Dennis Schröder extension a gamble that could pay off for Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are going all in on their new starting point guard. Dennis Schröder just signed a four-year, $70 million extension that should keep him in Atlanta until 2020.

At first glance, it seems like a bold move by the front office. After all, Schröder has been mostly a backup throughout his career behind Jeff Teague. That’s a lot of money to commit to someone who is not a proven starter. The higher cap that kicked in with the new TV deal, however, makes it a sensible gamble. If Schröder improves at the level the Hawks hope he can, he could become a downright steal.

In all likelihood, Schröder would have gotten more money next summer, after a year of starting. He chose financial security now over a potentially bigger payday later, which is not a bad decision. Injuries happen, after all. That makes this agreement a win-win for both sides. The Hawks locked up a promising player through the beginning of his prime, and Schröder won’t have to worry about playing for a contract.

The price is right and empowering Schröder, who always wanted the starting job and be the leader of the team, makes sense. What’s a little strange about the decision is to do it in what seems like a transitional year. Al Horford is gone and Kyle Korver is 35 years old. Dwight Howard has looked terrific in preseason but has a scary injury history. Half the roster could test free agency next season, including their best player, Paul Millsap.

The Hawks simply don’t know how good they will be this season. A couple of bad breaks and the idea of blowing things up could really become enticing. There is some youth on the roster, so having the 23-year-old Schröder around for the rebuild is not the worst possible scenario. It also wouldn’t be a great situation, as Schröder has not always been a reliable leader and might clash with Howard, who is also locked up for several more seasons. Waiting might have made sense, even if it could have result in a higher contract.

Any concerns would be eased if Schröder and Howard develop good chemistry. It could certainly happen, especially if Atlanta overachieves. But Howard has clashed with perimeter players over touches before and might feel like this is his team. Schröder probably disagrees, especially after signing the extension. That could lead to on-court issues.

Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (17) drives past Memphis Grizzlies guard Wade Baldwin, center, with help from Hawks forward Mike Scott (32) in the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

AP Photo/Brandon Dill

It’s only preseason, but both Howard and Millsap used a lot of possessions during the exhibition slate. That should continue into the season, simply because Millsap deserves those touches and Howard might not be happy without them. Schröder has been in distributor mode so far, but will it last? He’s been overly deferential in the past for a few games, only to be über aggressive when looking for his shot on others. With two post players to feed, he’ll need to find a balance, which might not be easy early on for someone as mercurial as he seems to be.

The concerns are real, even with a contract that seems good from a money standpoint. Consistency is hugely important from starting point guards, and Schröder has lacked it throughout his young career. He has an ego and a tendency to occasionally pull the offense his way that might not jive with Howard. The Hawks could simply be bad this season and hope to start over, only now they have someone else on the books, even if it’s on a tradable contract. Giving Schröder an extension was far from a no-brainer.

It still has a chance of being a fantastic decision, though. If he figures out the right harmony between scoring and playmaking to give the offense a boost and keep everyone happy, he could become a steal. The talent is certainly there, even if it in the past it has been evident only three quarters of the time. There’s also a lot of untapped defensive potential there, which could finally turn into production over the duration of the contract. Two-way players are hard to find at his position.

It might all just come down to maturity. Schröder is 23 years old, which is young for a starting point guard on a likely playoff team. He’s been in the league three years already, though, and has earned playing time late in close games over a more accomplished peer. No one knows him better than the coaching staff and front office, and they seem convinced that he’s ready to take on this next challenge.

If they are wrong, they will still likely fight for a playoff spot and get a chance at reloading soon. But if they are right about Schröder’s ability to reach greater heights than Teague, his signing could go down as the moment the Hawks took a step forward towards true contention. That might be a gamble, but it’s one worth taking.

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