Dennis Schroder made a promise he intends to keep.
At age 16 — only three years ago — he pledged to his now-deceased father that one day he would play in the NBA. He is nearly there.
The Hawks selected Schroder with the 17th pick in last month’s draft out of the German Beko League. The Hawks paid $550,000, the maximum buyout allowed, to the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig to sign him this month. The point guard has turned heads with his play for the Hawks’ entry in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Through the first four games of league play, Schroder led the tournament with 5.8 assists per game. Several of those assists were tosses his teammates converted for dunks.
All this comes from a player who at age 11 was more interested in skateboarding with friends. It was in a skateboard park that the youths would take a break from wheeled tricks to play a little basketball. Schroder stood out.
A local coach took notice and convinced the youngster to try the game on a competitive level. Just five years later, in 2010, he dedicated himself to make a career out of the sport after his father’s passing.
“I promised him that I would play in the NBA,” Schroder said.
There have been ups and downs since he arrived from Germany. In the Hawks’ five summer-league games, Schroder averaged 10.8 points, 5.6 assists and 3.0 turnovers in 31.6 minutes. He shot 17-of-50 (34 percent) from the field.
“In scouting him and following him you definitely see the talent and the ability especially on the defensive end to have an impact,” Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said. “(Sunday against the Heat) he was terrific defensively. He imposed his will on the defensive end. … He just has an ability defensively to get through screens, to get his hands on balls. He has the ability to get into the lane and make plays.
“I do think there is, certainly, some encouraging things and some room for growth and we’ll help him with that.”
Schroder turns 20 in September. He has played ahead of Shelvin Mack in the summer league. Mack signed and played 20 games for the Hawks last season after Lou Williams was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
The confidence the Hawks showed in signing Schroder early is an indication that he is the most ready of the three draft picks to play games in a Hawks uniform next season. The NBA Development League is an option, but it’s not out of the question that Schroder could back up Jeff Teague next season.
Schroder had progressed in his four professional seasons in Germany. In 31 games last season, Schroder put up 11.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 24.7 minutes. He sees his time as an advantage as he transitions to the NBA.
“I play against men overseas,” Schroder said. “I think I have a little advantage. It’s helped me very well.”
Schroder, who is listed at 6-foot-1 but doesn’t appear that tall, caught the eye of the Hawks and many other NBA teams when he helped the World Select team defeat the U.S. Junior National Select team at the 2013 Hoop Summit. He had 18 points and six assists in the game.
Schroder worked out for several NBA teams after declaring himself an early-entry candidate. The Jazz, Rockets, Bucks, Celtics, Mavericks and 76ers all expressed an interest. The Hawks jumped at the chance to select Schroder with one of their two first-round picks.
“I think the first thing I do, on offense and defense, is to try to put pressure on the point guard,” Schroder said. “I try to help my teammates. I try to get my teammates open.”