Over the past decade the Atlanta Hawks have been one of the NBA’s most successful franchises, making nine consecutive trips to the playoffs in the process. The 2007-08 unit that started the team’s postseason streak was powered by Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith. Former All-Star guard Jeff Teague arrived in 2009 and the Hawks have always maintained a sense of continuity.
But the summer of 2016 marks a new beginning in Atlanta.
While Johnson and Smith had already departed for new destinations, Horford and Teague were constants, representing the core foundation of the club’s successful turnaround. However, Atlanta traded Teague to the Indiana Pacers on draft night in exchange for a lottery pick and Horford elected to sign with the emerging Boston Celtics in free agency.
Rumors of a Teague trade were in heavy rotation over the past 18 months. With the veteran set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and fourth-year guard Dennis Schroder publicly stating his desire to become a nightly starter, a change was seemingly imminent.
The chirping became louder throughout the season as head coach Mike Budenholzer opted to use the younger Schroder during pivotal stretches of games, leaving Teague firmly planted on the bench in the process. It’s also important to note, Schroder was the first draft pick after Budenholzer was hired so beneath the surface, it’s always been a matter of when they club would make the transition – not if the franchise would take the risk.
So now Schroder heads into training camp as the unquestionable starter at point guard, armed with the keys to the Hawks’ offense. While teammates believe in Schroder’s ability, they have acknowledged that growing pains are expected as the fourth-year guard learns to navigate the challenges of assuming a starting role full-time for the first time as a pro.
“Dennis has an incredible talent,” veteran forward Thabo Sefolosha told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s going to be great. He’s going to be the point guard. It’s going to be tough. I think we are all going to help him. I think it’s a tough position to be so young and to have so much on your shoulders. I think it’s going to be on all of us to help him.”
The loss of Horford, a four-time All-Star, would typically make things a bit tougher on a new floor general, but the Hawks signed former All-Star center Dwight Howard to a four-year deal in free agency and his presence in the paint should soften the blow.
On the surface, Schroder has slightly better per-36-minute statistical production for his career in points, rebounds and assists compared to Teague.
Schroder: 17.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.2 assists
Teague: 16.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists
However, dig deeper into multiple advanced stat categories and it’s quickly revealed how much more efficient Teague has been throughout his career in metrics such as such as true shooting percentage, turnover percentage, box score plus/minus, offensive rating and defensive rating.
But on the flip side, comparing Teague’s 2010-11 season (the campaign before he became a full-time starter) to incumbent Hawks starter Mike Bibby’s (at the time) reveals a similar variance in the advanced metrics that favor the veteran in a significant number of categories.
For insurance purposes, the Hawks signed veteran guard Jarrett Jack to serve as Schroder’s primary backup and the team is chock full of veterans to keep things running with Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Sefolosha and Tiago Splitter already in the fold for stability.
The Hawks are expecting a big season from Schroder; they will need him to elevate his game in order to extend their playoff streak to 10 seasons. But the team is also bracing for the inevitable growing pains that come with entrusting the keys to the Ferrari to a youngster just scratching the surface of physical prime.
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