Hawks: Schroder, a defensive liability, says he wants to be better

Opponents have gone after Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder. (AP Photo)

For two or three weeks now Dennis Schroder has taken much of the blame for his team’s fourth-quarter fades while saying he needs to be a play-maker in addition to an aggressive scorer. Lately he’s also acknowledged what’s obvious to any close observer of the Hawks: Schroder needs to get much better on defense.

There’s lots of statistical evidence that he’s been bad defensively but just watch a few Hawks games and it becomes apparent. My view is that the problem with Schroder’s defense is that he just didn’t give consistent effort at that end, and goes long stretches where it appears he’s not trying to defend much at all.

Certainly his teammates and coaches see it, too. Schroder wants to be a team leader, and being a better defender is a great way to earn that cred.

“Team defense, I think everybody can get better,” Schroder said after Hawks practice today. “But it starts with me. I just want to do a better job of being focused and starting with the defense and then everybody can see it and try to follow my lead.”

It’s not easy for a high-usage offensive player like Schroder to also be a good defender. This is especially true for Schroder because he creates so much of his offense by constantly driving to the basket. That’s got to take a physical and mental toll on Schroder, whose usage rate of 29.8 is 15th-highest in the league among players who’ve played 300 minutes or more.

Yet if Schroder wants to be more than just a pretty good NBA starter, he likely will have to find a way to do both.

“It’s tough but that’s the reason I’m out here every day trying to get my conditioning right and running with the (athletic) staff (and) outside sometimes with my boys,” he said. “Just try to stay, conditioning-wise, to be on my top level.”

Better focus and conditioning might help Schroder be a better defender. Metrics don’t always tell the whole story but Schroder’s numbers confirm what the eye test shows: He’s been a very bad defender this season.

Schroder’s defensive rating (114.3) is the worst by far among Hawks players, 3.7 points per 100 possessions worse than Marco Belinelli’s. The Hawks have allowed 16.6 more points per 100 possessions (!) with Schroder on the court (578 minutes) than off (382). Schroder ranks next-to-last among NBA point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric, which aims to account for teammates, opponents and other unspecified factors. And Schroder’s -2.9 Defensive Box Plus/Minus is tied for fifth-worst among players with at least 300 minutes played.

The defensive counting stats aren’t any better for Schroder. His 1.4 steals per 36 minutes rank tied for 41st among the 116 guards with 300 or more minutes played, according to Basketball-Reference. Schroder’s 2.4 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes rank 106th among that group. Schroder may never be even an average rebounder for his position because of his relatively slight frame, but his production on steals isn’t as good as you’d expect considering his long arms and superlative quickness.

Statistically, Schroder has been a bit better offensively this season but he’s been so much worse defensively that it’s hurting the Hawks. They’ve scored 6.9 more points per 100 possessions with Schroder on the court but his net rating of -9.6 is third-worst on the team behind Malcolm Delaney and Mike Muscala.

Again, I’m sure it’s not easy for Schroder to take on a big scoring load and also be a good defender. Schroder doesn’t have as many good offensive players around him this season after Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. departed. Opponents are loading up against Schroder so he’s having to work harder on offense.

But Schroder can’t reach his goal of being among the best point guards in the league if he can’t at least stop being such a big defensive liability.

“Point guards, some of them they like to play offense and defensively they aren’t doing too much and they don’t need it,” Schroder said. “I want to be a true point guard and try to play defense and offense and do the little things.”

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