February 15, 2019

After declaring he wanted to start sooner rather than later, Dennis Schroder has seemingly accepted his role off the bench this season. That hasn’t stopped the Atlanta Hawks from being understandably proactive in trying to avoid a Reggie Jackson situation, however.

Benching All-Star Jeff Teague is not an option, so the best way to at least give Schroder more minutes is to go with two point guard lineups more often, something Atlanta has been doing to start the season.

Teague and Schroder were on the court together during just 59 regular season games last year, but have shared the court in all but one game this season. They have been on the court together for seven minutes per game, up one minute from their average last season. As a result, the third-year point guard has seen his minutes go from 20 to 23 in the first 11 games of the season, while Teague continues to get the same amount of playing time as last year.

Appeasing Schroder is important, considering the Hawks’ lack of young talent, but it doesn’t seem to be the sole motivation for the tweak.

Everyone in the Hawks’ rotation is assisted on 75 percent of their field goal attempts or more except for Teague and Schroder. There are no wing players who can handle the ball, and while capable of creating for himself at times in the post, Paul Millsap is not a traditional first option. For almost everyone on the team, someone has to get them a good look because they can’t do it on their own.

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Having Schroder next to Teague would, in theory, make life easier for each other as they create for everyone else while putting the defense on a bind.

“Pick-and-roll is such a hard action to guard,” coach Mike Budenholzer told Hawks.com, “and the more guys you have doing it, the more multiple pick and rolls you can have in a possession, the harder it is (to guard).”

The reasoning behind the decision to use the two lead guards together is clearly sound. Unfortunately, the results have been disastrous so far.

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The Teague-Schroder pairing has the worst offensive rating of all two-man lineups that have played at least 50 minutes for the Hawks. While the drop on defense is to be expected—as neither has size to guard wings and lineups featuring both get killed on the boards—the offense being that much worse with the two on the court is shocking. A quick look at the video, however, easily explains the problem: The Hawks are not using the double threat two ball handlers represent at all.

Instead of exploring before moving the ball, both Teague and Schroder act as if they were the only point guard on the court.

 

That’s a particularly egregious example of over-dribbling, but a lot of possessions in which the two point guards share the court together end with one of them attacking and trying to get a basket instead of getting the defense moving and setting up the other to attack a scrambling defense. The ball doesn’t move more and everyone just stands around. For contrast, here’s how the Spurs use their two ball handlers to attack.

Patty Mills runs the first pick and roll early and when there’s nothing there, he passes the ball to change the angle of attack. Those switches from strong side to weak side kill defenses.

Most teams that run lineups with two creators adjust and try to maximize ball movement. The Hawks, on the other hand, are simply running their sets—a lot of which seem designed for one ball handler and four finishers—even when Teague and Schroder share the court. Neither is improvising to get the other involved, either. As a result, they take turns running pick and rolls while the other spots up.

If either of them were marksmen that wouldn’t be a big problem, but that’s not the case. Both are shooting in the mid-40s in catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, but that doesn’t seem sustainable. Last season Teague was good in those situations, connecting on 40 percent of his looks, but Schroder has shot in the low 30s in his first two years. They don’t know how to move without the ball, either, which means they both stand around without it, instead of moving into open spots or cutting.

Teague should have moved to the corner there. He just doesn’t know that.

Considering how much the defense and rebounding suffer with the two on the court together, and how the pairing is not giving Atlanta an edge on offense, it’s hard to see a reason to keep the experiment going.

With some small tweaks, however, things could be much better than they have been. Something as simple as having one of the point guards shift places with the small forward—which in the Hawks’ system is more of a slasher than the shooting guard—could have good results. Teague could make much more damage than Kent Bazemore attacking after this hand-off than just standing around on the weak side, for example.

Chemistry should improve in time and that’s key to making this type of setup work. Both players need to know what the other is going to do, to stand out of their way when they have the upper hand, or make themselves available when needed.

That’s a clear example of a situation in which Schroder needs to be more alert. He could have transitioned into a side pick and roll had he been more focused instead of resting. With more familiarity and, more importantly, with more active coaching, that’s fixable.

Developing a functional two point guard lineup will take time and the process might not be pretty, but it’s worth it, especially for a team in such dire need of shot creation as Atlanta. Experimentation should, and hopefully will, continue once Teague returns from his ankle injury. Schroder’s future in Atlanta, as well as the evolution of the Hawks’ offense, depends on it.

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