In Elton Brand’s 14 NBA seasons, the two-time All Star has played alongside some of the league’s most respected point guards. From Sam Cassell to pre-injury Shaun Livingston to Andre Miller to Jrue Holiday, Brand has grown accustomed to excellence from his floor generals.
So when Brand signed with Atlanta over the summer and was told to check out the highlight reel for his new teammate, a 19-year-old who had been nicknamed “Baby Rondo,” he was understandably skeptical of the moniker.
“People were like, ‘This kid’s just like a young (Rajon) Rondo,’” Brand said. “And I was like, ‘Come on, guys. You can’t compare him to Rondo just because they both have long arms.’”
However, after two weeks of practicing with the now-20-year-old Dennis Schröder , Brand has been won over:
“I was wrong,” Brand admitted. “I can definitely see where those comparisons come from now. It’s uncanny.”
Ask around the Hawks’ locker room and the consensus is clear: Schröder is not your typical 20-year-old.
“He’s way ahead of the learning curve,” said Lou Williams. “It’s clear he’s played professionally, so this isn’t his first rodeo. There’s not a lot we have to tell Dennis.”
For Royal Ivey, who has made a career out of backing up young stars such as Holiday, Russell Westbrook and Brandon Jennings, Schröder’s attitude on the court is already separating him from his predecessors.
“The thing I love the most about him is that he has an edge to his game,” said Ivey. “He’s aggressive and competitive. That’s big. He’s as fierce a competitor as I’ve seen from a kid his age.”
Besides the overwhelming praise he’s received from teammates, there are many reasons why we should be excited to see Schröder take on the NBA. Let’s examine:
The Teague Effect
The importance of Jeff Teague’s return to the Hawks cannot be overstated in terms of what it will do for Schröder’s development. With Teague at the helm of the offense, Atlanta can allow Schröder to develop at his own speed without the responsibilities of orchestrating the offense on a nightly basis.
As Brand pointed out, “The point guard spot is the toughest for a rookie to learn. The position requires a lot of mental toughness.”
So while Schröder will benefit from Teague alleviating pressure on the court, he also will benefit from matching up against Teague – a proven NBA starter – in scrimmages.
“I’m learning a lot from Jeff,” Schröder said. “I have to practice against him and that alone is making me better with each day.“
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Schröder’s game is the belief that he is a poor shooter.
Yes, Schröder distributes, defends and looks a lot like Rondo. However, when it comes to shooting, Schröder compares with the best point guard shooters of recent drafts.
According to Synergy Sports, Schröder shot an absurd 52.6 on catch-and-shoot opportunities in Germany last season. In other words, when it came to spot-up jump shots, he was undeniably elite. Schröder’s 1.56 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities ranked him fifth among all shooters across the European leagues (per DraftExpress).
“He can really shoot it,” Brand noted. “I mean, he can shoot the ball better than I thought a rookie could shoot.”
To put into perspective just how impressive Schröder’s 52.6 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities really is, understand that John Wall barely eclipsed 20 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities coming out of Kentucky.
Schröder’s spot-up shooting skills fit a need for the Hawks. With Devin Harris leaving for Dallas and Williams still rehabbing his torn ACL, Schröder expects to see a lot of pairings with Teague in the backcourt.
Last season, according to Synergy Sports, only 20 percent of Schröder’s shots came off of the pass, as he was primarily responsible for setting up teammates.
However, with Atlanta moving to a pick-and-roll offense under new coach Mike Budenholzer, Schröder can expect a lot of open corner threes when Teague penetrates to the hoop.
For example, notice John Jenkins open at the top of your screen following this Teague pick-and-roll:
An ironic twist to having the “Baby Rondo” label for Schröder is that teams may actually wind up underestimating some key strengths to his game.
In Germany, Schröder showed a consistent stroke, shooting 40.2 percent from behind the arc for the entire season. That percentage was actually brought down by his inability to convert when he had to create open shots for himself. He shot just 26 percent off the dribble from three, per Synergy Sports.
At a glance, Schröder’s 29 percent from deep in the Summer League looks dreadful. However, that number jumps to a respectable 37 percent when you exclude his 0-for-5 against San Antonio on July 15.
Historically, European-bred players have initially struggled with the NBA’s deeper 3-point line. As you can see in the video below, Schröder will need to put extra focus into making sure his feet are behind the line when he launches:
In almost all cases, these struggles with the line are overcome midway through the season. As a recent example, Pablo Prigioni shot just over 33 percent from the arc in his first two months with the Knicks last season. By January, he was hovering around 45 percent from deep.
Two areas where Schröder will need to eventually improve are with his efficiency on fast break opportunities and his range from inside the arc. Schröder converted just 44 percent of his shots in transition last season (per Synergy Sports), including a forgettable 30.6 percent on pull-up jumpers.
His 32.5 percent shooting on midrange jumpers allowed for opposing big men to slip under screens in pick-and-rolls. This calls for some concern, as nearly half (43%) of Schröder’s plays revolved around pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports.
It is worth noting that Schröder recognizes his shooting woes out of the pick-and-roll. He habitually turned down uncontested midrange jumpers in favor of contested drives at the rim last season. As a result, Schröder shot just 43 mid-range jumpers over his 33-game schedule.
Still, these areas of weakness are not particularly damning to Schröder’s immediate impact with the Hawks. As mentioned, Teague will be handling a majority of the penetration duties out of the pick-and-roll, meaning Schröder can thrive in his natural comfort zone of being a catch-and-shoot weapon on the perimeter.
What could impact Schröder’s playing time, however, is his carelessness with the ball. With a 20 percent turnover rate per 100 possessions in Europe (per DraftExpress) and 3.4 turnovers per game in the Summer League, Schröder needs to be more focused. His elite ballhandling skills are both a blessing and a curse to his game, as he tends to nonchalantly expose the ball to defenders when he’s in the triple-threat stance or driving into the lane.
In transition, his desire to electrify the crowd can also be problematic.
Despite his dazzling speed and high basketball IQ, he was surprisingly inefficient when it came to orchestrating fast break opportunities in Europe. Per 100 fast break opportunities, Schröder turned the ball over 27 percent in the full court, per Synergy Sports.
This is not as dire a problem as the stat may suggest. Schröder often had to compensate for his teammates’ lack of speed or athleticism, limiting his overall talent in running the floor. In other words, he had to dumb his game down in transition to accommodate for the European style. In Atlanta, Schröder will have Al Horford and Paul Millsap to catch and finish fast break opportunities at the rim.
“I think the NBA’s fast pace will fit me much better,” Schröder said. “In Germany, most of the time, we’d only run set plays. I look forward to fast-paced opportunities.”