I’m happy to present a guest column from Irish NBA writer Graham Chapple — BG
As the regular season has gone from its early beginnings to its halfway point, teams are now more aware of their strengths and weaknesses — and how they rank among the competition — than they were at the beginning of the season. Some teams realize that their front court is too crowded, their bench isn’t giving them the lift they require or that almost nothing is working. For all such teams there is the trade season when teams can flip their surplus assets for something that can be of benefit, whether it’s right now (an established player) or for the future (a young player or draft pick).
Teams like the New York Knicks, Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets are examples of teams who could really use a point guard to stabilize the position. Fans have taken notice of their teams’ weakness, prompting them to fantasize about potential trades for a quality point guard. One particular point guard that fans are yearning for is third-year German point guard Dennis Schröder.
And why wouldn’t they? Dennis is a talented young point guard who has starter potential. He’s lightning quick, with the ability to collapse the defense on drives to the rim. He can also pass and defend. If he improves as a finisher and develops even an average 3-point shot, he’ll be a very solid point guard for any team whether it’s in a starting or bench role.
So, you read that back and sum it up — a young, 22 year old point guard with bags of potential to be a very solid point guard in the NBA for a long time. It makes you wonder why on earth the Hawks would want to part with such a player. But it’s not as simple as you might think.
Schröder, like every NBA player, has ambitions. And before the beginning of the season, in an interview with German magazine Bild, Schröder spoke of his desire to become a starting point guard and said that, if he didn’t have the opportunity to do so with the Hawks, “I will look for other opportunities.” He also added, “I must be patient and work hard and eventually I’ll have my opportunities.”
The moment I saw these comments, the first thing that came to my mind was “this sounds exactly like the situation with Reggie Jackson and the Oklahoma City Thunder.” For those unfamiliar with the Reggie Jackson-OKC situation, Jackson felt he had the talent to start and didn’t want to back up Russell Westbrook his whole career. When he knew that he was never going to displace Westbrook as starter, he grew discontent and pushed for a move away from OKC. They obliged and, after the trade deadline deal to send Jackson to Detroit, Kevin Durant said, “We felt like everybody wanted to be here except for one guy.”
However, Schröder has recently backpedaled on those comments he made to Bild Sports in October, saying that his intentions were misrepresented. He also mentioned that his relationship with Jeff Teague was similar to a “big brother,” noting how Teague has helped him in his career so far, in both his rookie and sophomore seasons. This would seem to indicate that there is no strife between the two point guards, despite any suspicions to the contrary. It’s also worth noting that, his backpedal notwithstanding, Schröder wants to be a starting point guard.
Schröder’s situation isn’t totally similar to the Jackson-OKC situation. The big difference is Jackson played backup for one of the league’s best point guards in Westbrook. Jackson was never going to usurp Westbrook’s starting position. Given the opportunity to start in Detroit, Jackson is having a great season and proving that his ambitions were not unfounded.
While Westbrook’s position was (barring injuries) untouchable, Teague’s is definitely more attainable. While many expected Schröder to continue his fine development heading into his third year, he’s headed for a season almost identical to his second season. In 35 games played so far, Schröder is averaging 10.5 points on 41.4% shooting, 31.2% shooting from behind the arc, 4.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.9 turnovers in 21.5 minutes.
Not to say he’s having a bad season, but compare those numbers to last season’s numbers — 10 points per game on 42.7% shooting, 35.1% from behind the arc, 4.1 assists, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.9 turnover in 19.7 minutes. His production is almost identical (in fact, slightly lower) this season. He has shown inconsistency in his performances throughout the season, leaving Hawks fans frustrated.
The good news for Dennis’ quest for a starting role is that the same thing can be said for Atlanta’s first choice point guard, Jeff Teague. Teague has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season. The home fixture against the Oklahoma City Thunder was such a case. Teague took over that game in the fourth quarter and earned the Hawks a victory.
But he’s also had games where he has looked a shadow of himself — shooting the ball poorly and, for a penetrating guard, not getting to the line as often as he should — averaging 4.5 free throw attempts per game. As for the rest of Teague’s numbers, he’s averaging 15.3 points (on 41.9% shooting and 38.9% from behind the arc), 5.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.7 turnovers in 28 minutes through 34 games.
