Hawks rookie Dennis Schröder turns heads at Las Vegas Summer League
LAS VEGAS — Yes, Dennis Schröder looks an awful lot like Rajon Rondo’s little brother.
Yes, the Hawks’ rookie point guard has a Rondo-esque build and wingspan. Yes, his listed height (6-foot-1) and weight (168 pounds) are very similar to the Boston floor leader’s (6-1, 186), and his pass-first, intense-defense, shaky-shooting game recalls Rondo’s to a tee. Yes, he was selected in the second half of the first round, at No. 17, just like Rondo, who was taken No. 21 in 2006. And, yes, he’s well aware of his perceived likeness to Rondo, a sentiment that followed him throughout the pre-draft process this year and has circulated here at summer league all week.
One can only imagine how miffed Rondo would be if he were forced to endure this type of constant comparative refrain. With that in mind, it’s hard to believe the 19-year-old Schröder’s being truly put off by much of anything at this point.
Soft-spoken and upbeat in front of cameras and microphones, Schröder has displayed a nurturing presence on the court in encouraging and instructing teammates throughout the week. Collect every negative stereotype of the modern teenager — self-obsessed, immature, easily distracted, unfocused, moody — and Schröder appears to be the exact opposite.
He didn’t get to his current place by accident, or by skipping steps. Schröder lost his father two years ago and became the man of the house, and he spent two years paying his dues while playing professionally in Germany. His play in a key pre-draft game helped launch a wave of buzz. In April, Schröder dominated his World Team teammates during practices and then led his team to victory over the United States in the annual Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. He went toe-to-toe with this year’s vaunted crop of high school seniors in the showcase, harassing ball-handlers up and down the court while creating opportunities for himself and teammates with his speed.
Schröder’s play in Las Vegas obviously hasn’t had the same “man among boys” feel as his Hoop Summit run, but it’s still been impressive. On Wednesday, he faced off against Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, this year’s No. 10 pick, in what was arguably the best head-to-head matchup of the week. The two guards essentially played to a draw — Schröder had 16 points, five assists and six turnovers while McCollum finished with 19 points, two assists and four turnovers – and the Blazers prevailed 70-69 in overtime.
“[McCollum] was the best point guard in the draft,” Schröder said afterward. (Point guard Trey Burke went one spot ahead of McCollum and two ahead of point guard Michael Carter-Williams.) “I tried to put everything on him so that everybody sees that I have a chance in the league. I tried to press him every time and tried to play good defense.”
His on-ball defense is what stands out immediately. Schröder is very comfortable applying full-court pressure, trusting his feet and lateral quickness as he eyes opportunities for steals and makes his man work. He is crisp with his movements and combines good instincts with a professional’s understanding of where and how an opposing point guard wants to attack. He registered three steals against the Blazers and ranks among the top 10 in summer league in that category.
“I don’t practice that,” Schröder said, when asked about his footwork. “I had that before.”
Schröder seemed to mean that his defensive tools come naturally, and it’s hard to argue with him on that front. Rarely do you see point guards his age possess all of the necessary ingredients — basketball intelligence, size, length, feet, hands, speed — to affect a game defensively like this. He’s not quite Avery Bradley, the Celtics’ 22-year-old defensive ace, but he could trend toward that ballpark as he develops.
“Typically, [effective] backup point guards are bulldogs,” Portland assistant coach Nate Tibbetts said after coaching the Blazers against the Hawks. “They are guys that get after the ball. That’s what Schröder did tonight.”
Schröder’s defense wasn’t flawless, but there were impressive moments. One sequence of off-ball defense drew cheers and shouts from the Hawks’ coaching staff: He shadowed McCollum at full speed through multiple screens in the paint before beating him to the passing angle on the perimeter and essentially blowing up the Blazers’ play. He then closed to McCollum’s body, preventing the possibility of a backdoor play. In a postseason NBA game, it’s the type of textbook team defense that’s easily taken for granted. In the more relaxed atmosphere of summer league, it qualifies as a revelation.
“Schröder’s got great athleticism, he’s very fast and quick,” McCollum said. “Heady player, smart, good wingspan. You get the best of every world out here.”
His offensive game shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Through Wednesday, Schröder led the summer league with 5.8 assists in 31.3 minutes — remember, games are only 40 minutes and low shooting percentages are the norm — and he was doing it in both routine and spectacular fashion.
In the half court, Schröder does well in pick-and-roll situations, and he’s adept at driving through to the baseline while keeping his dribble alive so that he can identify open shooters once the defense has collapsed. He regularly pressures his defender, and his handle and body control will require immediate and careful attention from second-unit guards in the NBA.
Check out the video below at the 1:00 mark for a dribble series from Schröder that literally brought McCollum to his knees. He then calmly found John Jenkins in the corner for a potential game-winning three-pointer at the end of regulation. Vicious.
Another highlight came in transition, when Schröder tracked down the ball ahead of most of the action, which hurried down the court to catch up. As if possessing eyes in the back of his head, Schröder collected the loose ball and found a cutter in perfect stride across the court for an easy layup. A half-step of hesitation would have allowed the defense to get back; a rushed pass could easily have resulted in a turnover. Instead, his dish was right on the money, where only his man could make what turned out to be a routine finish. (Click here for more highlights of Schröder at summer league.)
The biggest hole in his game is clearly his jump shot: Schröder is shooting 12-for-39 (30.7 percent) from the field and 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) from three-point range at summer league. His shooting motion often betrays a lack of confidence in his range, and he smartly seems to think of scoring as secondary to his playmaking responsibilities.
“In the game, I try to find my open guys, try to make my teammates better,” Schröder said. “When nobody scores, I try to score and help my team win.”
An inability to shoot hasn’t prevented Rondo from thriving or Bradley from making a name for himself early in his career. It also shouldn’t keep Schröder from consideration as the possible “steal” of the 2013 class.
Atlanta’s decision to match the Bucks’ four-year offer sheet and retain incumbent starting point guard Jeff Teague looks particularly smart when taking Schröder’s future into account. The Hawks should be able to enjoy nice depth at an important position while allowing Schröder time to develop at a proper pace. If Schröder does wind up emerging as a starting-caliber point man, Teague’s contract should be easy to move two or three years from now.
If the 2006 class were subject to a re-draft, Rondo would be picked either first or second, depending on how one views LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s an exceedingly high, and probably unfair, bar to use to measure Schröder’s “steal” potential. In a wide-open draft class with so many questions, though, Schröder has a chance to make Hawks GM Danny Ferry look very smart.