After being selected 17th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2013 NBA Draft, Dennis Schroder entered the NBA as one the league’s lesser-known rookies. He made the jump to the league after playing two years for Phantoms Braunschweig in the BBL, the top professional basketball league in Germany.
Transitioning to the NBA is challenging for any rookie, but even more so for international prospects who not only have to adjust to the NBA game, but also to new and unfamiliar surroundings. While he faced a number of obstacles as a rookie, Schroder believes that playing against other professionals is one the thing that proved beneficial and may have given him a leg up compared to other rookies coming in from the collegiate level.
“I played professionally over there in Germany, so I played against older guys every time,” Schroder said. “I think that it was a lot easier for me to compete with the NBA guys. It’s still different, it’s hard. When you want to play in the best league in the world, you have to compete every night.”
Schroder performed admirably in his first season in Atlanta. He began the season as the team’s primary back up to point guard Jeff Teague and was able to get on the court right away. He played in 11 games in October and November, averaging just less than 14 minutes per game during those contests. While he showed flashes of the sudden burst and great vision that led to him being a first-round pick, he struggled mightily with his shot and turned the ball over far too frequently. His minutes dropped off significantly over the next few months; in December, January and February, Schroder played in just 16 games and spent time in the D-League.
Playing professionally in Germany may have given Schroder a taste of the physicality he would face in the NBA, but it certainly didn’t replicate the rigor of an NBA schedule. When asked about the biggest surprise he encountered in his rookie campaign, Schroder admitted that the number of games played was one the more difficult adjustments the 20-year-old dealt with in year one.
“That you play back to backs – in Germany you only play one game a week,” Schroder said. “You have to compete every night. It’s tough. You have to get used it. The first 20 games were really rough, but after that I got used to it and I was ready to compete every game.”
Schroder finished the season strong and began playing consistent minutes again in March as the Hawks surged toward a playoff berth. In his return to the rotation, Schroeder showed signs of improvement, a credit to his hard work but also to time spent working with a proven veteran in Teague.
“I learned a lot from Jeff Teague,” Schroder said. “Every day I practiced against him and he told me after every practice what to do and I think I learned a lot from him.”
Now, with a year of NBA play under his belt, Schroder is continuing to work to get better. He had the chance to play extended minutes for the Hawks’ summer league team and while he was still somewhat inconsistent, he put together some nice games. In his second game of summer league, Schroder was exceptional, scoring 30 points on 9-14 shooting including 3-4 from downtown. However, his performance was marred with eight turnovers. What may have been most encouraging was his ability to penetrate the defense and get to the line throughout summer league, as Schroder shot 39 free throws in six games at a 79.5 percent clip. Overall, he averaged 15.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 39.7 percent shooting from the field. His shot is still a work in progress, something he says he is working to develop.
“[I’m focused on] trying to make my teammates better, trying to lead the team and trying to focus on my pull-up jumper and my threes, and trying to compete,” Schroder said when asked what he’s working on this summer.
As of right now, Schroder will enter the 2014-15 season behind only Teague on the depth chart. However, the Hawks have extended a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Shelvin Mack, giving the team the option to match any offer made to Mack. Free agency has been rather quiet so far for Mack, and his return is certainly a possibility.
Regardless of his status on the depth chart, Schroder knows that it will important to bring energy every game. Between his growth, the return of All-Star big man Al Horford, the additions of Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne and John Salmons among others and the Hawks should find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race down the stretch once again.
Schroder expects the Hawks to “compete every night and win games.” The Eastern Conference is wide open, and Atlanta has an opportunity to climb the standings. If Schroder can take the next step in his development during his sophomore season, that will certainly help the Hawks as they look to solidify themselves as one of the better teams in the conference.
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