It’s unfortunate for Schröder’s pursuit of a starting role, because you’d have to imagine that if he played with consistency, it may have succeeded. However, neither Teague nor Schröder have distinguished themselves and Bud has elected to keep Teague in the starting lineup. But should he reconsider?
Their per 36 numbers are quite similar. Teague is averaging 18.9 points, 6.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 3.3 turnovers per 36. Meanwhile, Schröder is averaging 17.7 points, 7.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 3.2 turnovers per 36 minutes. You get 1.2 points less with Schröder but 1.2 assists more than Teague.
A quick glance at the shooting percentages suggests that Teague is the sharper shooter (and he probably is), but their effective field goal and true shooting percentages are very similar. Teague’s effective field goal percentage is 46.4% while his true shooting percentage is 53.7%. Meanwhile Schröder’s effective field goal percentage is 46.6% and his true shooting percentage is slightly below Teague’s at 50.2%.
Their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) is also quite similar. Teague’s offensive rating is 102.8 points per 100 possessions, while Dennis’ offensive rating is 106.6 coming off the bench. Here’s an interesting stat — as a starter, Dennis’ offensive rating is 101.4 points per 100 possessions. Again, he has only started six games, but it hints that the two aren’t as far apart as you might think.
So we’ve established that Teague and Schröder’s production on the offensive end is quite similar, but how about on the defensive end? Well, this is where the similarities end.
Teague’s defensive rating is 104.2, meaning the Hawks allow an average of 104.2 points per 100 possessions when Teague is on the floor. Compare this to Schröder’s defensive rating of 97.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s quite the difference. However, you might be thinking to yourself “Hold on, Schröder plays against second unit guys who aren’t as good as the first unit guys Teague has to face.” That’s a fair point, but I have a stat for you that you may or may not value. In six games as a starter this season, Dennis’ defensive rating is 96.0 in 28 minutes per game. Again, it’s only six games. To give you the entire context of that stat, two of those games he played with Jeff Teague (while Korver was rested in the early stages of the season) and he started the other four games when Teague was sidelined with an ankle injury. The Hawks lost three of those four games. So make of that what you will …
Dennis does have the better defensive real plus-minus rating (a player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance according to ESPN.com) of -1.51 to Teague’s -2.25. These numbers solidify Dennis’ case as the superior defender, and he passes the eye test too. I’ve watched every Hawks game this season, and regularly notice Dennis hounding his man on defense with great intensity. I notice that Dennis forces more turnovers, and that he fights over picks more often.
That’s not to say Schröder’s defense is flawless. In a recent game against the Knicks, Dennis lost all track of a cutting Jose Calderon, who basically sealed the game with a cutting layup. And I’m not saying that Teague is a bad defender. After all, he does have active hands, averaging 1.3 steals. While Dennis is the better on-ball defender, Teague is more skilled when it comes to stripping/poking the ball away from his opponent when they’re driving toward the rim.
However, there is one glaring liability that Teague possesses. I’ve seen Teague check out of games on multiple occasions this season. And when I say “check out” I mean that it looks as though he’s not interested in what is going on around him. And when he’s in this mode he plays lazy defense and poor offense — taking poor shots, turning the ball over or making poor decisions — and playing without energy or interest. While Dennis himself can be erratic (leading to poor offense and turnovers), I wouldn’t say he checks out of games the way Teague is prone to at times.
So, who would you start?
While Bud has this decision to make as coach, he also has a decision looming over the future of the position as head of basketball operations. Dennis is a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017. If he’s already enticing suitors now, imagine what how much attention he will receive next season when he’s ready to become a restricted free agent, particularly if his game does go up a notch. Right now teams are monitoring this situation in Atlanta, waiting for it to unfold just as it did with Reggie Jackson and the Thunder. They’re waiting for Schröder to reiterate his ambitions (whether he publicly admits them or not) to be a starter, waiting for him to grow discontent and waiting for him to try force his way out. There are teams out there who will be willing to offer Dennis a lot money and a starting role.
Don’t expect to hear much about it this season, but next season Atlanta will have to decide what to do with Teague and Schröder. Teague is also a free agent in 2017 but, unlike Schröder, he’s unrestricted, meaning he can walk away that summer without the Hawks receiving anything in return. Do the Hawks continue to ride with Teague and cash in on Dennis’ high value? Or do they let go of Teague and commit to Dennis?
The plot is destined to thicken …