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Dennis Schroder: The Finisher

Eric Yeboah —  January 27, 2017

Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, and Steph Curry maybe some of names blurted out when asked to name some of the best finishers at the point guard position. Rightfully so, as those individuals have each carved out their own niche whether it’s Irving’s ambidextrous finishes, Parker’s floater, Curry’s high layups off the glass or Rose’s body bending layups through contact.

Dennis Schroder’s name still remains mostly forgotten in this category, which may change by the end of his first year as a full-time starter. Tuning into a Hawks game, you may be drawn to four time All Star Paul Millsap’s scoring prowess, but this motion offense doesn’t work without Schroder’s penetration and finishing ability.His teammates have consistently echoed that sentiment all throughout this year that this team is much more dangerous when he’s attacking putting pressure on both the defense and the rim. The numbers don’t lie, when Schroder scores 23 points or more the Hawks are 10-2. In those twelve games he went for 31 against Westbrook, 27 against Derrick Rose, 28 against the Golden State killer that is Kyrie Irving and 24 a piece facing Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry.

In every one of those elite matchups he showed not only the ability to go toe to toe with some of the best, not only did he show improvement in his midrange jump shot; but sent a message that he can get to the rim with ease at the same level as those big names.

“I don’t really care what people say,” said Schroder when referring to being an overlooked finisher. “I am just trying to prove to my teammates every time we go out there and win games. Everything else will come, people will then talk about it, when we keep winning, people will keep watching us then everything will profit off of that.”

Coming out of the NBA Draft, the Rondo comparisons appeared valid due to his pass first mentality, defensive presence and lack of shooting; but more than anything was the way he found creases in the defense to slither his way through for a finish as quick as lightning. He’s not an elite athlete by any stretch, but what he does possess is a lethal first step, long arms and big hands. Those attributes have assisted in his current 55.3-percent conversion rate on layups, by far the highest of his career. Hidden in that number is his exceptional ability at understanding the amount of time he has in certain situations to release his shot given the type of defender attempting to contest his tries, and all of that came with time and practice.

“My first year I had to figure out how I would finish because there are so many big guys blocking my shots,” said Schroder. “So I had to adjust and see how I could finish without people blocking my shots. I started working more with the coaches, watching little guards in the league like Tony Parker and Rondo really taught me a lot.”

These series of plays highlight Schroder’s ability to use that quickness to create an opening to the lane then use his IQ to gauge just how much or how little time he has to release his shot. You will also notice how he extends his body as he attempts the layup to create enough separation between him and his defender.

Understanding his defender seems to come natural to Schroder, and when you comprehend given scenarios, you then produce plethora of finishes. Particularly someone of his stature with long arms should use the scoop layups and high floating bankers to his advantage, because defenders have no choice but to either foul trying to contest or give up an easy bucket.

All of the best finishers in the league use it, but what I think sets Schroder apart is his ability to consistently convert off either foot or hand, meaning he he can finish taking off on his right leg with his left hand or finish using one side of the body on either side of the rim. In other words, he’s uncanny, unpredictable; but that’s what makes a great finisher great. That is what made Nate Archibald, Rod Strickland, Kevin Johnson and Allen Iverson special and worth the ticket. Those guys played the glass so well and Schroder does the same whether he is on balance or not.

These series of plays highlight Schroder’s ability to score off balance as well as properly place the ball on the glass at all sorts of angles using either hand. Additionally, you can see how effective his misdirection dribble move is and how it helps accelerate him into the paint.

This season, Schroder’s three ball has improved and he’s taking the mid range pull up more confidently than he ever has. Nuzzled in all of this progress, we may have forgotten how lethal he is at getting to the basket. His finishes may or may not wow you like the rest of the bunch that I named earlier, but what they will do is force you to respect his craft, his style, his way.

“I don’t think he is overlooked compared to those other big names because those guys are really good,” said teammate Kent Bazemore on where Schroder ranks among the best finishers at his position. “But I do think in time he will be regarded as one of the best.”

Howard Returns Home

Eric Yeboah —  July 4, 2016

The Atlanta Hawks, historically, have had trouble acquiring star power via free agency. And in a summer where Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors shook the NBA to its core, Dwight Howard hardly seems to qualify.

