The Atlanta Hawks made a bold move this offseason to hand their starting point guard job to Dennis Schröder not just for one season, but over the long haul via a four-year, $70-million contract extension. Schröder is certainly talented and has put up good numbers this season, but it’s not yet clear if he is fit to shoulder his new responsibilities and lead the Hawks into a new era. The results have been inconclusive — the Hawks hold the No. 5 spot in the East standings, but they run hot and cold and seem to lack the energy of a team on the rise.
Schröder may be due for further criticism after the events of Monday night’s home game against the Golden State Warriors. Shortly into the third quarter, Dwight Howard fired an outlet pass into the stands. That turnover led to an argument with Schröder, who let his attention wander as Stephen Curry, the best shooter in the world, walked into a wide-open 3-pointer. Take a look at the embarrassing scene here:
It was a significant three points for the Warriors, who went into halftime down five points and never trailed again after this basket. But we’re talking about this moment now because it led to the end of Schröder’s night.
He missed a 3-pointer out of the subsequent timeout, went to the bench at the 8:41 mark of the third, and never entered the game again. The Warriors went on to win 119-111 to hand the Hawks their third straight loss and sixth in eight games.
Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer made it very clear after the game that he had benched Schröder on purpose. From Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Budenholzer called it a coach’s decision. Schroder said he didn’t understand the discipline and wants a meeting to discuss. Howard said such a conversation would not a bad thing. Several other Hawks players wanted to put the incident behind them and move forward. […]
“Just us staying together is the bigger point,” Budenholzer said of his decision. “We’ve got to stay together and find a way to move on to the next play. Those things are important.”
The Hawks led 70-69 early in the third quarter when Howard was credited with a turnover on a bad pass with 9:42 remaining. As Schroder and Howard argued, the Warriors inbounded the ball and Stephen Curry quickly hit a 3-pointer. Budenholzer was heard to yell at Schroder “That’s what I’m talking about.” […]
“I don’t really know,” Schroder said when asked why he was benched. “I know the 3 from Steph Curry when me and Dwight was arguing was part of it. That can’t happen. I don’t understand coach’s decision. I want to be on the court. Maybe I’m too competitive. I’m just trying to be competitive and win games.”
He added he would like to meet with Budenholzer about the disciplinary action.
“We have to figure it out, me and coach,” Schroder said. “I want to talk about it. Dwight’s got to be in there too. Get on the same page.”
Howard and other Hawks attempted to downplay the incident and insisted that it’s normal for teammates to argue with each other over the course of a game. However, Budenholzer must have thought Schröder’s lapse important, because he benched a player who ended up as his team’s leading scorer despite playing all of 3:19 in the second half. Schröder devastated the Warriors early on, scoring 19 points in the first quarter alone and finishing with 23 on 9-of-17 shooting.
Perhaps Budenholzer views Atlanta’s recent struggles as more than an unfortunate skid for a team that would likely still make the playoffs even if it lost the vast majority of its final 19 games. With All-Star forward Paul Millsap set to become a free agent this summer and the likes of Schröder, Howard, and Kent Bazemore locked up long term, the Hawks could be facing several seasons of stagnation in which they’re too good to get a high lottery pick but not good enough to scare anyone in the conference.
Their future success could depend largely on Schröder, whose ability often manifests itself in his numbers far more than in his impact on a game. Getting him engaged could determine where things go, and it makes much more sense to try the tough love approach when the team is in the midst of a losing streak. It’s a risk for Budenholzer, but potentially a smart one. If it doesn’t work out, though, this benching could end up looking like the moment everything turned especially sour for Atlanta.
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