Before this season, FiveThirtyEight.com’s statistical forecast categorized Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder as an “average starter.” Now that Schroder has played 54 games during his second season as a full-time starter, and the first as the offensive leader, the evidence suggests “average starter” might be Schroder’s ceiling.
If that turns out to be the case, there would be nothing wrong with it. The Hawks drafted Schroder 17th overall in 2013 and he’s already outperformed that slot. He’s on a reasonable contract for the next three seasons, so the Hawks could keep Schroder around for the latter stage of their rebuild without busting the cap or trade him at some point for a decent return.
But before this season there was hope that Schroder might become more than an average starter because of his age (still just 24) and unique ability to drive to the basket. It hasn’t happened.
Schroder is a productive scorer at 22.5 points per 36 minutes but not very efficient when placed in the context of his usage rate. Among the 42 players with at least 1,000 minutes played and a usage of 25 percent or higher, Schroder ranks 38th in effective field-goal percentage, 38th in true shooting percentage and 24th in points per 36 minutes. (Schroder is tied for fourth-youngest on that list, though, so it’s plausible that he can get better with experience.)
Cleaning the Glass places Schroder in the 46th percentile among point guards for points scored per 100 shot attempts (103.5). Schroder still gets to the basket pretty much whenever he wants but he’s shooting just 53 percent at the rim (31st percentile at his position, according to CTG) and no high-usage point guard has had more of their shots blocked (83, according to NBA Miner).
Schroder has a very low turnover rate (79th percentile) and very high assist rate (90th percentile). But Schroder ranks in the 40th percentile in assist rate-to-usage rate, according to CTG. Schroder is producing a lot of assists but some of that is a function of having the ball in his hands so often.
After nearly five full NBA seasons, Schroder has proven to be a pretty good but not great scorer. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there would be a lot more value in it if not for Schroder’s defensive deficiencies.
To his credit, there are signs that Schroder’s defense has improved later in the season. Near the end of November, the Hawks were allowing 16.6 more points per 100 possessions during the 578 minutes Schroder was on the court. That number has since come down to 7.1 more points allowed per 100 possessions over Schroder’s 1,689 minutes.
Back on Dec. 10, when Budenholzer benched Schroder late in the Knicks game following some defensive lapses, the Hawks had allowed 14.8 points more per 100 possessions with Schroder playing. Since then, the Hawks have allowed 0.5 points more per 100 possessions with Schroder on the court for 919 minutes. (Based on this evidence, I concede that my reaction to that benching was off the mark.)
None of this is to say Schroder is a good defender. He still ranks next-to-last for his position in the Real Defensive Plus/Minus metric, which aims to adjust for teammates and opponents. Among point guards, Schroder is in the 16th percentile for blocks and defensive rebound rates this season, according to CTG. In four of his five seasons Schroder has ranked in the 21st percentile or lower in team points allowed per 100 possessions on court versus off.
Schroder has improved as a defender during this season, and that’s been a factor in the team’s defense improving. Yet Schroder’s intensity comes and goes and, overall, he remains a defensive liability. That’s not enough to offset being a pretty good offensive player who carries a big share of the responsibility for scoring and play-making.
In sum, Schroder is performing like an average NBA starting point guard.