LAS VEGAS -- Atlanta Hawks rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder has had ups and downs this past week at the Las Vegas Summer League, but he has never seemed to have any sort of panic or urgency in his game. His inexperience is supposed to be glaring as a 19-year-old point guard. And yet he calmly squares up defensively to pick your pocket, only to slap you with an "atta boy" on the butt once he has taken the ball the other way for an easy score.
With a lot of young guards looking to make a defensive impact, you usually see gambles on the passing lanes and lunging at an opposing player's dribble in an attempt to poke it away. You don't really see that with Schroeder too much. He's low in his defensive stance, his massive hands almost seem magnetically drawn to the basketball, and he's always alert so he can grab a loose ball and take it the other way.
"In scouting him and following him," Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said, "you definitely see the talent and ability, especially on the defensive end, to really have an impact. I thought [Monday] he looked a little tired. I thought [Sunday] he was terrific defensively. He imposed his will on the game on the defensive end."
His second game of the Las Vegas Summer League seemed to be the one that made everybody take notice of the German point guard. He had eight assists and four steals to go with nine points and four rebounds. He hasn't shot the ball well at all in his first three games of the summer session (28.6 percent), but the way that he has handled himself on both ends of the floor is more than encouraging for the Hawks.
"He just has an ability defensively to get through screens, to get hands on balls; he's got the ability to get in the lane and make plays," Ferry said.
When Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers was calmly dissecting the league from the Las Vegas Summer League in 2012 through the end of his Rookie of the Year campaign, almost every piece of analysis critiquing his game seemed to make a point to mention his poise on the court. Lillard never seemed to get rattled, and he never seemed to feel rushed when dropping points all over the competition. After four years at Weber State of learning his craft, it seemed impossible to shake him.
You saw similar things instantly in the first extended minutes during the rookie season of Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio. His poise was evident thanks to years of playing professional basketball in Europe, so it was hard to get him off kilter when facing a pressure situation here.
It's not to the same degree or talent level of Lillard and Rubio, but you can see a similar mentality with Schroeder when he's on the court. He misses shots, he can turn the ball over sometimes, but they're usually just mistakes and nothing else. It doesn't look like he's overwhelmed by moments under a brighter spotlight than he's used to.
Defensively, he's going to make his mark, but it has been the offensive end on which his patience has showed us that he'll definitely be a two-way player. His point-guard abilities seem instinctual and not learned.
In this video below of some of his passing decisions and court vision early on in the summer league, you can really see the sense of timing and understanding of spacing that he has.
The thing to remember with any summer-league highlight reel or analysis of production is that it does in fact occur during summer-league games (how about that for some hard-hitting analysis?). The talent level is much lower than what these guys are used to seeing, and the environment is much more chaotic in terms of guys being in the wrong places and the spacing of the court being unstructured. But that's kind of what makes his passing decisions much more impressive to me.
Schroeder seems to have this innate sense of spacial awareness when he's on the court that makes his passing so deadly against the smoke and mirrors of him running a pick-and-roll. The goal is to stop the ball and slow it down. But with Schroeder, he's rarely looking to advance it past the point of when it opens up something for his teammates. Not to mention, his timing in these situations is pretty stellar.
In the first pass of the video, a lot of point guards would come around that hedge of the pick-and-roll, see an open teammate streaking toward the basket, and deliver the ball immediately. That's fine sometimes, but the general rule with passing it to most big men is to not give them too much room to make mistakes (like committing a charge or a dribbling violation). That's what he does on this pass to Mike Scott.
It's a hesitation that causes the back-line defenders to eagerly await the next move by Schroeder. Is he going to attack the basket now that he's around the screen? Is he waiting to kick it out to John Jenkins if his man leaves the shooting guard? With Scott streaking in a straight line toward the basket and Lucas Nogueira on the other side of the key awaiting a drop-off pass, Schroeder had plenty of time to read the situation before flicking his massive hands in Scott's direction for the And-1 bucket.
On another pick-and-roll a few minutes later in the same game, Nogueira rolls toward the hoop after setting a screen for Schroeder. Schroeder sees the defense suck into the paint, leaving big-man rookie Mike Muscala wide open near the top of the key. Muscala can knock down that jumper with ease, and Schroeder gives him plenty of space to comfortably let it fly.
Schroeder probably isn't a huge threat to score out of pick-and-roll situations for a couple of reasons. First, he's not really much of an efficient scorer. He's not as bad at shooting and finishing as Rubio has shown early on in his career, but he's also not Kyrie Irving out there. Secondly, he is a guy, much like Rubio, who doesn't necessarily seem pressured to score in those situations. He's fine reading the defense and waiting a little more than usual to let the play develop.
Once he sees that his teammate has the step on his man, he's delivering the lob pass to Nogueira (they already have a seemingly telepathic connection on the court) for the dunk and the foul.
This last pass in the highlight package of Schroeder was my favorite one. The Miami Heat's summer-league team built a wall on the pick-and-roll to trap and cut off Schroeder. However, he finds the moment in which he can split the trap with a really smart bounce pass to find Scott at the basket again. The replay showed just how smart the decision was to bounce it through to his teammate.
I don't expect the summer league to be a great indicator of how good Schroeder is going to be. He's struggling to put the ball in the basket and, ultimately, he won't be playing in many more chaotic environments in terms of execution, style and overall talent level like this again. But the decision-making of these players is how I tend to judge them during the summer.
Why is he making this pass? Why did he take this shot? What did the situation give him, and what option did he take to either make a bad, basic or good play?
With the 17th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, you're seeing decision-making that comes from a young man who is confident and rarely rattled. His patience allows him to keep the defense guessing even a split-second longer than normal, which can throw off the rhythm of their rotations.
Schroeder still has a long way to go. The real games haven't started yet, and he will be the backup to Jeff Teague in Atlanta. He'll learn the ropes on a playoff team in the East, desperately trying to find a way to get into the elite tier of teams in its conference. This will transition his environment from chaos to pressure when Schroeder steps on the court this coming season.
Based on what we've seen from him, I don't think he'll have a problem handling the situation.