He has been hearing the comparisons to Rajon Rondo since he was a young teenager playing in Germany. The long arms, gangly frame, flashy style, and passing ability were present in Dennis Schroder, the way they were in Rondo eight years ago.
Schroder has made the leap from the German national team and European basketball to the NBA, and at age 20 has experienced the expected uneven road of a rookie with the Hawks. For a while early in the season, he was the primary backup to Jeff Teague. And then he was benched after a couple of poor games, replaced by former Brad Stevens pupil Shelvin Mack.
So Schroder, a gifted point guard, waits, understanding that success in the NBA is not instantaneous.
“Every time I do an interview, everybody tells me that,” Schroder said of the comparisons to Rondo. “For me, it means a lot because he’s like the best point guard in the NBA and I hope that I’ll be one day like him and be an All-Star and win championships. I think with his long arms and defense and his [ability] to see the open guys, yeah, I compare me a little bit like him, too.”
A common thread between the two is unrelenting confidence. Rondo arrived in Boston in 2006 as an enigma following two years at the University of Kentucky. He possessed enough savvy just past his 22d birthday to help the Celtics win their first title in 22 years in 2008.
“Since I’ve been a kid I’ve tried to win every game and try to give everything to lead the team,” Schroder said. “Every time when I step on the court I try to be the best and win against other point guards, try to play them well and tough.”
The adjustment to the NBA has been rocky. Coach Mike Budenholzer already has sent Schroder to the Development League for a stint. Schroder needs to cut down on risky plays and turnovers. He needs to gain consistency.
“It’s a completely different game than [overseas], in Europe you call a lot of set plays,” he said. “In Germany, I played very fast and I can get used to the game in the NBA. I feel comfortable here. At the beginning of the season I played like 20 minutes a game and then I had two bad games and I was out of the rotation, and now I have to be patient and get my minutes back.”
Schroder said he understood he wouldn’t start or dominate immediately. The Hawks are one of the league’s surprising teams, and Mack has emerged as the most reliable guard off the bench after a few years of bouncing between the NBA and NBADL.
“Everybody told me it will take time, you’re 19 years old and they told me they expect a lot from me,” Schroder said. “And I will get my chance back and be the backup this season.”
Despite being in the same building on New Year’s Eve when the Celtics hosted the Hawks, Schroder and Rondo did not get a chance to speak.
“I was at the workout here before the draft and [Rondo] wasn’t [in Boston],” Schroder said. “I met only Jason Terry. He was here.”
Doc Rivers was a big fan of Schroder leading up to the draft, and had he remained in Boston, it’s possible the Celtics could have taken the point guard with the 16th overall pick. Instead, they traded up to get Kelly Olynyk at No. 13.
“Coach Rivers, he said he wants me very bad because he said that I play like Rondo,” Schroder said. “Then I heard three days afterwards that he had gone to the Clippers. Everybody treated me well [in Boston] for my workout.”
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Pistons’ Drummond making major strides
Eighteen months ago, Andre Drummond entered the NBA draft as an enigma, a mammoth manchild with raw skills who played just one season at the University of Connecticut. Don’t let the beard fool you, Drummond is just 20 years old, and is averaging 12.9 points and 12.4 rebounds through the first third of the season.
Drummond has quickly transformed into a cornerstone for the Detroit Pistons. He is a franchise-caliber center who may never become a dominant scorer, but his ability to rebound and defend at such an early stage of his career is stunning. Drummond is being mentored by Rasheed Wallace and was unselfish enough to change his uniform number from 1 to 0 when the Pistons brought back Chauncey Billups. His desire to learn is refreshing for a franchise trying to reclaim respectability.
“Having a year under my belt has been a great help,” Drummond said. “When I’m on the floor now I know where I need to be. I know what it takes to be a good player and have a successful season. The stuff you need to do on and off the court to keep your body up.”
Wallace, a former Celtic, was named an assistant coach by Maurice Cheeks last summer after retiring for the second time. His express purpose was to work with and develop Drummond into a more aggressive and meaner defender, similar to Wallace and Ben Wallace during Detroit’s last heyday in the mid 2000s.
“Working with Rasheed, he’s a great guy to have and has been a big help for our team,” Drummond said. “Just the knowledge he has of the game and the stuff he has to offer to help us all out mentally.”
There were various opinions about Drummond’s potential impact when the Pistons took him ninth overall in 2012. He was a mystery because of his limited college experience and scrutinized because of the recent influx of big-man busts in the draft. Despite being sidelined 22 games last season because of a stress fracture in his back, he managed to finish second on the team in rebounding to Greg Monroe despite averaging fewer than 21 minutes per game.
“That was a big step for me to leave UConn after one year,” Drummond said. “And I knew the work I had to put in to become the player I am today, and the more work I have to do to even get better. I’m just excited for what’s coming up because I know I’m a hard worker and the effort and energy I put into this game is definitely going to show.”
Drummond may not exhibit much emotion but he said he’s motivated to become one of the league’s top centers. Celtics coach Brad Stevens called Drummond the NBA’s second-most athletic big man behind Houston’s Dwight Howard.
“I just want to develop a low-post presence with my back to the basket,” Drummond said. “Get a lot more comfortable with the ball when I do get it, and be able to do something with it.”
Meanwhile, Drummond’s teammate, Peyton Siva, credits a longtime friendship with Celtics guard Avery Bradley as one of the reasons he has reached the NBA despite being a second-round pick out of NCAA champion Louisville.
Siva and Bradley played on Seattle-area AAU teams together and the two have kept in touch since Bradley declared for the draft following his freshman season.
“I’ve known Avery since the fifth grade and played against him ever since,” said Siva, who played four years at Louisville. “We’ve been good friends and we communicate a lot. When I came out and worked out with Boston [before the draft], he took me out to eat. He’s a great guy and good friend.”
Siva is the latest in a long line of NBA players from the Seattle-Tacoma area that include Bradley, Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas, the Nets’ Jason Terry, the 76ers’ Tony Wroten and Spencer Hawes, the Wizards’ Martell Webster, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, the Pistons’ Rodney Stuckey, the Jazz’s Marvin Williams, the Rockets’ Aaron Brooks, and the Nuggets’ Nate Robinson.
“Seattle is not known for a lot of other sports, you really don’t get the press that a lot of other cities would get,” said Siva. “So the guys just feel that they helped pave the way and give back to the community. It’s like a brotherhood. If you play basketball, you’re going to get all the help you can receive. Even when Avery went to the NBA, we talked all the time. Even when other guys came to the NBA, they always came back to Seattle.”
Bradley consulted with Siva, who was a freshman at Louisville, when he decided to leave Texas after his first season.
“We always talked about it and he decided to leave and I decided to stay. Just watching him, it was a proud moment,” Siva said. “We worked so hard since we were little kids to be at this spot, and for that dream to finally come to realization, it was great. I wasn’t shocked at all to see Avery in the NBA. I knew he would be, and it was great to see him prosper and do well.”
Siva took a different route than Bradley. As a four-year player who wasn’t projected to be picked in the first round, Siva was taken 56th overall by the Pistons and has spent some time in the NBADL.
“I just have to continue to work hard and the transition is going pretty well,” said Siva, who has played in 13 games. “You definitely just pay your dues and continue to work hard. As a second-round pick, nothing was given to me, so I’ve just got to continue to just take on what comes at me.”
Orlando lost the magic as Scott entered prime
The Orlando Magic were supposed to unseat the Chicago Bulls and an aging Michael Jordan in the mid-90s. They had drafted Shaquille O’Neal, and acquired Anfernee Hardaway on draft night the following year to join Dennis Scott, Horace Grant, and Nick Anderson for a young, talented core.
Orlando did reach the NBA Finals in 1995, losing to the reigning champion Houston Rockets in a sweep, but the Magic never made it back before O’Neal left for the Lakers the next summer. Hardaway was felled by bad knees and the organization crumbled when it should have been thriving.
