Schroder is best Hawks player, but is he getting better?

Before the Hawks played the Wizards Saturday night, coach Mike Budenholzer talked about the "constant conversation" he has with Dennis Schroder about being both primary scorer and play-maker. After the game, probably Schroder's worst of the season , the point guard seemed a bit annoyed with my line of questioning on that topic.

“The last few games I was aggressive,” Schroder said. “I took the shots I was supposed to take and made a lot of them, too. Nothing is going to change for me. I’m still going to try to set my teammates up for open 3's. And for myself, I’ve just got to stay aggressive even if I’ve got a (bad) game like that I’ve got to come back ready next time.”

If the topic irritated Schroder, I understand. The Wizards had just run the Hawks off the court and Schroder had a bad game. And he was right about his strong play in the handful of games before that.

Still, the Schroder we’ve seen in the early stages of the 2017-18 season has not made the leap from solid starter to something more, at least as far as the numbers show.

Schroder's scoring efficiency is a bit down but his production per 36 minutes is a bit up, leading to improved offensive Box Score Plus/Minus, offensive Win Shares Per 48 and offensive rating. Schroder still gets to the basket more often than anyone in the league and is shooting 50 percent on those plays.

Schroder still passes on drives at about the same frequency (30 percent this season vs. 28.5 last season) and ends up with an assist at about the same rate (6.7 percent this year vs. 7.4 in 2016-17). And Schroder still doesn’t draw a lot of fouls considering how often he gets to the rim (5.8 foul percentage on drives now vs. 8.5 last season).

Any gains Schroder has made as a scorer and play-maker have been more than offset by his poor defense. The numbers don’t always give the whole picture about defense (or offense, to a lesser extent) but you don’t have to watch the Hawks much to see that Schroder’s defensive effort comes and (mostly) goes. That’s not unusual for players who take on a large scoring load but it’s been glaring for Schroder this season.

Schroder’s steals and rebounds percentages remain low for his position. Schroder’s -3.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus is much worse than his -1.4 from last season. The Hawks have allowed 11.8 points per 100 possession more with Schroder on the court than off, compared to a difference of 6.0 last season.

All these numbers require context, most of all the differing sample sizes between 79 games for Schroder last season and 11 this year. Other considerations are Schroder’s ankle injury, the tough schedule to begin the season and the fact that Schroder gets most of the attention from opponents because the Hawks have less talent overall than last season (exacerbated by injuries). Schroder is healthier now, the schedule will eventually even out and rotation players DeAndre' Bembry, Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Musclala eventually will return to action.

After Schroder carried the Hawks to the victory at the Mavericks on opening night, I wrote : "(H)is special talent for getting to the basket is why, at this point, the Hawks would have to think hard before trading him for anything other than a major haul." I still believe that's true. Eventually, though, new GM Travis Schlenk will have to decide if Schroder (owed $46.5 million with incentives over three years after this one) can be a core piece for the rebuilt Hawks or should be traded for an asset with the potential to be a better piece.

In the meantime, Schroder said he will continue to follow Budenholzer’s directive: Be a scorer and play-maker, with the former coming by way of aggressiveness with the ball and the latter coming within the flow of the game.

“Sometimes when we get down like six, seven, we’ve still got to stay together as a team and I’ve got to pull everybody together, you know?” Schroder said. “I think we are getting there.”

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