The 2015 Atlanta Hawks were a darling of a team. It’s hard to think of a better way to describe them. They won 60 games without a superstar. No one in their starting lineup scored more than 16.7 points per game. No one scored less than 12.1. They all played over 30 minutes per game…
…They all played defense. They all moved the ball and were threats from behind the arc. They all had jobs. They all did those jobs. They all seemed like pretty nice guys. No one seemed to think it was “his” team.
Except maybe one guy did think it was his team, and he was coming off the bench.
Dennis Schroder was in his second season in 2015. He played 19.7 minutes per game and averaged 10 points and 4.1 assists. His per-36 averages were as impressive as any of the starters.
I have no idea whether or not Dennis Schroder is a good guy. He doesn’t seem like a particularly nice one when he’s on the court.
Later, Schroder would discuss the trash talk with K.L. Chouinard, claiming, “Coach don’t want me to talk like that. He wants me to be San Antonio…Kawhi Leonard, so it’s kind of tough, you know?”
Mike Budenholzer is a Popovich disciple and the architect of that delicately symmetrical 2015 Hawks team. He has a reputation as a coach who resists the “star” dynamic. He told RealGM before their season opener in Dallas this season that he “doesn’t tend to be a big talker.” There’s a certain philosophy, and at some point his players should just be indoctrinated into it.
But that 2015 team—the one that was no single player’s team—well, it’s Schroder’s team now and Budenholzer is going to have to make that work for him.
All the ingredients were there for Schroder to embrace the Spurs-ian way; to be a patient cog that is rewarded with the bounty of success. He has been groomed by a coach who lived that system, won championships with it, and branched off his own career because of it. As a 20-year-old, Schroder experienced first-hand the heights that system took the Hawks to and the excitement it brought the fans.
But Schroder is who he is. Budenholzer might want him to “be San Antonio,” but he didn’t draft Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard. He drafted a guy who’s dead set on showing everyone just how good he is. Schroder doesn’t see the court as something to be shared. He sees the court as his. Leave it to the nine other players to play their part.
The roster likely isn’t good enough for the Hawks to reach the playoffs, but it still might serve as a decent litmus test for Schroder’s ceiling as a franchise piece. Very little can happen on offense for the Hawks that is not directly created by Schroder. Almost every other player is an inconsistent producer. But floor spreaders like Marco Belinelli, Mike, Muscala, and Ersan Ilyasova will give Schroder room to isolate and drive. Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon are at least steady contributors on both ends.
But rookie John Collins will be Schroder’s primary toy to play with all season. A 20-year old freakishly athletic 6’10 power forward who can play center and handle the ball. He’s raw, but even through just three games he seems poised to pair with a guy like Schroder. If Schroder is getting past his defender and hitting shots, then it raises Collins’ game. All of a sudden he’s putting back missed layups, rolling to the basket, and handling the ball in transition. If Schroder wants to prove you can build a young team around him, Collins will need to be his best ally.
While the 2015 Hawks’ 2015 starting lineup is now dispersed around the league, adding leadership to their respective teams, Schroder is barking out orders and telling his teammates to clear out. He didn’t steal Jeff Teague’s starting job so that he could mimic Teague’s playing style. In the Hawks’ season opener he drove at will on the Mavericks, going to his right every time before finishing with 28 points and seven assists.
Schroder is as fast in the halfcourt as any player in the NBA. He can finish at the basket and pull up for a jumper. His ridiculous length and aggression could theoretically combine to form an excellent perimeter defender. The NBA has no shortage of great point guards, but the Hawks have one who Steph Curry would not enjoy dealing with for seven games.
There isn’t a player in the NBA right now with a greater combination of a desire to run a team and the green light to do it. Schroder will be making $15 million this season and the next three after that. There’s a new era in Atlanta.
“His leadership is important to us, and his voice is important to us, and his understanding of everything we do is important to us,” Budenholzer told RealGM. “He’s got to be able to be a second voice for us that can help carry that message and whatever it is we’re doing in the locker room.”
This isn’t San Antonio. Schroder’s might not be the second voice in Atlanta. It might be the first.