Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that Dennis Schroder was seated next to Kyle Korver in the Hawks locker room last season.
The young point guard and the sharp-shooting veteran had several conversations throughout the year about working out together this offseason. Schroder wanted to improve his jump shot and who better to seek his tutelage? So this summer, Schroder visited Korver in Santa Barbara, Calif. for nearly two weeks of instruction and additional workouts at renowned performance facility P3.
“We just worked on his mechanics to tighten a few things up,” Korver said. “Dennis has great natural talent and ability. His release is really good. We can all get better. We worked on his feet and his legs a little bit, maybe things we don’t always think about.
“I’m a big checkpoint person. I shared some of that and created one for him so hopefully we can go back to that during the season.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer supported the idea even with a busy summer that included Schroder set to compete for the German national team in the EuroBasket 2015 tournament. Assistant coach Ben Sullivan also made the trip to California.
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“I thought it was a great idea,” Budenholzer said of the collaboration. “Players have to make decisions and figure out their summers. Sometimes you can help nudge them in certain directions. … It was important for all of us to get (Schroder) time with P3 and shooting with Kyle.”
Schroder credited his play with the German national team last summer for the great strides in made in his game, including an improved mid-range jump shot. Part of the goal in working with Korver was to improve his 3-point shot. A consistent outside threat could magnify Schroder’s pure speed and ability to break down defenses and get to the basket.
This summer, after the trip to California, Schroder averaged 21.0 points, 6.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 turnovers in 30.4 minutes over five EuroBasket games. Germany did not advance past pool play but Schroder was the game-high scorer in the national team’s final three games against Turkey, Italy and eventual champion Spain. All were narrow losses, including Schroder missing the final of three free throws with three seconds remaining that would have force overtime against Spain. Schroder had 26 points against Spain and was 8 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range.
With the consistent ability to make a 3-pointer, Schroder can force defenders to go over a screen on a pick-and-roll to try to stay with him. Without such a shot, a defender can go under the screen and be in position to take away a drive to the basket.
“My mid-range jumper was good last year,” Schroder said. “That’s the reason a lot of teams went over (on screens). If I am good on the 3-point shot, they’ll have to go over on every screen. After that, it’s really tough to defend me. When you have a 3-point threat consistently, it’s tough to defend me because if they go over I can attack to the basket and if they go under I can take the 3-point shot.”
As a rookie, Schroder shot 23.8 percent (10 of 42) from 3-point range. Last season, he shot 35.1 percent (52 of 148). He increased the percentage of his shots from 16-feet or more from the basket from 31.3 to 38.1 percent. There was improvement but Schroder wanted to do more.
Another point of emphasis with Schroder’s jump shot was his slow, deliberate release. In certain situations, the action can be an advantage. There can be time and options against a closing defender.
“The people in the NBA who have the best pump fakes have slow shots because they have all this time,” Korver said. “Someone’s coming? Nobody’s coming? And then they pull it back down. Sometimes it’s a great advantage. You look at the Paul Pierces, the Sam Cassells, some of these guys with amazing pump fakes, kind of have slower shots.”
However in general, the Hawks want Schroder to get rid of the ball a little quicker. Schroder said using his legs more in the shooting action has been a help.
“Generally speaking, you want to have a quicker release and you want to be able to get your shot off with less distance of close outs,” Budenholzer said. “There are times if you have that kind of speed and explosiveness (to the basket) and are doing something (shooting) that could be considered slow then you change on them and go quickly. More so, we are trying to get him to shorten his windup and his release. I think that will be to his benefit.”
Schroder, 22, weighs in at 175 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. It’s a far cry from the 160 pound youngster who was professionally in Germany when the Hawks selected him with the 17th overall pick the 2013 NBA Draft. Shot by shot, Schroder is proving worth the gamble.
“I just want to keep getting better,” Schroder said.