Scott, now an analyst for NBA TV, was asked whether he has any regrets or feels haunted by Orlando’s failure to become the next NBA power.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘haunt,’ ” he said. “It bothers me some when you get into those conversations of being a champion. That’s when it kind of bothers you some because when you talk about winning games, going deep in the playoffs, going to the Finals, having NBA records, I have all those. I’ve experienced all those. The only thing I didn’t have a chance to experience was finally putting the ring on your finger, and then you remember that series [with Houston] and what you went through and Shaq and I talk about it — how we gave [Hakeem] Olajuwon too much respect.
“Those things cross your mind, but it doesn’t haunt me. It doesn’t bother me.”
The Magic did not believe O’Neal was worth an unprecedented $100 million contract, allowing Lakers general manager Jerry West to swoop in and sell the big man on coming to Los Angeles to become the Lakers’ next great center along with advancing his rap and movie career. O’Neal was sold, and agreed to a seven-year, $121 million deal.
“You know what happened — [Magic ownership] made a bad decision, they didn’t believe the big fella was worth $100 million,” Scott said. “That was the problem, when I look back on it. And I love the [Richard] DeVos family — they brought me back last week for the 25th anniversary of the organization, they chose me as one of the top 10 players to come through there, I thought that was a great honor to receive.
“With that being said, as a young ownership, they were in a small market and it was hard to justify it. It was very similar with what [Oklahoma City] went through with James Harden, trying to have three [maximum-salary] guys. They were young, still trying to figure out, ‘Hey, we just maxed Penny. We’ve got to max Shaq again. Nick has got to get paid. [Scott] has to get paid, so it was some decision. But to your point, you would think, hey, you’ve got to keep the big fella and maybe let someone else go. Obviously, the rest is history.”
Scott and O’Neal still discuss what could have been.
“We know what we had as young players and yes, we wish they would have kept us together,” Scott said.
They Hawks have been playing surprisingly well, including a comeback win over the Celtics during Al Horford’s absence, and are seeking big-man help for a playoff run. If the season ended today, the Hawks would be the third seed in the East, and barring a collapse in the final four months, should be a factor down the stretch. Without Horford (torn pectoral), and ZazaPachulia having departed for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Hawks lack a true big man . . . The Portland Trail Blazers sent rookie C.J. McCollum to NBADL Idaho to get game action before joining the team following missing the first two months with a fractured foot. The Celtics left the decision of going to the D-League for work up to Rajon Rondo and he is considering it, but an increasing amount of teams are expected to use the NBADL for rehabilitation because of lack of practice time during the regular season. McCollum has to find a spot in the Trail Blazers’ rotation because of their strong start and the development of Mo Williams as the backup point guard . . . The Knicks added Jeremy Tyler last week for center depth, giving the former prep standout who spent his senior season overseas another opportunity. Tyler fared well in the Las Vegas Summer League for the Knicks but was edged out of a roster spot by former lottery pick Cole Aldrich. New York cut backup point guard Chris Smith to make room for Tyler, much to the chagrin of older brother J.R. Smith . . . After Andrew Bynum was suspended indefinitely, a ban that now includes pay for the center, the Cavaliers had to scramble to cancel a Bynum-based promotion for the Dec. 29 game against Golden State. A Bynum “Fathead” was scheduled to be handed out to fans at Quicken Loans Arena. “Fathead” is a poster company owned by Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert that produces lifelike caricatures of athletes. After LeBron James signed with the Heat in July 2010, Gilbert sliced the price of the LeBron James “Fathead” to 99 cents . . . NBA scouts are keeping an eye on dismissed Louisville forward Chane Behanan, who reportedly will work with former NBA player John Lucas, who has a Houston-based program working with players with substance and emotional issues. Behanan was a force for the Cardinals during their national championship run. He is 21 years old and is an intriguing prospect because of his hulking 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound frame.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.