 But Howard’s return to his hometown—where were first introduced to the 6-foot-10 slender teenage with a Hollywood smile in a no. 12 Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy jersey—couldn’t have come at a better time.

 The front office was unable or unwilling to come to terms with Al Horford on a long term deal, and Howard’s signing a three-year deal was good insurance for their franchise cornerstone’s eventual departure to the Boston Celtics. The move lets Atlanta remain competitive now without tying up the cap over a longer period of time.

Now, the Hawks job isn’t done. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent Atlanta in New York a year ago. Kent Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a four-year $70 million dollar deal, and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot. But Atlanta still has a dearth of elite shot creation, and, even if Schroder takes a leap as the starting point guard, there’s still a lack of depth behind him. But perhaps Howard diving hard in pick and rolls can generate more gravity than Horford or Millsap were able to muster working from the elbows.

And though Atlanta already had a quality defense, maybe Howard’s different defensive skill set allows the team to shore up some weaknesses that appeared in the playoffs the past two seasons.

As the 2nd best defensive team in the league, you would be hard pressed to find a glaring weakness. Dwight’s biggest impact defensively will be providing rim protection for a team that ranked 2nd in rim protection field goal percentage holding a opponents to 44.9%. Atlanta also ranked first in blocks, defensive rebounds and field goal percentage defending 2 pointers. However, what we found out against bigger, longer, athletic teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (swept) and Milwaukee Bucks (1-2 regular season series record) is that Atlanta doesn’t have the athletes to match.

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Lebron is unstoppable when he has a full head of steam headed towards the basket, but the lack of size and shot blocking ability is apparent

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Frye gets to the pain and because of his length there is no shot any Hawk has to contest.

As an individual, Dwight’s presence on the defensive end is far more imposing than Horford’s or Millsap; so opposing players are certainly more careful attempting a shot around the basket. Last season, when facing the champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwight’s defensive field goal percentage contesting shots less than 6 feet was 33.33%(2 games), compared to Al Horford’s 66.7%( 3 games). Watching Tristan Thompson gather several offensive rebounds for 2nd chance points throughout the semifinals was a reminder that Atlanta ranked 18th in that department, another area Howard’s 8.4 defensive rebounds per game will come in handy as opposed to Horford’s 5.5.

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Tristan Thompson out hustles entire Hawks frontcourt using his instincts and leaping ability. Two attributes Dwight uses when rebounding the ball.

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Dwight howard rebounding activity

Budenholzer will have to tweak the scheme just a tad bit in order to fully capitalize off of Dwight’s strengths by not allowing him too far away from the basket as Horford might off been at times. Now not saying Howard doesn’t have the capability to cover a guard off a pick n roll for a couple seconds, but it’s not exactly his comfort zone. Luckily for him he will be playing with a supporting cast that is instructed to wreak havoc on the perimeter in order to reduce easy driving lanes to the rim. Nevertheless, Howard is one of the best erasers in this league and has been for quiet some time.

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Howard protecting the rim

 

The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year leaves an offense first, second, and then defense third mentality in Houston for one of the best defensive coaches in the league.

The Hawks finished in the top three in defensive rating over the past two seasons. What Budenholzer has done is highly impressive, given the lack of size and rebounding capabilities on the roster, and now he has a game-changing player with the ability to shore up both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing presence anchoring the defense, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams.

Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could in conjunction with a perimeter group who swarmed ball handlers with pressure defense to speed offenses up and out of their comfort zone, but they still lacked great size on the frontline. Howard is a rim protecting presence who should allow defenders to scramble less, maintain the integrity of their rotations, and clean the glass.

Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy, he should be able to keep Howard’s minutes in check.

Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, and much of that can be attributed to injuries (knees and back) and poor coaching philosophies he was forced to endure. However, he is not absolved of blame. Defense is all about effort and he looked disengaged at times last season. The injuries are something Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more concerning. Howard discussed the situation in Houston on Inside the NBA on TNT during the playoffs.
“As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on,” Howard said on TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes, go between the legs and do all that stuff, that would be great. But I have to rely on my teammates to get the ball. Now, there have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games in situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow to be a better player at that.”
Howard played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue as much a mental block as physical. He averaged just 13.7 points per game, the second lowest of his career, on just 8.5 field goals a game, on a team that took 7,392 regular season threes during his tenure.

