When the news came out that Sam Presti had traded his way out of a toxic situation by sending Carmelo Anthony to Atlanta in return for Dennis Schroder, Thunder fans were ecstatic. After consecutive seasons of horrific backup point guard play with Semaj Christon and Ray Felton, having a competent reserve seemed like a dream come true.
Now that some of the shine has worn off, and Dennis Schroder has begun to revert back to the type of player he was in Atlanta, the question has arisen: is he a good player? This is intentionally vague, as we each have our own criteria to evaluate him with. Dom and I will attempt to come to an answer.
Dom: Schroder does not deserve trust the Thunder have placed in him
First, I’ll get this out of the way — I originally was a skeptic of the trade. I talked myself into it as I always do, but trading away a first round pick for a point guard who has been one of, if not the worst, starters in the NBA who’s paid like a solid starter didn’t sit well with me. He’s also had a reputation as a terrible defender who had tunnel vision and wasn’t much of a shooter. Oh, and to top it off he’s been charged with assault in an off the court matter, so there’s that.
But about a month into the season, it looked like Schroder might be an okay pickup. Not great, but better than I’d expected. I knew it was against weak competition, but felt a bit more hopeful, especially given that Russell Westbrook missed 8 of the first 15 games this season. Schroder helped keep them afloat. Again, with the caveat three of those games were against the Suns, and a few more against the Knicks and Cavs, Schroder had to display more for us to really know who he is as a player. Well...
(note: all stats are as of the Wizards game)
Per NBA.com, the Thunder have played 23 games since Westbrook’s last return on November 19th, and are 4th in net rating with a 15-8 record. The defense has been by far the best in the league, but the offense struggled a bit once it started hitting some harder competition. This stretch threw up some red flags, as OKC’s main lineups involving the George/Westbrook pairing are rather strong offensively, running with a 110.8 offensive rating with Westbrook on court.
The issue? That rating craters to 91.8 with Westbrook off. Last season when he sat, it was at 97.4, still awful but not the historical level of awful it is this year. So down the rabbit hole I went. In particular I wanted to see how the team, and more specifically the offense, performed with Westbrook and Schroder when paired with Paul George, who has quickly ascended into MVP candidacy this season.
Since that date of November 19th, the George/Westbrook/Schroder trio has played at a net rating of 11.8, which is excellent for any team’s perimeter trio. However, removing Westbrook, you’d expect a high level backup point guard to keep the team afloat (especially offensively). Well, the net rating drops from 11.8 to -0.8, meaning they’re basically slightly worse than a .500 team. As a note, this is a relatively small sample and the defense seems unsustainably good while the offense unsustainably bad, but the point remains. Flipping that around, if Schroder is the one who sits, that same rating drops to only 8.9, so they’re still an excellent team. To simplify it:
Westbrook/George/Schroder: +11.8 net rating, 111.7 offensive rating, 99.9 defensive rating
George/Schroder only: -0.8 net rating, 86.3 offensive rating, 87.1 defensive rating
Westbrook/George only: 10.2 net rating, 104.0 offensive rating, 94.7 defensive rating
At this point we’re seeing a clear trend of Schroder not being able to hold up much offensively at all, and I’m not buying the 87.1 defensive rating because he’s been so good defensively. Wo what’s going wrong? To start, when Westbrook sits and Schroder and George share the court, Schroder’s usage skyrockets to 31.1% while George’s increases as well, to 34.6%. No other OKC player is above 11.8%, which quite honestly shocks me even looking at it. Nobody gets a chance to touch the ball when Schroder is on the court without another player running the offense.
To contrast, when Schroder is the one who sits, Westbrook’s usage is at 27.7%, George’s at 27.0%, and Adams remains at 17.1% (this drops to 11.5% when Westbrook is the one sitting), along with a few other players hovering in a consistent range.
