HANG TIME WEST — Hawks rookie Dennis Schroder was given a one-game suspension Thursday for hitting DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings in the groin two days earlier, and some front office people knowingly nodded.
There was the obvious irony of Cousins as the victim in a deserved sanction against Schroder. In the bigger picture, though, there was the unfortunate timing of Schroder not even having the courtesy to offer a complete exam by asking Cousins to turn his head and cough.
This was in the fourth quarter of Schroder’s fourth game in a pro career that began with questions about his personality. While no red flags ever became public, doubts did exist in some circles before the draft about whether he had an attitude problem or simply was 19 years old and a typical teenager.
The answers from Summer League through training camp through the opening days of 2013-14 have been resoundingly positive. Schroder definitely has an edge, but it has come across to the Hawks as a drive to be great. Coaches have not had to discipline him. Teammates on a roster filled with experience – Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Elton Brand, plus the injured Lou Williams, are all at least in their seventh season – have not had to get Schroder in line.
The biggest personality problem is that he thinks he can be great now, and that’s not such a bad problem, especially when balanced against Schroder accepting the reserve role behind Jeff Teague at point guard. That he has fit in well is especially noteworthy for someone who turned 20 in September and is living outside his native Germany for the first time.
“I think his personality’s good,” coach Mike Buzenholzer said. “I think the older guys, the veterans, are staying on him, making him the typical rookie. Making sure he understands he’s got to earn his stripes and all those different things. I think he’s confident kid and I think they all like him and enjoy him.”
Based on the early indications, it’s fair to call the groin shot to Cousins that will cost Schroder tonight’s game at Denver a singular regrettable moment rather than a warning of problems to come.
The No. 17 pick in the draft, and the fourth point guard taken, has a chance to be a star. He has jet speed and can also run the pick-and-roll in the halfcourt. With quick feet and long arms, Schroder can become a standout defender, and one Hawk says he can be great on that side of the ball.
Schroder needs to get stronger than the listed 168 pounds on the 6-foot-1 frame and make better decisions with the ball, but begins his career with a lot of raw tools and veteran teammates to help the transition.
“I think there’s been forward movement,” Budenholzer said. “There’s always, it seems like, a little step back and a couple forward. There’s always things we want him to continue to work on and improve, but he shows moments where he’s making progress and an understanding of what we think is important and how we want to play. His own individual improvement, you see little bits and pieces of it with each day.”
For now, Schroder is at 6.3 points, 4.3 assists and 39.3 percent from the field in 18.8 minutes. The other early progress report is equally important: While Schroder may be cocky, he is also a willing learning with a passion to play. This is a player with an attitude, not a problem.