He now joins a philosophy that believes in ball movement and has shown they don’t mind playing through their bigs as Atlanta averaged the most post touches last season with 19.8 a game—two factors I’m sure played a large part in his decision. Howard will certainly find much more comfort playing with a willing passer in Dennis Schroder, especially in pick and roll situations, which will force defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters like Korver and Bazemore spotting up.

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Howard in Pick and Roll

 

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Howard rolling to rim

Schroder is much more prone to use picks to create better looks for his own scoring options. Last year he ranked third in frequency of using the pick and roll with a 54% rating, two spots above Chris Paul, and having five of his 11 points per game come from that play type. At this point in his career he is not threat to defenses shooting the ball and typically uses the likes of Millsap and Horford’s offensive prowess to his advantage. During Wednesday’s press conference Howard stated that Dennis reminds him “of a bigger Rondo.” And said that the pick and roll game with both of them will be hard to defend.

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Schroder to Horford

Howard may not be the midrange shooter that Horford was for Atlanta, but he certainly is just as effective rolling to the rim awaiting a pass from a point guard. Even with the lack of touches he this past season, Howard still shot 60% as a roll man during it all. If you have watched him long enough you understand that he’s quiet comfortable in pick and rolls, but the real questions lie in the post. We were all optimistic when he walked into los Angeles to work with all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul Jabaar, but that soon faded after he battled a bad back all season long and never quiet got in sync with Mike Dantoni. He then heads to Houston where 3-time NBA champion Kevin Mchale and the masterful footwork teachings of Hakeem Olajuwon’s awaited him, but that too never manifested.

So for Atlanta, barring any vast improvement in his low post scoring ability, Dwight is already one of the top offensive rebounders in the league, which can be a source for points, but he will be most successful in Atlanta’s offense stationed closer to the basket (he shot 69.6% from less than 5 feet last season) feeding off the playmaking ability from his teammates, rather if it’s a drive and dish or off a pick and roll. Budenholzer will still need to call his number for post ups, but idea is not to exhaust him too much by demanding he create his own offense majority of the time. Although the playing style was not in his favor last year, just 244 of his 976 points came from post ups.

Another luxury Howard now has is that this scheme also encourages interior passing between its bigs to create easier scoring opportunities—a similar scheme is currently ran on the Los Angles Clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a hi-low or pick and roll setting. Millsap is a better floor spacer than Griffin, and close enough of as a passer.

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Here we see a series of clips showing Blake Griffins passing abilities in the Hi-Lo situations.

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Dwight did share time on the floor with a passing forward in Josh Smith; and Hi-Lo situations is something he’s shown no problem excelling in like Deandre Jordan.

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Millsap to Horford

Howard is now 30 years old with a history of injuries and enough drama to fill a Netflix series. The Hawks, on the court, have been a stable franchise in recent years in search of a catalyst to hit a higher ceiling. Beginning a new chapter, Howard will now wear #8 in hopes that a return to his Atlanta roots will be just what his career needed.  Recently, Howard spoke with the Atlanta Journal–Constitution about the ultimate goal in Atlanta and his motivation preparing for next season.

“I want to do whatever I can to bring a championship home,” Howard said Tuesday, “I know it’s not going to be easy. I’ve worked extremely hard this summer, every summer. I’m very motivated. I’m really ticked off about last season. I’m looking forward to coming back with a different mentality.”

 

Coming into draft night the Atlanta Hawks had several questions to answer after shipping Jeff Teague to his hometown Pacers just a day earlier for the 12th pick. The move that helps Atlanta sign Horford and possibly bring back Bazemore. Atlanta struggled much of this season rebounding and taking care of the ball, with an undersized frontcourt and unsettling backcourt debate. However, just as detrimental as those deficiencies were, the lack of youth and athleticism were just as apparent.

