Dennis Schroder puts on a good show for new-look Hawks

Dirk and the Mavs couldn’t stop Dennis Schroder from getting to the paint. (AP Photo)

Before the season, while contemplating if the Hawks can be entertaining even if they lose a bunch of games, I wrote: “I can see how there will be nights when the Hawks find their rhythm and are fun to watch, even if the (rebuilding) process means they will lose more than they win.”

It turns out one of those nights was the very first one. If that W in Dallas is any indication, the Hawks will provide some real entertainment value this season. And a big reason for that is Dennis Schroder, the star in the new(ish) pace and space style.

The Mavericks game was the first time I watched Schroder play from courtside. My media seats in Miami and at McCamish Pavilion were up high and, until this season, every Hawks game I watched live since they drafted Schroder was from a paid seat in the uppers. In Dallas I had my best perspective yet to see just how fast Schroder is off the dribble.

I saw up close how relentlessly Schroder attacks the defense, how well he plays the angles and how defenders are nearly helpless to stop him from getting to the paint when he wants. The Mavs banged him around on drives, Schroder didn’t get many whistles, and yet he just kept going and going until he made winning plays at the end.

Schroder did it all with flair, and he appeared to be having fun. One time, after making Yogi Ferrell look silly, Schroder directed what looked like a little bow toward the Hawks’ bench before winking and smiling at Ferrell. The raucous, sold-out crowd and the spirited effort by the Mavs to stop Schroder seemed only to make him better.

“It was pretty amazing the way he was able to beat guys off the dribble and finish, make those layups, hit those mid-range jumpers, facilitate the basketball and push the pace, push tempo” rookie John Collins said in his postgame interview with Fox Sports Southeast.

Mind you, Schroder wasn’t the only reason the Hawks were entertaining in their season debut.

It was cool watching Collins ravage the rim. I like Marco Belinelli’s game because he’s the good kind of chucker. And even with Schroder as the star, the Hawks’ team-oriented, fast-paced style of play and coach Mike Budenholzer’s liberal substitutions meant that all 11 players who took the floor made a real contribution to the victory.

It’s not going to be like this every night for the Hawks. Not all opponents will be as vulnerable as the Mavs on the interior — the Hawks took only 18 3-point attempts while scoring 56 points in the paint. We’ll see what happens when they have to make a lot of long shots.

Then again, not many opponents will be able to keep Schroder from getting to the basket without leaving vulnerabilities elsewhere. Schroder’s elite driving ability at age 24 is the main reason why I still think the Hawks made the right decision to invest in Schroder long term rather than Jeff Teague.

Schroder’s defense is subpar, his game needs refinement and his maturity is still an open question. But his special talent for getting to the basket is why, at this point, the Hawks would have to think hard before trading him for anything other than a major haul.

Schroder took 26 shots against the Mavs, but rarely forced matters. Before the game, Schroder said Budenholzer reiterated what he’d been telling him since well before the season: “Be aggressive and, if they stop you, just try to find open teammates.”

Said Budenholzer: “When he’s aggressive that’s when he’s at his best. He had some good looks. You can tell he felt he could have made more, could have done more. When he’s aggressive it kind of sets the table for everyone else and that’s the way he wants to play, the way we want him to play.”

The Hawks are Schroder’s show now. The first episode was a good one.

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