I don't get why Hawks coach Budenholzer benched Schroder

NEW YORK--Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer benched Dennis Schroder for the final eight-plus minutes against the Knicks last night. I watched a replay of the fourth quarter and I still don’t get it.

After the game, Budenholzer essentially said he just liked the group he had on the floor. He also offered the boilerplate “coach’s decision” explanation, which is a hilarious phrase when you think about it because it offers no useful information about why the decision was made, which usually is the point.

Anyway, all I can figure is that Budenholzer was unhappy because, on the defensive possession before his benching, Schroder didn’t challenge rookie Frank Ntilikina on a three-point attempt. Schroder anticipated a screen by Michael Beasley and leaned into him. Instead, Ntilikina took the three and made it, and Budenholzer quickly summoned Luke Babbitt off the bench to replace Schroder.

Before that shot, Ntilikina had made 11 of 41 three-point attempts this season. Playing him to drive instead of shoot seems like a reasonable approach. Should that play really irk Budenholzer to the point that he benched his best player in a close game?

Just prior to that play, Schroder and Taurean Prince botched an inbounds pass under New York’s basket but to me it looked like Prince simply threw the ball behind Schroder. Budenholzer also appeared to have some words for Schroder for picking up his fourth foul on for hooking Kristaps Porzingis on a drive, though I can’t be sure that was the reason because Budenholzer also complained to official Bennie Adams about the call.

Maybe Budenholzer was frustrated with Schroder’s lackadaisical defense overall, and the Ntilikina three-pointer was his breaking point. Fine, but it’s not as if this was the first game this season in which Schroder seemed uninterested in giving maximum effort at that end, but this was the first time he was benched. The hope for the Hawks is that Schroder is doing enough at the other end to offset it and, prior to his benching, he was doing so.

Schroder had scored seven straight points against the Knicks on drives. They had no one to stop him from getting to the basket and no good help with Porzingis and Enes Kanter on the bench. Earlier in the game Schroder got into his habit of trying to take bigs to the hole when he doesn’t have space or angles. But during the small vs. small duel early in the fourth, the Hawks had the clear advantage because no one on the floor could match Schroder.

Budenholzer benched him, anyway. Even if you think there were good reasons to do it, Schroder’s beef—that “nobody’s perfect” and Budenholzer should have told him the issue—seems like a fair point. I’m all for accountability, but what good does it do if Schroder doesn’t know what he’s being held to account for?

Schroder said he would wait until Budenholzer came to him with an explanation, and it looks like that will happen after the team arrives in Cleveland this afternoon. Budenholzer and Schroder have a history of run-ins but this won’t necessarily be a lingering issue. There have been plenty of times this season when I thought Budenholzer would publicly criticize Schroder’s play, but instead defended him.

I understand why some of Schroder’s negative tendencies would irritate the coach. I just don’t get why the Budenholzer chose the fourth quarter of last night’s game to bench his best player.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.