The Hawks have a big problem -- and it's not Dwight Howard, for as much as Howard tends to get blamed for everything that has gone wrong with this team. And I type those words as someone who was against Howard's signing and still consider that decision the worst decision of the Hawks' disastrous offseason.
The Hawks' biggest problem right now is point guard Dennis Schroder. For as talented he is, for as many times as he has shown he can be the best player on the court, as was evident during a 19-point first quarter against Golden State Monday night, Schroder also has a tendency to be the time bomb that blows this team up.
He still has too much Josh Smith in him.
The Hawks led the Warriors 70-69 in the third quarter at Philips Arena. Then Howard threw away a pass for a turnover (not an uncommon occurrence). Schroder kind of lost his head (also not uncommon). He and Howard argued about the play. Schroder wanted the ball to go to him. They kept arguing. While they argued, Golden State's Klay Thompson threw a pass to an open Steph Curry, who drained a three-pointer.
Curry was open because Schroder wasn't paying attention. Even Howard motioned to Schroder before the shot that Curry was uncovered.
Here's the video:
I really don't want to get into the position of defending Howard. This isn't a pick-a-side debate. But Howard and Schroder present far different problems for the Hawks. Howard isn't the player he used to be, but can he still rebound and, frankly, he hasn't played below expectations for anybody who was being realistic about what kind of player the Hawks were getting. He pouts when he doesn't get the ball and things don't go his way. But nobody should have expected he would be a leader for this team and it figured things would go sideways on the Hawks, who had little leadership beyond Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver (who was traded).
Schroder is the bigger problem because he has the talent and youth to be one of the NBA's top point guards and the Hawks are banking on his development. They gave him a four-year contract extension worth up to $70 million that kicks in next season.
Schroder was late returning from Germany following the All-Star break because of a visa issue that was entirely his fault. So Mike Budenholzer suspended him for a game.
Then he was benched for the start of his first game back because he missed the team bus.
Nobody expects Schroder to be a mature, finished product at the age 23. But in short: Have a clue.
The Warriors won Monday's game 119-111. They might would've won regardless of what happened. But Schroder's lapse ignited a Golden State run. Budenholzer benched Schroder. He was done with him for the night. This benching was not because of a one-time incident, it's a compilation of issues stemming from an immature player's actions.
"We need to learn to play together and stay together for 48 minutes," Budenholzer said in his post-game press conference.
Referencing the Schroder-Howard argument, he said, "Whatever they're talking about ... they (Warriors) hit a three. Those kind of plays can hurt you."
When asked why he was benched, Schroder told the Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore: "I don’t really know. I know the three from Steph Curry when me and Dwight was arguing was part of it. That can’t happen. I don’t understand coach’s decision. I want to be on the court. Maybe I’m too competitive. I’m just trying to be competitive and win games."
The criticism of Howard is understandable. But the actions of Schroder are far more concerning for the Hawks moving forward -- and by forward, I mean future seasons, not this one, because this one is circling the drain.
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