Jacob Eisenberg breaks down the analytics and history behind Dennis Schröder’s transition to the NBA…
In Elton Brand’s 14 NBA seasons, the two-time All Star has played alongside some of the league’s most respected point guards. From Sam Cassell to pre-injury Shaun Livingston to Andre Miller to Jrue Holiday, Brand has grown accustomed to excellence from his floor generals.
So when Brand signed with Atlanta over the summer and was told to check out the highlight reel for his new teammate, a 19-year-old who had been nicknamed “Baby Rondo,” he was understandably skeptical of the moniker.
“People were like, ‘This kid’s just like a young (Rajon) Rondo,’” Brand said. “And I was like, ‘Come on, guys. You can’t compare him to Rondo just because they both have long arms.’”
However, after two weeks of practicing with the now-20-year-old Dennis Schröder , Brand has been won over:
“I was wrong,” Brand admitted. “I can definitely see where those comparisons come from now. It’s uncanny.”
Ask around the Hawks’ locker room and the consensus is clear: Schröder is not your typical 20-year-old.
“He’s way ahead of the learning curve,” said Lou Williams. “It’s clear he’s played professionally, so this isn’t his first rodeo. There’s not a lot we have to tell Dennis.”
For Royal Ivey, who has made a career out of backing up young stars such as Holiday, Russell Westbrook and Brandon Jennings, Schröder’s attitude on the court is already separating him from his predecessors.
“The thing I love the most about him is that he has an edge to his game,” said Ivey. “He’s aggressive and competitive. That’s big. He’s as fierce a competitor as I’ve seen from a kid his age.”
Besides the overwhelming praise he’s received from teammates, there are many reasons why we should be excited to see Schröder take on the NBA. Let’s examine:
The Teague Effect
The importance of Jeff Teague’s return to the Hawks cannot be overstated in terms of what it will do for Schröder’s development. With Teague at the helm of the offense, Atlanta can allow Schröder to develop at his own speed without the responsibilities of orchestrating the offense on a nightly basis.
As Brand pointed out, “The point guard spot is the toughest for a rookie to learn. The position requires a lot of mental toughness.”
So while Schröder will benefit from Teague alleviating pressure on the court, he also will benefit from matching up against Teague – a proven NBA starter – in scrimmages.
“I’m learning a lot from Jeff,” Schröder said. “I have to practice against him and that alone is making me better with each day.“
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Schröder’s game is the belief that he is a poor shooter.
Yes, Schröder distributes, defends and looks a lot like Rondo. However, when it comes to shooting, Schröder compares with the best point guard shooters of recent drafts.
According to Synergy Sports, Schröder shot an absurd 52.6 on catch-and-shoot opportunities in Germany last season. In other words, when it came to spot-up jump shots, he was undeniably elite. Schröder’s 1.56 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities ranked him fifth among all shooters across the European leagues (per DraftExpress).
“He can really shoot it,” Brand noted. “I mean, he can shoot the ball better than I thought a rookie could shoot.”
To put into perspective just how impressive Schröder’s 52.6 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities really is, understand that John Wall barely eclipsed 20 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities coming out of Kentucky.
Schröder’s spot-up shooting skills fit a need for the Hawks. With Devin Harris leaving for Dallas and Williams still rehabbing his torn ACL, Schröder expects to see a lot of pairings with Teague in the backcourt.
Last season, according to Synergy Sports, only 20 percent of Schröder’s shots came off of the pass, as he was primarily responsible for setting up teammates.
However, with Atlanta moving to a pick-and-roll offense under new coach Mike Budenholzer, Schröder can expect a lot of open corner threes when Teague penetrates to the hoop.
For example, notice John Jenkins open at the top of your screen following this Teague pick-and-roll:
An ironic twist to having the “Baby Rondo” label for Schröder is that teams may actually wind up underestimating some key strengths to his game.
In Germany, Schröder showed a consistent stroke, shooting 40.2 percent from behind the arc for the entire season. That percentage was actually brought down by his inability to convert when he had to create open shots for himself. He shot just 26 percent off the dribble from three, per Synergy Sports.
At a glance, Schröder’s 29 percent from deep in the Summer League looks dreadful. However, that number jumps to a respectable 37 percent when you exclude his 0-for-5 against San Antonio on July 15.
Historically, European-bred players have initially struggled with the NBA’s deeper 3-point line. As you can see in the video below, Schröder will need to put extra focus into making sure his feet are behind the line when he launches:
In almost all cases, these struggles with the line are overcome midway through the season. As a recent example, Pablo Prigioni shot just over 33 percent from the arc in his first two months with the Knicks last season. By January, he was hovering around 45 percent from deep.
