As Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder concludes his second season as a full-time starter, there are signs that he’s gotten better in several areas. But he’s been so much worse in one area that his overall improvement probably has been incremental rather than dramatic.
Schroder is shooting 29 percent on 3-pointers, the worst mark since his rookie season. He made 33.6 percent of his 3-point attempts over the past three seasons. Lately Schroder has had lots of ugly 3-point misses as opponents seem willing to concede those shots while guarding against the best aspect of his offense, drives to the basket.
The drastic fall-off in 3-point accuracy could be a bad sign for Schroder. The pace-and-space NBA era values point guards who can make 3-pointers. Even Chris Paul --the mid-range maestro who long has been a counterpoint to that trend -- has embraced launching 3’s with abandon in Houston, with spectacular results for player and team.
If Schroder can’t regain his 3-point shooting touch perhaps he can make a living as a rim attacker whose perimeter game is in the mid-range.
This season Schroder is shooting mid-range jumpers on 44 percent of his overall attempts, according to Cleaning the Glass, placing him in the 66th percentile among point guards. Since becoming a rotation player, Schroder never has ranked in higher than the 32nd percentile in mid-range attempts for a season.
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Schroder has made a career-high 44 percent of his mid-range shots this season, ranking in the 77th percentile. He’s especially improved his accuracy in the tough short mid-range area, from 35 percent last season to 39 this year (77-for-199).
But theoretically, if Schroder isn’t a 3-point threat then he can’t be as effective spreading the floor, leaving less room for drives and mid-range shots. He doesn’t get to the rim nearly as frequently as he did over his past three seasons: 35 percent of Schroder’s shot attempts this season are at the rim, according to CTG, after no fewer than 42 percent were from that range from 2014-15 through last season.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing because no point guard gets his shots blocked more frequently than Schroder (and it’s not even close). And Schroder essentially has exchanged shots at the basket with shots from mid-range — the decrease in the former tracks almost perfectly with the increase in the latter. But Schroder still is attempting enough 3-pointers (6.2 per 100 possessions) that his poor accuracy matters.
That development blunts some of the improvements in other parts of Schroder’s game.
After a big drop-off last season, Schroder is earning free-throws at a rate that’s nearly average for his position and he’s still an excellent free-throw shooter (85 percent). According to CTG, Schroder’s relative assist to usage rate is about the same as it was last season (45th percentile vs. 44th percentile) and his points per shot attempt are better (50th percentile vs. 46th). And Schroder has drastically reduced his turnover percentage to 11.6, the best mark of his career and ranking in the 70th percentile among NBA point guards.
Maybe Schroder hasn’t made the giant leap on offense that the Hawks and their supporters hoped for. But those are all positive developments since Schroder’s usage rate is much higher this season (33.4 vs. 30.4) and he’s had to adjust to being the focal point of opponent schemes.
Schroder’s defensive numbers were atrocious for the first two months, a bit better through February and now are better still. Schroder now ranks about average in steals percentage for his position and slightly above average in offensive rebounding, according to CTG. He’s still sub par as a defensive rebounder but the improved production in steals and offensive rebounds matter.
The Hawks are allowing 3.9 points per 100 possession fewer with Schroder off the court, which isn’t good. But consider that through November that number was 16.6 points per 100 possession and it was 7.1 in mid-February. Subjectively, I’d say the numbers fairly reflect Schroder’s improved defensive effort over the latter half of the season.
As noted previously it’s possible that Schroder, who turns 25 in September, may never be more than an average NBA point guard. That would be a good outcome for the Hawks, who selected Schroder with the 17th overall pick when he was 19 years old.
But maybe Schroder still can be more than that if he rediscovers his 3-point shot, improves his decision-making with the ball and manages to be at least a slightly below-average defender. Among those three, there’s the most evidence that Schroder can be a good 3-point shooter.