Hawks’ New Dynamic Duo

This off-season, the Atlanta Hawks had a complete overhaul of their roster. Former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague was traded to the Indiana Pacers for the 12th overall pick which the Hawks acquired through a three team deal which included the Utah Jazz which the Hawks used to draft Taurean Prince.  Also, Al Horford left the Hawks for the Boston Celtics during Free Agency. Entering this off-season, we were aware that at least one of the two moves could happen. Dennis Schroder, the Hawks first round selection in the 2013 NBA Draft and Jeff Teague’s backup since his rookie season, got his wish and will now be the starting point guard for the Hawks.

Dwight Howard holds the jersey presented to him by Grant Hill, left, during a news conference introducing Howard as the newest member of the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday July 13, 2016, in Atlanta. (Brandt Sanderlin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

 One day before Horford departed for the Boston Celtics, the Atlanta Hawks signed veteran NBA center and hometown favorite, Dwight Howard. With the addition of Howard, there were mixed reviews by the Atlanta fans and from a national perspective. As for Howard, his reputation hasn’t been the best since his dramatic departure from the Orlando Magic in 2011-12 and eventually the Los Angeles Lakers saga. He’s become known as a cancerous player in the locker room around the league. However, he’s fully committed to returning to his days as a solid center in the NBA and with his return to Atlanta, he has a new beginning. If Dennis Schroder can take the next step as a point guard in the NBA and Dwight Howard return to the form of the NBA’s elite big men, this duo could be one to watch for the next few years in Atlanta and around the league as well.

Dennis Schroder

Coming off of his third season with the Atlanta Hawks, Dennis Schroder’s potential continues to grow not only in Coach Mike Budenholzer’s system, he’s progressing as a point guard in the NBA. Last season, Schroder was taking minutes in late-game or clutch situations with Jeff Teague on the bench which sparked a controversy during the season. In the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Coach Bud gave Dennis Schroder the opportunity to play and the third year point guard took advantage. Although the Hawks would lose Game 1, behind Dennis Schroder’s (27) points, (6) assists, and (3) rebounds and shot 50% from the field and behind the arc, the Hawks took a 88-87 lead late in the game; however, the Hawks comeback efforts fell short.

In Game 4’s loss of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Jeff Teague didn’t play the 4th quarter and Dennis Schroder led the Hawks on a comeback which fell short once again; however, he posted (21) points, (6) assists, (3) rebounds, two steals and a block . In the playoffs, it’s unusual to see your starting point guard benched for that extended period of time in a elimination game. Schroder can score off of pick-and-roll, isolation, and shoot open jumpers efficiently. Schroder has a quick first step which is nearly impossible for defenders to keep up with during the game. Schroder has the potential to be an elite point guard; however, it’s up to Dennis to take his game to the next level since he’s finally going to start in Atlanta. Although he’s a solid option as a offensive guard, Schroder has the ability to create open shots for his teammates as well. With the addition of Howard, we could see some dunks as a reward of the Hawks excellent passing offense. “More pick-and-roll for sure,” Schroder said of the new look offense. ” He puts more pressure on the rim. Me and Al did it, too, but Al could shoot, too. We’ve got to get used to it and practice, but I think we’ll put more pressure on the rim when he rolls hard. There are good chances for me to go to the rim and find my shot or my teammates.”

Dwight Howard:

With the addition of Dwight Howard, you can expect to see the Hawks throwing some alley-oops to the veteran center in the paint next season. Alley-oops are one of the plays we could see often due to the ball movement in the Hawks system. Also, that’s an additional arsenal for Atlanta is Howard’s dominance in the paint offensively. Howard’s a high IQ big man and has the ability to move around in Atlanta’s offense without the basketball. Although Dwight Howard is considered to many around the league as one of the traditional centers, which is starting to decline around the new league. Howard’s still a center playing at a high level even as he’s entering his 13th NBA season. 

 Currently, the NBA is starting to acquire players in the Front Court similar to former Hawks star Al Horford and San Antonio Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge who has the versatility to play both power forward and center position during the games which gives them the ability to produce in many ways. Howard can set great screen plays for point guards and with Schroder’s ability to move in space after setting a pick-and-roll, he’s  either liable to penetrate to the paint or take an open jump shot. Elite point guards such as Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry or any other point guard wouldn’t be as dominant with the basketball without their big men setting screens and creating open shots on offense. 