For all the talk we’ve heard over the years of guards with tunnel vision, Schroder has an eerily similar vibe to Reggie Jackson in fall of 2014. Looking for his own shot often at the cost of the team, Schroder’s higher usage wouldn’t be so harmful, but his efficiency also drops to a 44.8% true shooting, as does the team’s from 55.4% with the trio to 50.2% with George and Schroder only. To compound this even further, Schroder’s assist to turnover ratio without Westbrook in this grouping is 0.28. Basically 3 turnovers for every assist...yikes.
The most alarming number of all of these is that when the trio plays without Westbrook, the team’s assist ratio (the number of assists per 100 possessions) falls from 17.0 to 6.6. Schroder’s individually is at 20.2 when he’s with both players, and 6.0 without; in other words, when you give him control he doesn’t pass. His individual assist ratio in these lineups is lower than Steven Adams. In stark contrast, when it’s Schroder who is removed, the team’s ratio falls only to 16.6. The ball just stops when Schroder is asked to play point guard, and there’s really no other way to describe it.
At this point we’ve only got about half a season complete, but at the time, given his price tag and how he’s played with the Thunder, Dennis Schroder simply isn’t a viable point guard, even as a backup. Given his skill set overlaps with Westbrook, he looks like he isn’t at all a good long term fit. He shows flashes of ability, but overall he’s been a net negative, and I’d take quite a few cheaper (maybe even veteran’s minimum) point guards to play off the bench over him.
Bobby: Schroder is a massive upgrade over past backup point guards, which elevates the team as a whole
To accurately judge Schroder, we can’t look at him in a vacuum. We have to consider the situation and the alternatives. When we do, we see that Schroder is a good backup point guard. Let’s dive deeper.
The first thing to consider is what the Thunder had to work with. Sam Presti, in an all-in move the previous offseason, had traded for Carmelo Anthony. Melo was on an...awful contract, and when he couldn’t accept his role, the situation was at risk of becoming toxic. Presti had to either trade him or stretch him, the latter of which would have left his money on the books with nothing in return.
The problem is that no one wanted him, at least not at that price. There wasn’t going to be a way to move him without taking on a bad contract in return. To even get a functional player at all would be a big coup. Which is exactly what Presti did.
Essentially, when we look at the value of Schroder, we have to compare him to the alternatives. In this case, the alternatives were a) using Felton as the backup point guard, having gotten nothing in return for Carmelo, b) keeping Carmelo and letting the locker room situation potentially go downhill, or c) trying to find a minimum level point guard who was willing to sign, knowing they’d play 15 minutes or less a night. I think it’s fair to say that the second option would have been totally nonviable. The third option may have worked, but finding a player who would fit that niche seems unlikely. Ergo, let’s compare him to Felton.
Now that we have our appropriate alternative to compare him to, we need a criteria to use for comparison. The major complaint with point guard play the past several seasons has been how bad the team has performed with Westbrook off the court. Two seasons ago, with Semaj Christon running the bench, they came in at a NetRtg of -7.1. Last season with Felton, that number climbed to -5.0, which is still... quite bad. This season, the Thunder is positive 0.7 with Russ on the bench. That is essentially neutral, but is a major improvement over the last few season. With the poor or inconsistent performance of other bench players, this is especially important.
Now, a large part of this improvement could be attributed to Paul George having a phenomenal season and running some of the bench unit. But the last season that Kevin Durant was with OKC, the team still was negative with Russ off the floor. So some of the improvement likely comes from improved point guard play.
This isn’t to excuse certain aspects of Schroder’s play. He is using way too many possessions, is failing to set up the other bench players, and has been extremely inefficient. He is essentially showcasing all of his worst traits that appeared while he was in Atlanta. I would love to see some radical changes in him as a player to improve the way the bench plays, especially on offense.
But relative to the alternatives, he has been good for the Thunder. And that is truly the only way to evaluate him so far this season.
Has Dennis Schroder helped the Thunder this season?
This poll is closed
Dom is right - OKC doesn’t have a short term or long term solution in Schroder, and he’s hurting the team
Bobby is right - Schroder is a major upgrade from what the Thunder have had, making them a better team