The Atlanta Hawks gambled on Dennis Schroder as their long-term point guard solution, and it paid off.
Jeff Teague was traded away last summer in a three-team deal between Atlanta, the Utah Jazz and the Indiana Pacers. Not only did Taurean Prince land with the Hawks, but it cleared room for Schroder, whose great postseason play — in limited minutes — led the organization to believe that he’s the point guard of the future.
In seven seasons with Atlanta, Teague averaged 12.1 points, 5.2 assists and was routinely seen as one of the NBA’s most underrated guards. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do, and Mike Budenholzer’s deep rotations limited his minutes and allowed him to put up solid numbers consistently. Teague was a one-time All-Star but was more than serviceable as a starter. Regardless, he played terribly during last postseason. And Schroder attracted all the eyeballs.
Despite playing significantly fewer minutes, Schroder, who was just 22, was a more efficient and aggressive scorer who was improving steadily as a passer. Further, the two were about equal regarding defensive impact — or lack thereof. Schroder picked up a ton of fouls while having a defensive box plus/minus of minus-3.0. Essentially, the average point guard was three points better than him on defense, but Teague managed to be three-tenths of a point worse (minus-3.3). Additionally, Schroder was a turnover machine and averaged 2.1 in just 19.1 minutes a night.
So, the organization decided to give him the reigns. Why? It’s simple, really: his potential is off the charts, and he showed the ability to ignite the offense each time down the floor. Now that the Hawks have cleaned house, Schroder’s aggression is necessary for them to be competitive on offense.
He was the team’s second-leading scorer at 17.9 points a night, and he handed out 6.3 assists on top of that. Moreover, Schroder shot 45.1 percent from the field and got most of his looks from inside the three-point line. He’s got blinding quickness to counteract his lack of range, and Schroder can effortlessly blow by most of the guards in the league. When Teague was four years deep, he had been Atlanta’s starter for a season already, and his teams were much more balanced than the current Hawks. Schroder has the scoring edge because that’s what he needs to do. It’s the same reason why Teague has the assist advantage.
The 2013 Hawks had Al Horford and Josh Smith as their go-to guys, which is why Teague handed out so many dimes. He had a high IQ and was a sneakily-good scorer when he was younger, so defenses had to pick their poison. Atlanta doesn’t have a feared offense anymore; in all honestly, they’re hardly respectable. Schroder still made it work. As great as he was during the regular season, we judge players on how they perform in April, May and June. Washington bounced Atlanta out of the first round, but Schroder was the third-best player. And arguably second to John Wall.
After the six games, he led the Hawks in scoring with 24.7 points a night. He also led them with 7.7 assists and shot a modest 45.5 percent from the field. Keep in mind that Wall was the one guarding him for most of the series. In four of the six contest he recorded at least nine dimes; he scored 20-plus in all but one and had a double-double in Games 5 and 6.
Night-in and night-out, Schroder took the challenge of doing battle with Wall, and he didn’t back down. The two went shot-for-shot, dime-for-dime and it’s clear that Atlanta has someone who can lead them into war against the elite teams in the East. If they find him help.
The Hawks are in an interesting spot. No one from the organization has talked about rebuilding, but they’ve made a handful of moves that lead to speculation about their future. Al Horford left along with Teague, and they traded Kyle Korver for a bag of Funions. Paul Millsap‘s name floated around the rumor mill, but nothing happened. However, the 32-year-old has a player option for next season, and the Associated Press reported that he “probably will opt out.” Millsap wants to stay with the Hawks, but, with the rising salary cap, he wants to land as big a contract as possible.
This summer’s free agency class is relatively deep, and Atlanta is a team who might gamble on a couple of young players. They already have Tim Hardaway Jr., who showed some flashes despite playing poorly against the Wizards. Prince, who the Hawks thrust into a huge role, surpasses any expectations and was one of the biggest surprises this postseason.
Outside of them, though, there’s not much. If Atlanta does decide to rebuild sooner than later, they’re set at the point guard position. Schroder’s only 23, and if they spend four years getting the franchise back to where it once was, he’ll be entering his prime and who knows how good he’ll be? The decision to move on from Teague looks great now, and it’ll be great for the future if Schroder continues to develop at this rate.
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