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Atlanta Hawks 2017-2018 player preview: Dennis Schröder

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For better or worse, Schröder is the man in Atlanta now.

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Following the departure of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard this offseason, the Atlanta Hawks are now firmly Dennis Schröder’s team. The starting point guard and the best player on the team by a sizable margin, Schröder will be the reason this team rises or falls this year, for better and for worse. The team will go as he goes, which means it will probably be inconsistent, infuriating at times and brilliant at others.

Schröder’s best skill is his top-end speed. There might not be a defender in the league capable of matching him step-for-step on a drive to the rim. Even with the relatively limited spacing of the 2016-17 Hawks, he still finished second in the league in drives per game, getting into the lane at will. Once he got there, however, things didn’t go nearly as well.

Schröder is an above-average finisher, but rarely gets fouled for someone who shoots around the rim as much as he does, bringing his efficiency down tremendously. When he drives, he’s looking to score, passing the ball on just 28.5 percent of his forays to the rim, 79th out of 139 guys who averaged at least 2.5 drives per game last season. When he does pass, turnovers are plentiful, which may give some reasoning why he doesn’t pass very much in the lane.

Most of his drives come out of isolation or spot-up opportunities—because he lacks an off-the-dribble three-point shot, teams instruct their defenders to go under any screen for Schröder, cutting off his driving lanes and turning him into a jump-shooter. He finished in the 29th percentile of all players in scoring when his defender goes under a screen, according to Synergy, and in the 49th percentile in overall shooting out of the pick-and-roll.

He’s a low-usage driver in pick-and-roll, settling for his unreliable jumper far too often. This year, he’ll have more opportunities to work on that jumper, which would open up his game tremendously if he could improve to even being an average threat, which would force defenders to over the screen and allow Schröder the room to drive into the paint, where he’s at his best.

For all of Schröder’s jump-shooting woes off the bounce, he actually performed well in spot-up shooting last season, giving rise to the thought that he can put together his off-the-dribble shooting to become a more all-around guard. If that spot-up success can continue in the future, he’ll be a great off-ball threat for a Hawks offense that relies on more side-to-side ball movement than most around the league, thanks to head coach Mike Budenholzer’s San Antonio roots.

Continued success in spot-up shooting will also open up even more of those driving lanes that Schröder loves to exploit. A little more buy-in from him to the Hawks’ ball- and man-movement style would also improve Atlanta’s offense and Schröder’s overall production—there are far too many possessions where he gives up the ball and doesn’t move at all, hanging out 30 feet from the basket and waiting to get the ball back for a drive into the lane. More off-ball cutting and screening would open things up for his teammates and himself, but the coaching staff has to motivate him properly to do those little things that don’t always show up on the box score or in highlights.

Defensively, Schröder took a bit of a step back last season, as his first full season as the starting point guard took a toll on his effort level. As a backup during his first three years in the league, Schröder was a menace on that end, picking opposing guards up in the backcourt, but as his offensive role and minute load expanded, he had to give up a lot of that high-effort, grinding defensive play.

The quickness that shows up in spades on the offensive end is still apparent when he’s defending in space, as he’s able to stick with even the fastest point guards in isolation situations. He’s got the length to bother guys with the ball, but his steal and block rates leave a lot to be desired. Standing just 6’1” but possessing a 7’0” wingspan, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to tally more deflections, steals, and blocks than he did last season.

As a defender at the point of attack in pick-and-roll, Schröder hasn’t quite figured out how to get over screens as well as he could, but he does well in following the game plan depending on the Hawks’ opposition. He goes under when needed and fights over as well as he can when it’s called for, though he still gets stuck on far too many screens to be classified as an above-average pick-and-roll defender. The Hawks can do a bit of switching when he’s on the floor, as his length helps him to guard bigger players.

In off-ball situations, Schröder still suffers from young guy mistakes—going into his fifth year in the league, he just has to iron those out. He can get a little reckless, leaving his guy wide-open to go double in the paint and not closing out well when the ball inevitably finds his guy. He’s good at closing out on non-shooters; he breaks down well and can stay in front of just about anybody, but when he’s faced with a shooter, he’ll still help down into the lane and doesn’t close well enough to warrant this type of behavior.

The Hawks are well and truly Schröder’s team and it’s certainly going to be an up-and-down adventure, as it always seems to be with him. There are moments where you can see the upside, the ceiling he possesses, but until he becomes an above-average shooter in pick-and-roll and cuts some of the defensive mistakes out of his game, he won’t be much more than the 20-25th best point guard in the league.

The potential is there and he’s only 24 going into his second year as the full-time starter, so there’s still time for the German point guard to vault his way up the league rankings, but the clock is certainly ticking.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise stated.