Every year, there’s that small group of guys who come straight out of college to thrive in regular minutes in the NBA. More often than not though, rookie development is a bit of a slow burner. There’s countless adjustments for the players to make. Generally, these are things they’ve heard about and planned for before ever actually hitting the floor in the big league, but putting them into practice can be a different story. The pace of play, intensity of schedule, and sheer size of the opposing players can contribute to a daunting rookie season. What makes things even more difficult though is when a player has to move from one side of the world to the other in order to play in the NBA. That’s an even bigger adjustment, and it’s one that the Atlanta Hawks’ rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder has been trying to make.
The 20 year old German and his family have relocated from the city of Braunschweig in central Germany, to the metropolis of Atlanta in order for him to follow his dreams. Before the draft, there was plenty of talk of how in the long term, Schroeder could prove to be the pick of the class. His speed, passing ability, active defense and high basketball IQ, led to him being frequently compared to Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. Taken with the 17th pick by the Hawks, it didn’t take long for Schroeder to give flashes of his ability that echoed the comparisons. He was one of the standout performers in the Las Vegas Summer League, and a strong preseason saw his place secured in the Hawks rotation to start the season.
Schroeder started the season as the backup point guard to Jeff Teague, and played well in his first few games. In his fourth NBA game of his career, there was a turning point though. Playing in Sacramento against the Kings, Schroeder got tangled up with DeMarcus Cousins while trying to get around a screen, in an incident that he would later be suspended for. In his absence, Shelvin Mack stepped in as the primary backup and excelled, meaning the young German’s minutes were reduced from that point on.
When he has got on the court, Schroeder can create amazing plays, but often leaves you with the impression that he is trying to force things a little. This would explain his inclination to turn the ball over which is currently his biggest problem. It’s an aspect of his game that coach Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks player development staff have been working on for much of the season. On some of Schroeder’s toughest nights this season, Budenholzer has shown no hesitation in pulling him from the game immediately. Back in December against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Schroeder turned the ball over five seconds after entering the game and instantly found himself sitting down again. This may seem harsh, but Budenholzer is teaching him the realities of the NBA and recent signs suggest his point is getting through.
In the last couple of months, Schroeder has once again become a more regular fixture in the Hawks rotations. Having had his playing time increased due to the Hawks chronic injury problems, Schroeder has remained a factor since many have returned. To take a look at his improvement, the Hawks game against the Nets in London back in January acts as a watershed for Schroeder’s resurgence.
Before that game, the young German was averaging 12 minutes per game with 3.3 points, 2.1 assists and 0.9 rebounds, while turning the ball over 1.5 times a night. Those numbers coincide with poor shooting also, as Schroeder shot 37.3 percent from the field, a dire 10 percent from deep, and 66.7 percent from the line. In the time since, Schroeder’s assist numbers have gone down but he has improved in every other one of those categories. In 13.6 minutes, the rookie is shooting 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from downtown and 72.2 percent from the charity stripe, which all combines for 4.2 points per game. He’s grabbing 1.5 boards a night, and although his assists have dropped to 1.8, more importantly, so have his turnovers to 1.1.
As he comes towards the end of his first full season, there are definitely marked signs of improvement in Schroeder’s game. He’s still young, and still a very raw prospect though. Just as likely as he is to have an ultra efficient, effective game, he will have plenty of night’s where he goes completely off the boil. In an era where general manager’s often draft based on upside, not many will have more than Schroeder. If the Hawks can remain patient in the next couple of years, they could well have their point guard of the future.