Howard plays a pivotal role in the paint which is going to be critical in Atlanta’s scheme next season. He’s the prototypical center that the Hawks wanted for years and hopefully, we’ll see the acquisition pay major dividends for one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Although catching lob passes and setting screens on the court isn’t a notable stat, that’s one of the crucial aspects a center that perform at the level he’s played throughout his career makes a huge difference to execution on the boards and leading to points as well. The Hawks’ system on both ends of the floor, especially offensively, will no longer rely on the center taking jump shots or perimeter shots since Al Horford’s in Boston; however, Hawks fans, get excited about the potential of the Schroder- Howard pick & roll offense.

The Controversies:
The Hawks’ look on as defeat looms (Photo: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

During their career, Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard each had bumped heads with at least one of their former teammates. Jeff Teague considered his controversy of minutes with Schroder as a “Tug-Of-War” situation. “I would say that it made the year harder,” Teague said. “I felt like we could’ve played more together, that we could’ve been a really dynamic two guys who could shoot and penetrate and do it all. But it became a tug-of-war based on who was playing better. Although the Hawks players and fans didn’t prefer to watch the point guard drama, it’s not a coincidence that in some of Atlanta’s biggest games, Dennis Schroder would bring well needed energy and give the Hawks a huge boost. However, the Hawks fans biggest issue with former starter Jeff Teague was he could check out of some of the biggest moments of a game when the Hawks needed their guard with a ton of potential to continue and perform at a high level. Jeff Teague vs Dennis Schroder became a problem in the locker room at times during last season. After the Hawks eliminated the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Schroder was unauthorized to stay on the court to shake hands with the Celtics’ players because of his behavior towards Boston’s starting guard, Isaiah Thomas. Even Hawks’ center, Tiago Splitter and security struggled to make Schroder leave the court and stop a situation which spiraled out of control between Thomas and Schroder. Moments like this will be a learning experience for the young point guard.

As for Howard, we’ve seen some of his feuds become a league wide situation. Howard and Harden didn’t have a relationship on or off the court, which truly affected the Houston Rockets from reaching the pinnacle of success in the Western Conference as many expected during their days in Houston. “I wish the relationship would have been a lot better. It wasn’t as good as it needed to be for us to succeed. But, you know, looking back on it, there’s really nothing that we can do about it now. Talking about it amongst ourselves is great, but for myself, and I think for the Rockets, we all have to move on and let that chapter of all of our lives pass. I wish the relationship would have been a lot better, but throughout all the things that happened the last couple of years, I think it’s shaped and molded me into the player — the person — that I am today. It made me stronger.” According to NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury, he stated the Rockets lacked leadership and that neither the two players took the initiative of putting in the hard work. Also, there were reports that Harden and Howard equally wanted the Rockets to trade each other during their tenure in Houston. Although I don’t want to state anything like this, let’s hope the Hawks avoid issues similar to the ones he’s faced in his days in Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston and keep his focus on basketball. Luckily, Schroder hasn’t been a cancer in the locker room and the saga with Teague was due to the production of point guards and lack of minutes at times between the two last season. We are expecting Dwight Howard to have a mature and better situation with his new team, the Atlanta Hawks.

The Potential:

Dwight Howard
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
In conclusion, the potential for Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard is high and the Hawks could benefit by making the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season in the NBA. Hawks fans would love to see their duo possibly do the unthinkable, bringing home the Larry O’ Brien trophy to the city of Atlanta, Georgia. In order for the Hawks to take their next step, that will begin this off-season. The Hawks have to build chemistry and get Howard and the new additions familiar with Coach Bud’s scheme, chemistry is vital towards having success on and off the court in the NBA. Unfortunately, many Hawks fans and national experts are having a tough time believing the that the players would fit well; however, let’s hope that the low expectations are false. 

Personally, I think Wes Wilcox and Coach Mike Budenholzer wouldn’t take a risk of bringing in a center known for locker room drama such as Dwight Howard or trade Jeff Teague to give their backup point guard a opportunity to excel in the NBA so let’s trust the process of the Hawks front office. As Training Camp is less than two months away, the Hawks will get the opportunity to showcase their new combination and hopefully, prove many doubters wrong this season. Hawks fans, welcome to your potential elite dynamic duo. Be on the look out!

 Garrett Brown: (@_GMB96)

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