Two areas where Schröder will need to eventually improve are with his efficiency on fast break opportunities and his range from inside the arc. Schröder converted just 44 percent of his shots in transition last season (per Synergy Sports), including a forgettable 30.6 percent on pull-up jumpers.
His 32.5 percent shooting on midrange jumpers allowed for opposing big men to slip under screens in pick-and-rolls. This calls for some concern, as nearly half (43%) of Schröder’s plays revolved around pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports.
It is worth noting that Schröder recognizes his shooting woes out of the pick-and-roll. He habitually turned down uncontested midrange jumpers in favor of contested drives at the rim last season. As a result, Schröder shot just 43 mid-range jumpers over his 33-game schedule.
Still, these areas of weakness are not particularly damning to Schröder’s immediate impact with the Hawks. As mentioned, Teague will be handling a majority of the penetration duties out of the pick-and-roll, meaning Schröder can thrive in his natural comfort zone of being a catch-and-shoot weapon on the perimeter.
What could impact Schröder’s playing time, however, is his carelessness with the ball. With a 20 percent turnover rate per 100 possessions in Europe (per DraftExpress) and 3.4 turnovers per game in the Summer League, Schröder needs to be more focused. His elite ballhandling skills are both a blessing and a curse to his game, as he tends to nonchalantly expose the ball to defenders when he’s in the triple-threat stance or driving into the lane.
In transition, his desire to electrify the crowd can also be problematic.
Despite his dazzling speed and high basketball IQ, he was surprisingly inefficient when it came to orchestrating fast break opportunities in Europe. Per 100 fast break opportunities, Schröder turned the ball over 27 percent in the full court, per Synergy Sports.
This is not as dire a problem as the stat may suggest. Schröder often had to compensate for his teammates’ lack of speed or athleticism, limiting his overall talent in running the floor. In other words, he had to dumb his game down in transition to accommodate for the European style. In Atlanta, Schröder will have Al Horford and Paul Millsap to catch and finish fast break opportunities at the rim.
“I think the NBA’s fast pace will fit me much better,” Schröder said. “In Germany, most of the time, we’d only run set plays. I look forward to fast-paced opportunities.”
Schröder’s hunger for success is clear on the court. As Hawks forward Kyle Korver observed, “You can just tell he wants it. You can tell he wants to be elite. He doesn’t just want to make it in the NBA. He wants to be a star.”
As is the case, Schröder certainly has the right coaching staff to help him reach his potential.
The Coach’s Effect
In 2001, the San Antonio Spurs drafted a little-known teenager out of France in the first round. Twelve years later, Tony Parker has arguably become the best point guard in the league. Budenholzer, the longtime trusted assistant for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, has largely been credited for preparing Parker for the NBA.
Now, as Budenholzer takes on his new role as coach of the Hawks, he brings Parker’s blueprint for success to Atlanta to share with Schröder.
“When I first got here, coach talked to me and told me he was going to work with me like he did with Tony Parker,” Schröder shared. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me to get better. Coach has had a lot of success in the past.”
Having Quin Snyder as an assistant on the staff also figures to be huge for Schröder’s development.
Snyder’s background as a top assistant for Duke in the 1990s and as Missouri’s coach in the early 2000s has made him one of the most respected developers of talent in the world. More recently, Snyder served as a developer for Doug Collins with the 76ers and helped turn Holiday into an All Star.
For Schröder’s sake, Snyder’s biggest strength may be his experience with the European game. Snyder worked as an assistant for CSKA Moscow last season and is using the knowledge he gained from his time in Europe to relate to Schröder.
“I talk with Quin every day,” Schröder said. “He’s the coach I’ve talked with the most and we’ve gotten very close. He’s teaching me things that he learned from his point guard over in Moscow. I’m really lucky to have him.”
Budenholzer and Snyder’s initial assessment for Schröder was that he needed to put on weight to be able to handle the NBA’s physical demands. Schröder was put on a strength-training regimen last month and has gained eight pounds over the last four weeks.
While the strength training may have originally been implemented to help on defense, Schröder might actually see a bigger payoff on the offensive end.
Schröder finished only 51.1 percent of his shots at the rim last season, per Synergy Sports. Based on highlight tapes, many of those misses were a result of a weak drives or altered shots in the air. With more upper-body muscle, expect Schröder to have more confidence and control in the air upon attack.
