It’s already been a wild ride.
Just 20 games into the NBA season – nearly the quarter mark – and the Hawks have been as up-and-down as any team in the league. They have won six straight games. They also are currently on a streak of losses in eight of nine games.
Dennis Schroder has been a central figure in the drama as the newly anointed starting point guard. There has been Good Dennis. There has been Bad Dennis. Certainly, the entirety of the Hawks’ roller coaster season does not fall on Schroder. However, management and coaches knew there were be growing pains with their young point guard when they elected to move on from Jeff Teague.
Coach Mike Budenholzer defended Schroder as the main issue facing the slumping 10-10 Hawks, who play at the Raptors Saturday night.
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“I think taking over and being a starter for the first time, as much as we want all of us including him, to be perfect every night, he’s not,” Budenholzer said. “He’s had a couple games that we all wish were better. I would say, by in large, he’s been good. We need it to where nobody has an off night whether it’s Paul (Millsap) or Dwight (Howard) or Kyle (Korver) or (Kent Bazemore) or Thabo (Sefolosha). That’s every team’s challenge. Can we get everyone playing well all at the same time?”
Schroder is second on the Hawks in scoring at 15.6 points per game. His last three games, including Friday’s home drubbing at the hands of the Pistons, have been 24, a career-high 31 and 17 points, respectively. He has scored in double figures in 18 of the Hawks’ 20 games.
He is also averaging 6.0 assists and 3.2 turnovers per game. Those numbers are what have been a concern early in his first season as a starter. He ranks tied for 19th in the NBA in assists but is tied for ninth in turnovers. He has had four five-turnover games and six four-turnover games.
Schroder was one of the bright spots in the Hawks’ 121-85 loss to the Pistons. In addition to his 17 points, he tied a career high with 11 assists and had just one turnover.
“I’ve just got to lead the team more,” Schroder said recently when asked if he feels responsible for the Hawks’ current slide. “I’m watching video. I’m trying to get better. I’m talking to my teammates about what I can do better. Just try to keep improving.”
With the Hawks up-tempo style of play, Budenholzer expects some turnovers. As long as they come in the flow of the game and not are not careless or forced, he can live with some. He said that is what matters to him and not trying to limit the turnovers to a specific number. In fact, he said, if Schroder is not aggressive and is more concerned with not turning the ball over, it adversely affects the Hawks’ offense.
Budenholzer said he and Schroder have had several conversations about his new role.
“One of the biggest things we’ve talked about is his work ethic, his approach, putting time in after practice, putting time in on days off, I think he’s done a good job of that,” Budenholzer said. “When he’s working, you see the benefits of it in his play. Whether he’s playing great or is having a tough night, if he come backs and works the next day then that becomes the consistency of his work life and it carries over to how he plays each night.”
Suns head coach Earl Watson knows about the growth of a point guard in the NBA. He played 13 seasons in the league at the position before becoming a coach. He also knows about the pressure on a young player in an important position.
“I’ve always said that the team takes on the personality of the coach but the game and the style of play takes on the personality of the point guard,” Watson said. “The point guard creates the pace, creates the tempo, creates the attitude. As a young point guard in this league, he came in real young, there are going to be some tough nights, to be honest with you. The pressure is similar to a quarterback. So Atlanta has a lot of success in previous seasons, he’s taking on a lot of that pressure now.
“I’ve always thought that if he can be centered in the right way and allow him to understand the bigger picture – realizing that no one made it to the finals in November – you can grow and develop in this moment. The most challenging moments are the best learning experiences. For a point guard it’s more (in the head) than it is physically. It’s internal not external.”