 

Free agent Kent Bazemore was that youthful bright spot in the backcourt bringing energy, athleticism, intensity and shooting; but he will surely be sought after this summer and once again put the Hawks back in familiar predicament searching for a multidimensional asset at either the SG or SF position.

 

Despite how the draft unfolded, Hawks GM Wes Wilcox reassured importance of Kent Bazemore to this team.

 

Wilcox and Coach Mike Budenholzer elected to address those needs in this draft by selecting Taurean Prince (6’6) and DeAndre Bembry(6’8), Two hard working individuals that possess not only athleticism, but the ability to score in a variety of ways that fit the hawks system, qualities that were glaringly missing as LeBron and company swept their season away once again. As they’ve shown in the past, the possibility of losing their most versatile player (like demarre last summer) prompted their decision to draft these two in hopes they too embrace and flourish within Budenholzers developmental system like Bazemore.

Wilcox talks about the focus of this draft

 

Prince averaged 15 points (leading scorer) and 6 rebounds per game leading Baylor to the NCAA tournament, where they were upset in the first round by 12th seed Yale. His versatility fits right into the scheme coach Bud employs, he prefers players like Demarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha, who are interchangeable between either the 2 or 3 spot. Prince compares mostly to Demarre because of his 6”11 wingspan and lateral quickness that assist in his effectiveness as defender. Offensively, Prince may be limited somewhat as a ballhandler, but the ability to knock down the three point shot, mainly catch n shoot, was apparent in the loss versus Yale as he went 4-7 from beyond. Prince can contribute right away by being that high motor disrupter defensively and floor spreader offensively that we saw at Baylor. Despite his troubles creating opportunities for himself off the dribble right now; Budenholzer’s system doesn’t require that skillset from his wings, it highlights everything Prince is made of.

 

The A-10 Player of the Year, Deandre Bembry, provides the hawks with more playmaking, more versatility defensively along with a team-oriented mindset that coincides with Atlanta’s concept. Because of his ballhandling skills and quickness, he has a knack of finding the seams in defenses comfortably, thus creating opportunities for himself and others. In his final year as a St. Joseph Hawk, Bembry was only one of three players in the nation to average at least 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4 assist, Ben Simmons and Denzel Valentine were the others two.

 

“He’s a good Hawks fit. He can handle, he can pass, and he’s unselfish. He is an exceptionally great passer, said Wilcox.

 

Deandre talks about his versatility

 

Shooting currently is his biggest obstacle, consisting of his mechanics (slow release and shoots on the way down) shot selection and three point woes(just 26% last season). Luckily for him, Hawks shooting coach Ben Sullivan has done a remarkable job with Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha; but even more notably he played a large part in Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard’s development as shooters during his time in San Antonio. He will surely have his work cut out for him with Bembry as a shooter, but his all around game fits just right.

 Lets be honest, neither one of these guys were what many Hawks fans expected. But they are definitely what were needed.

 

“We are confident in the work we’ve done and the time we put in to this”, said a smiling Wes Wilcox post-draft.

Photo cred: Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images

It’s been a wild couple of days.

The Hawks managed to secure themselves the 12th overall pick to add to their own 21st pick. But it came at a cost: Jeff Teague is gone, headed to Indiana in the same deal will send George Hill to Utah and (from Utah) the 12th overall pick to Atlanta. Now, the trade hasn’t been made official yet (and probably won’t until July), so the Hawks can’t actually confirm Prince as their draft pick, but you can take it on good faith that the Jazz selected for the Hawks last night.

12th overall pick

With the 12th pick the Hawks drafted Taurean Prince out of Baylor. I was ecstatic with the Hawks selecting Prince, I think he’s an excellent fit for the Hawks, possessing a lot of tools that the Hawks like in their wing players.

From Part 2 of our Hawks Draft Preview:

Prince, meanwhile, possesses very good height for a small forward, standing 6’8 tall (with a 6’11.5 wingspan to boot). He looks great physically, with a strong frame to accompany his other strong physical attributes. Prince’s size and his long arms would also help the Hawks improve a facet of their game that could always do with improvement — rebounding.