So, knowing that all of the pieces are in place for Schröder to thrive, what can we realistically expect from the 20-year-old?
By and large, the translation for point guards coming from Europe to the NBA has been successful. Seven teams finished last season with a European-bred starting point guard. Of the recent first-rounders from Europe chosen as teams’ future starting point guards, only Rodrigue Beaubois has earned the “bust” label. For whatever reason, European point guards are viewed as equally mysterious to European big men, despite having a much longer track record for success.
Schröder’s easiest comparison from Europe will be with Brandon Jennings. Both prefer up-tempo speeds and were limited to slower half-court styles overseas.
Jennings, who played with Virtus Roma of the Italian League in 2008-2009, averaged 5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 17 minutes per game. He was used primarily as the team’s perimeter defensive stopper. The Italian League was ranked as the second-best European League that season.
For Schröder, the stats look more impressive. He finished with 11.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 24.7 minutes. Granted, Schröder played in the Bundesliga – the seventh best European league. But the competition was more legitimate than in the NCAA. In head-to-head matchups with former college stars Tyrese Rice and Jared Jordan, Schröder shined on both ends of the floor.
For those skeptical of how successfully a player can transition from Europe’s seventh-best league to the NBA, just look at the Suns’ P.J. Tucker as a primary example. Tucker averaged 16 points per game for Brose Basket Bamberg in 2011-2012. Less than 12 months later, he was starting for Phoenix as the team’s primary defensive stopper:
Still, it’s not fair to take Schröder’s German stats and expect a perfectly clean translation. Luckily, we have Schroder’s body of work from the Las Vegas Summer League to analyze as well.
Schröder had 28 assists in five Summer League games, good for 5.6 per game. While nearly six assists per game are very impressive for a 19-year-old, Schröder actually outplayed those numbers considerably.
In the five games, Schröder dished out four passes that led directly to fouls on what would’ve otherwise been considered as easy layups. Factor in an additional 18 passes over the five-game stretch in which his teammates either missed uncontested jump shots in their hot zones or missed moderately defended layups at the rim, and it is clear Schroder’s assists totals, in even the most conservative of estimates, should have been closer to eight per game.
As impressive as his passing was, Schröder turned the most heads over the summer with his defense.
Korver, who prefaced his assessment of Schroder by saying he didn’t want to get ahead of himself by hyping up the prospect, proceeded to rave anyway.
“The thing I’m most impressed with him is that he doesn’t ever seem to get screened,” Korver shared. “He always slips around the screen. Always. He’s just got a knack for that. That’s something you can’t teach in the weight room or on the court. He’s got the ability to be a great defender.”
In the NBA, where nearly every offense utilizes the pick-and-roll to close out tight games, Schröder’s ability to avoid screens could prove to be an X-factor for the Hawks. Also, with a long 6-7 wingspan and a great knack for jumping passing lanes, Schröder’s light frame is less of a concern than for a typical 6-2, 175-pound point guard.
Schröder’s defense is meticulously scientific. When applying pressure in the full court, it is clear that he is more concerned with frustrating opponents than he is with gambling for steals. When he reaches for the ball, he does so with quick pokes and jabs rather than with lofty swipes across the opponent’s body. Over the duration of a game, Schröder visibly rattles his opponents with great consistency:
While Schröder struggled with foul trouble in the Summer League (averaging just under five fouls a game), it’s safe to assume those troubles were a product of the league’s 10-foul limit. After all, Schröder’s 1.9 fouls per game in Germany last season prove that he can defend without fouling.
“His defense is amazing,” said Brand. “When he picks up full court, it’s crazy.”
Journeyman point guard Shelvin Mack added, “He just makes everything so difficult for his opponent. It’s fun to watch as a teammate.”
Clearly, lots of aspects within Schröder’s game are going to be fun to watch. His coaches and teammates have understandably high expectations and are looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish as a 20-year-old.
Ivey’s excitement captured the mood around media day best.
“He was a diamond in the rough of this year’s draft,” Ivey said. “Not that many people know about him now, but they will soon enough. The sky’s the limit for a kid with a work ethic like him. Watch out for my boy Baby Rondo.”
As for “Baby Rondo” himself, being a foundational building block in Atlanta is an opportunity he has dreamed about his entire life.
“I would love to one day be the face of the Hawks,” Schroder admitted. “We have so much to look forward to.”
Jacob Eisenberg is a junior at Emory University and works as a credentialed reporter at Atlanta Hawks games. Check out his website here and be sure to follow him on twitter @eisenberg43.