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Dennis Schroder is the Hawks’ X-Factor

The Atlanta Hawks have been flying high all season, but were systematically decimated by the Golden State Warriors, 114-95, who hold the best record in the NBA at 54-13. The Hawks, meanwhile, are 53-15.

These two teams had met before in the regular season, with the Hawks emerging as winners in the previous contest, 124-116. But you wouldn’t have guessed that if you saw Wednesday night’s performance.

It was a poor showing overall by Atlanta, as they shot 35.6 percent as a team, with only one of the starters knocking down at least half of his shots. (Jeff Teague with 4-of-8 shooting.) But this loss doesn’t take away the success that Atlanta has had all season. It was one bad game, and it was without Kyle Korver, who’s very important to the offense.

While it was one bad game for the collective group, it was especially bad for Dennis Schroder. In 22 minutes, Schroder recorded eight points on 1-of-12 shooting, and the only field goal he made was a three-pointer.

Any other night, Schroder’s poor performance would be highlighted, but fortunately for him, Atlanta stunk as a whole. But just like we shouldn’t use this game as a measuring stick of how good Atlanta has been all season, we should do the same for Schroder.

That doesn’t mean he should be content with his play, of course.

Although Schroder has taken significant strides from last season (3.7 PPG, 1.9 APG, 13.1 MPG in 2013-14, 9.4 PPG, 4.0 APG, 19.4 MPG this year), he has been rather inconsistent throughout the season.

Pre-All Star break, Schroder only averaged 8.5 points in 18.0 minutes per game, but as the season has progressed, we’ve seen a steady increase in minutes for Schroder, leading to him being one of the first players off the bench for Atlanta.

With the regular season winding down, teams are beginning to rest players a la Popovich, or are trying to get into a groove and rhythm that will hopefully carry over into the postseason. Schroder and his young legs should hope to find that rhythm as he attempts to rid himself of any inconsistencies that may plague him later on.

Schroder’s inconsistencies can be summarized with his double-digit scoring performances. Out of the 34 times Schroder has scored 10 points or more, Schroder followed that performance the following game with single-digit performances a total of 13 times.

He also has 17 games where he has scored five points or less.

However, his post-All Star break performances have his stock trending upward. He has recorded double-digit points in 13 out of 16 games, averaging 12.9 points and 6.1 assists in 24.6 minutes per game.

He has performed well against playoff teams such as Milwaukee, Dallas and Cleveland during that stretch, so he has proven himself against quality competition.

Yes, you look at his stat line from the Golden State game and you immediately say to yourself, “Well, someone was out clubbin’ before the game.” However, Schroder performed better than the numbers read, falling into the motto, “Numbers never lie, but they can be misleading.”

Schroder was able to penetrate Golden State’s defense throughout the game, but was simply unable to finish at the rim, missing point-blank layups at times. (He shot 0-of-4 in the paint.) Golden State does have the best defense in the NBA, but the absence of Korver significantly decreases the spacing that allows the freedom and fluidity in Atlanta’s offense. (as well as lanes to the bucket)

Schroder was also only able to dish out two assists, but how many more would he have had if his teammates knocked down some shots? Remember, Atlanta shot 35.6 percent for the entirety of the GAME, its second-lowest shooting percentage in a game this season. (2/20/15 vs. Toronto) And it was only that “high” because of some garbage time baskets.

One shining light in his performance for not only this game but for the entire season was the ability to get to the free throw line and then knocking those attempts down at an efficient rate. In 2013-14, Schroder got to the line less than one time per game, shooting only 67.4 percent from the line. This season, Schroder has shown more aggressiveness by attacking the basket more frequently, subsequently increasing his trips to the line to 2.3 per game.

He has improved his free throw percentage significantly, knocking them down 81 percent of the time. Schroder went 5-of-6 from the charity stripe in the loss to Golden State.

This loss against the Warriors could be the catalyst that throws Schroder out of his rhythm, reverting him back to his inconsistent ways, or it was simply just a clunker. Schroder needs to consistently produce, unlike his first half of the season, because Atlanta can’t afford many 1-of-12 performances from him. But if it had to come sooner or later, this is a better time than the postseason.

We’ve watched Atlanta dominate opponents all year, and we know how well the starting five performs night in and night out, but this team can take further strides when Schroder has his A-game off the bench.

Already blessed with freakish athleticism that allows him to get to the rim so easily, Schroder has seen his jumper improve as well. He’s becoming a complete player right before our eyes, and while the success of Atlanta largely depends on its starting unit, Schroder is forcing himself into the formula.

If he can manage to stay consistent, Atlanta could be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy when it’s all said and done thanks in part to his contributions.

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