has almost as much room for growth as well.

A young age doesn’t necessarily dictate future potential, but Schroder has been improving ever year since he entered the NBA. Consider the weakest parts of his game — turnovers and three-point shooting. Last season, he made considerable gains in both areas. Schroder shot 34% on 294 three-point attempts (per Basketball-Reference), which is shockingly close to league averages. And while his raw turnover totals are up (due to his starter status), he actually protected the ball better in 2016-17 than 2015-16. His turnovers per 100 possessions dropped from 5.6 to 5.1.

Paul Millsap’s free agency has rightly dominated recent Hawks’ news, and the same is true of the GM search. These are important issues, and they affect the team’s long-term future. But buried beneath players like Millsap and executive searches, it’s important to recognize the significant gains that Schroder has made in his career, and the potential that they hold.

Because if Schroder can turn into a league-average shooter, and control his turnovers, his physical skills and age (he’s easily right in the middle of his athletic prime) give him the chance to become a much better player going forward. The NBA is stacked with elite point guards right now, but Schroder doesn’t even need to come close to players like Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry to have huge value. Just look at the contracts that players like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, or (funnily enough) Teague will most like get this summer. Teams around the league know that having an above-average point guard adds immeasurably to the offense.

The Hawks, as writers both on this site and elsewhere have previously said, stand at a crossroads right now. Something resembling a full-on rebuild may be in store if Millsap leaves, and the team won’t have much flexibility if he stays. No matter what happens this summer though, there are still exciting, young players on this roster. Prince has rightly turned heads around the league with his development, but what he has done shouldn’t overshadow Schroder’s growth and still-present potential. If he continues to improve, the Hawks future will look much brighter.