He’s exactly the kind of wing the Hawks need — defense, three-point shooting, defensive length (6’11.5 ft), legitimate size (6’8) — and I can envision him playing a significant role for the team next season. I’m a firm believer that he’s going to be a (possibly very) good defender, but it’s worth noting that Baylor did play a zone defense so we don’t have the full picture when it comes to Prince’s defense, but I have no reason to doubt it.

Continue Reading…

Feature image: Source: Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America

In Part 1 of this Atlanta Hawks draft preview, we identified that given the nature of Kent Bazemore’s free agency (with the unprecedented spike in salary cap) and his Early Bird Rights, and given the Hawks’ lack of wing depth, the wing positions are in the most need of improvement in this draft. Now that we’ve identified what position the Hawks should look to draft in (here’s Part 1, in case you missed it), let’s go through some actual draft candidates.

But first, some house cleaning…

It’s worth mentioning before we start, today’s topic revolves around who the Hawks may select with the 21st overall selection, and not their two second round picks. Why are we only discussing their first round pick? It would just drag on forever if we go through second round prospects too…

When considering players, I’m making a conscious effort to find players that would “somewhat” fit in the Hawks system. So, players like Malachi Richardson — who’s probably not falling to 21 anyways — who love to shoot, play isolation, shoot, to not pass, shoot, kills the play, and shoot, I’m not including. There’s not many players like this (it’s mainly just Richardson, actually), but I thought it was worth mentioning. This may or may not have been an excuse to exclude Malachi Richardson…

I’m not including players who will clearly not be available at 21. When I say “clearly”, I mean the top prospects like Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown — who are clearly being selected by lottery teams — not the Wade Baldwin’s and Deyonta Davis’ of the world, who may or may not be selected in the lottery. That should go without saying, but there’s always one person out there…

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(Feature image: Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Ah, draft night… One of my favorite dates on the NBA calendar. I don’t know what it is about this day that I look forward to so much. I suppose the fascination of which player ends up where, and what he can contribute to his new team is what which really grips me the most. What said player will be able to blossom into over the next few years, what said player’s arrival means for an existing player on the team already, and so on…

Personally, I find it hard to explain why I love draft day so much — it’s just a great day for all involved. Unless you’re the Brooklyn Nets this year, in which case, there’s always next year. Or 2019, whichever.

It’s not just a very interesting day for the fans — who spend weeks speculating and discussing/arguing who their team should select — but it’s also an interesting day for executives all around the league, as the future of their franchise potentially hangs in the balance by a thread of one draft pick. Some executives, however, are going to be busier than others, with the Nuggets, the Celtics, the Suns, and the Sixers all owning at least three first round picks. Each.

It’s going to be a pretty busy day for Atlanta Hawks too, who have the 21st overall selection as well as two second round selections (44 and 54).

Naturally, the question all Hawks fans are asking is “Who should we draft?”. But to thoroughly answer that question, we must do our research, and identify all the different forces at play here. There’s all sorts of different avenues the Hawks could explore when approaching this year’s draft, and today we’re going to address them — and by doing so, identifying the area (the area that I at least believe) the Hawks should draft in. Then we’ll be able to ask, and answer, the original question.

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The Hawks were originally supposed to have the 15th pick in the 2015 NBA draft. When they were on the clock at 15, they traded the pick to the Washington Wizards, who selected Kelly Oubre. In return, the Hawks received the 19th pick and two future second-rounders.

But the Hawks were not done making moves. When 19 came up on the clock, the Hawks again made a trade, sending the 19th pick to the New York Knicks for Tim Hardaway Jr.

The move is a weird one for the Hawks, but there is some sense to be made from it. With the move, the Hawks will save at least $500,000 in cap space from not having to pay the required rookie salary for the 15th pick. Hardaway also has some value in that he’s an above-average shooter.

However, the weaknesses with Hardaway are clear. Despite his 6′-6 size, Hardaway has not been a good defender at the NBA level. Hardaway also has few established skills other than shooting, and he has a tendency to chuck the ball at an inefficient rate.

Considering the Hawks made two moves to get to this point, they may not be done. And just in my opinion, I hope they are not done, because this is not a good move, especially if the front office did it to save money; they could have just completely traded out of the first round, which would have saved them nearly $2 million in cap space instead of only a quarter of that.