When Dennis Schröder entered the league out of Germany, the instant comparison from many was to Rajon Rondo. Schröder’s long arms and slender frame made the comparison easy, as did how happy he was to steer into that comparison by calling Rondo one of his favorite players.
The Hawks believed he could be that and more, which is why they turned the keys over to Schröder after the 2015-16 season, trading Jeff Teague to Indiana and asking Schröder to run the ship. That first season as a starter was the best of his career by most any metric, but he took a severe step back in 2017-18 and was ultimately flipped to Oklahoma City for Carmelo Anthony and a first round pick two summers ago to clear the way for Trae Young as the new franchise point guard.
The fit in Oklahoma City has never seemed ideal for Schröder, first backing up Russell Westbrook and coming into this season as a third guard next to Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And yet, somehow that trio has managed to thrive together, pushing the Thunder to a tie for sixth in the Western Conference currently at 32-21, and winners of eight of their last ten. Chris Paul has returned to All-Star form and Gilgeous-Alexander has built on his impressive rookie season in L.A. with the Clippers, but it’s what Schröder has done this season that is most impressive — and arguably most important to the Thunder’s success.
You could project this growth from SGA, and Paul being freed from a sidekick role next to James Harden always yielded the possibility of him returning to his Point God ways, health pending. However, Schröder has never shown anything close to this level of offensive play, and that it’s been sustained for more than half of the season is truly something to marvel at.
Schröder is averaging 19.3 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game in his 31 minutes each night, all of which are pretty close to his career best raw stats. Most importantly, he’s blowing his career best efficiency numbers out of the water, shooting 38.8 percent from three (previous best 34.1 percent last season), 52.5 percent from two (previous best 48.7 percent in 2016-17), and 58 percent true shooting (previous best 53.3 in 2016-17). To illustrate just how much better he’s been, Schröder is scoring 116.3 points per 100 shot attempts per Cleaning The Glass, which ranks in the 85th percentile of all combo guards. His prior career best was 107.9, which was the 46th percentile among point guards that year. Schröder has barely ever been an average guard in terms of scoring efficiency, but suddenly he’s among the best in the NBA.
A big reason for Schröder’s improvement has been moving him off the ball and into a secondary ball-handler/creator role. His 27.2 usage rate is the third lowest of his career — still the 85th percentile of combo guards — and he’s getting 49 percent of his made baskets off assists (previous high was 40 percent as a rookie). By taking fewer pull-up jumpers and getting more of his looks off catch-and-shoots and cuts (35 percent of his makes at the rim are assisted) he’s simply taking better and easier shots.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 6, 2020
Not only is playing with another point guard on the floor like helping him get easier looks that he doesn’t have to create himself, his opportunities are greater because of favorable matchups. Schröder’s speed has always been one of his best attributes, but figuring out how to control that speed and knowing how to best use his pace was a major part of his frustrating inconsistency in his time with the Hawks. He seems to have better control now, and he also often finds himself guarded by bigger wing players, which allows his quick first step to be even more dangerous.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 9, 2020
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 14, 2020
There is also obviously some improvement in his jump shot, as he’s more fluid and on balance both in taking threes off the catch and in just having a better base on his pull-up jumpers. He’s eliminated some of the clutter from his game, and seems more in tune with where his best spots are on the floor. He’s always liked the pull-up jumper in the midrange as a counter to his speed on drives, but this season he’s consolidated those looks to mostly be in the middle of the floor at the foul-line extended zone. He’s cut back on the short midrange and floater game, which he’s never excelled at, opting for that free-throw line jumper more often (where he hits a robust 48 percent of his attempts), and is taking more threes than ever before. If anything, the Thunder should explore how to get him more shots from the corners, as he’s hitting a ridiculous 58 percent from the corner, with those accounting for just four percent of his looks, per Cleaning the Glass.
Defensively, he’s never lived up to his Baby Rondo billing when it comes to forcing turnovers, but when he’s engaged he’s always been a capable defender thanks to his length and quickness. Maintaining that level of effort has always been the problem, but this season, playing on a contender, that energy level has stayed more consistent. The result has been OKC being vastly better when he’s on the floor, as he gives them another long, switchable defender on the perimeter. With Schröder on the floor, the Thunder are allowing 10.9 points per 100 possessions fewer, and opponents’ effective field goal percentage drops 7.4 percent. His havoc numbers (steals and blocks) aren’t particularly great, but he has been active and engaged, which has led to the Thunder being able to apply immense pressure to opponents.
The question going forward is how does this season, which has been a tremendous outlier in his career, project going forward. Schröder has one year left on his deal, and OKC is going to have to determine where he fits in their long-term outlook, and how he plays this season and the first half of next will be of definite interest around the league. If he keeps this scoring profile up in a secondary ball-handler role, he could be an incredibly valuable asset next year at the trade deadline with his $15.5 million expiring. He also could prove to the Thunder that he can be a core piece as their sixth-man going forward, as they try to assess who to build around.
Whatever the case, Schröder has done wonders for himself and the Thunder this season. A young player who was effectively a salary dump from Atlanta (and, somewhat understandably so) has put in the work and made the necessary changes to his game to become a highly-valuable piece of one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises.