There were a few questions before the start of the season about Dennis Schroder. Schroder’s first season in Oklahoma City was inconsistent; Schroder performed well on offense, but his defense was pretty weak. He did not seem to fit into the ‘spark plug’ role off the bench.
Schroder has laid all of that criticism to rest this season. He has been exceptional, and his play has helped the Thunder win games. I would say that it has been the best season in Schroder’s career.
Schroder is averaging nineteen points per game on 46.8% from the field and 38.1% from three-point land. Schroder used not to be an elite marksman from deep, but the development in his game puts him among the best. Dennis Schroder’s efficiency from deep is comparable to CJ McCollum and Zach LaVine, two players who are almost All-Star quality players.
The increased efficiency from the field means that Schroder’s exact shooting percentage is now at 57.3%, a highly efficient mark. The rate indicates that Schroder is a dynamic scorer, but the comparable players show what level he’s playing.
Kemba Walker and Bradley Beal are both guards who are hovering around the 57.3% mark. Both of these players are All-Stars and quarterback the offense for their teams. Schroder’s TS% increased by 6.5% compared to the previous season.
It is a significant jump on offense, but the impressive aspect of Schroder’s play is his growth on defense. Schroder came to the Thunder with a mixed reputation; Dennis had shown flashes of ability as a primary defender, but he drifted through games too much. In Atlanta, he was not always active on defense.
Schroder has been aggressive and engaged in defense this season. Schroder fights over screens and hounds other players. During the game, it is not uncommon to see Schroder pick his man up full court and pressure his assignment.
The eye test indicates that Schroder has been an elite defender this season, but the numbers back up this assertion. Schroder has posted a defensive rating of 103; this is the best rating out of all guards who have played at least 45 games and 28 minutes per night.
Schroder’s defensive work has put him into the upper echelon of defenders at the guard spots. It is not a stretch to say that Dennis Schroder has been as good as Kyle Lowry or Marcus Smart this season in terms of stopping opposing players. The improvement on the less glamorous end of the floor has meant that Schroder is fourth in Defensive Win Shares among all guards in the NBA.
The improvement to his playing is found in the statistics. He has accumulated 3.6 win shares throughout the season, an impressive return. Schroder has also posted a Net Rating of 6.0. This Net Rating puts him in elite company, Luka Doncic and Kyle Lowry have posted similar numbers during the regular season.
Schroder’s growth has occurred for a few different reasons. I feel like Schroder has excelled in lineups that have two other ball-handlers. Schroder has more space inside to work as defenses cannot afford to collapse on him for fear that Chris Paul or SGA is left open.
The other benefit of the ‘Three Amigos’ lineup is that Schroder is usually matched up with a wing player. Schroder’s speed is hard to contain for a fleet-footed guard, and it is impossible to stop for a bigger, slower wing. Schroder gets buckets by being able to blaze past his man.
Moreover, I feel like Schroder’s improvement has stemmed from his motivations. Schroder believes that he is a starter in this league; he does not enjoy coming off the bench. It seems like Schroder is proving that he deserves to start through his strong performances off the bench.
Schroder’s improvement as a basketball player led me to analyze the film of his play and write my thoughts on how he has grown. I took Schroder’s game against the Boston Celtics in the TD Garden as my sample. This game was one of the best performances of the season from Schroder, and his efforts led Oklahoma City to the win.
On this possession, Schroder comes across the timeline and plays his defender man to man. Schroder wants to get a quick bucket on this possession to extend the Thunder’s lead while time ticks away.
Schroder’s ball-handling is strong; Dennis ably uses feints and misdirects to beat defenders and get into the lane. Schroder moves the defender off his spot with a hard dribble to the right. Schroder makes it look like he is going right off the dribble.
In this action, Schroder sells the play by planting his right leg hard. The sale on the misdirect is what creates the bucket. The Celtics’ wing buys the misdirect ultimately and shuffles his body rightwards to contest the drive. The movement to the right creates a seam for Schroder to attack.
Schroder uses his pace and ability to change direction quickly to good effect on this play. Dennis uses the explosion generated by his right leg to snap back to the left and get around the defense. The quick shift from right to left creates the space.
The defender cannot hope to challenge Schroder. His momentum is going in the wrong direction, and they cannot suddenly switch direction. Schroder gets the step that he needs to finish the possession.
Schroder does not mess around on this drive, and he goes directly at the rim without hesitation. Schroder shows a lot of confidence in this situation, and it would be easy for Dennis to second guess himself and make a mistake.
At the rim, Dennis shows a lot of positional awareness and patience. Schroder waits for the shot contest to fade before shooting his layup. The choice allows Schroder to get an uncontested layup to fall; the shot could have been blocked if he released the layup a moment earlier.
Schroder plays Kemba Walker in a half-court set. Walker is an average team defender, but he has weaknesses in a man to man setting. Walker bites on feints too much, which means that he does not stay attached to his man.
Walker also lacks the size needed to be a good defender at the point guard spot. His slight build does not allow Walker to truck through screens and sticks to his assignment. He does not have the strength that his team-mate, Marcus Smart, does.
Dennis does not try any elaborate, fancy dribble moves. He focuses on beating Walker and getting a quality look. Schroder uses a simple crossover from right to left to establish separation. He takes advantage of Walker’s spirited defense.
Kemba believes that Schroder is going right and moves his body to cover the drive. The crossover allows Schroder to move left, which catches the defense by surprise quickly. Walker cannot recover to contest Schroder.
Kemba makes another mistake on defense; he chooses to cheat the drive. Walker does not close up to Schroder and gets into his jersey. Walker decides to meet Schroder at the anticipated point of the drive.
It is a terrible decision as Walker walks straight into the screen set by Steven Adams. Adams’ screen is sharp and creates the slither of space needed by Schroder to get a shot off. Schroder can pull up without the defense being able to contest.
Schroder has been a highly efficient midrange scorer this season, and his mechanics are an important reason for his efficiency. Schroder’s form on the pull up is smooth and efficient. Dennis uses the hop step to preload thrust for the jumper. The preload means that the shot can be got off quickly before the defense has the opportunity to contest
Schroder’s release is within his line of sight, and his shooting arm forms the perfect ‘C’ that coaches preach. The ideal form allows Schroder to control the pace and accuracy on the shot, and there is no wildness attached to this midrange look.
Schroder sets up in the half-court against Jayson Tatum, which frees him up from Tatum’s pressure by a screen from Nerlens Noel. Noel’s filter creates the separation for Schroder. Schroder can attack the big freely as Tatum is chasing the play and is not attached to Dennis.
This possession should be a guaranteed bucket for Dennis. Schroder pulls up at the elbow, a shooting zone that he commonly uses. Schroder tends to drift into these positions, and knockdown looks. The angle is an efficient scoring area for Dennis.
In this example, Schroder’s shot hits the front of the rim and bounces out. The missed chance comes from little mistakes that Schroder makes in the shot’s creation. Schroder likes to use a hop step to generate power for the pull-up jumper.
On this play, Schroder’s hop step is too strong. The step kills all forward momentum and causes Schroder to stop completely. The lack of energy means that Schroder cannot get the usual amount of thrust that he generates on jumpers. This mistake means that the shot falls short and hits the rim.
Schroder missing on this look is understandable; midrange shots are hard to execute consistently. However, I feel like Schroder has other options in this action that could have explored.
Schroder attracts all of the attention from the Celtics’ defense. Grant Williams and Marcus Smart are responsible for covering the weak-side, but they are rooted to the spot watching Schroder work with the ball. Schroder could have leveraged this attention into creating a scoring opportunity for a team-mate.
Dennis could have made the easy swing pass to Danilo Gallinari for an efficient, uncontested three. Gallinari is a proficient long bomber, and he feasts on open looks. The distance is too high for Smart or Williams to drop back and cover their defensive assignment. It would have been easy money for Gallo.
This 3-pointer is not a natural look for Schroder to take. It is a fair distance behind the arc, and the range means that it is considered a bad shot. The reward for such a high-risk chance is not good enough unless a deep bomber like Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard is shooting the ball.
Schroder gets the ball from Hamidou Diallo near the logo and chooses the shoot the ball. Schroder has plenty of space for the shot, and Smart does not expect Dennis to shoot and allows Schroder space.
The logo three is a hard shot at knocking down. It is not part of the regular repertoire for any basketball player in the league; the muscle memory needed to knock down the ball efficiently does not exist for a lot of players.
It is a shot with more variables than the usual jump shot. The shot’s trajectory needs to be pin-point due to the added distance; the same goes for the thrust on the jumper. The shooter must compensate for the additional travel time of the shot.
Schroder does not allow the unique nature of the shot to affect his usual shooting form. Dennis’ elevation is controlled; it is a measured jump that maintains the accuracy of the shot path.
The shot is perfect. Schroder’s base is relatively broad but not so vast that he cannot control the lift. Schroder does not over-think the ball because of the added distance. His form is clean and repeatable as he takes the shot.
The technical aspects of Schroder’s deep three are excellent, but the look says something about Dennis’s mental strength as well. It takes a lot of guts to make difficult shots in a close game when there are only six minutes left.
When the game gets tight, players can seize up. The free-flowing game that they previously displayed falls apart, and the play becomes desperate. Schroder shows no fear of the moment, and he is willing to take difficult shots when the game is on the line.
Schroder is not the best play-maker on the Thunder; that honor goes to Chris Paul. However, Dennis is a serviceable shot creator who can find the right pass when necessary. Schroder is a score-first guard, but he knows when to give the ball up.
The alley-oop assist indicates all of the positive aspects of Schroder’s play-making. It is an audacious pass to make to Terrance Ferguson; alley-oops are hard to toss accurately. Schroder shows an opportunistic streak as he takes advantage of the chaos on the floor to find Ferguson with the pass.
As Schroder runs the fast-break, he is aware of the Celtics’ defense is scrambled. Every single player for the Celtics is rushing back down the court to pick up their defensive assignment and set up the protection. Boston does not have one person anchoring the defense on this play.
Schroder can see there is an opportunity to score at the rim, but only if Oklahoma City goes quickly with the basketball. Lost in the chaos, Terrance Ferguson’s run down the right side of the court goes unnoticed. No defender comes over to pick Ferguson up, and he can move unhindered by defensive pressure.
Ferguson is an available receiver for Schroder to pick out, and he is the player who can complete the alley-oop. Schroder’s shows an awareness of personnel on his team, and he does not throw ill-advised passes. He throws the lob pass because he is comfortable in Ferguson’s athleticism allowing Terrance to finish the play.
For all of Terrance Ferguson’s faults, he is an exceptional athlete. Ferguson’s wiry build means that he can cover the ground quickly. His spring-loaded legs make leaping up to dunk the ball easy.
Schroder lobs the pass into space near the rim. The weight of the pass is excellent, and the pass covers the distance with ease before dropping down neatly towards Ferguson. Ferguson can catch the ball at a proper height and finish efficiently because of the quality of the pass.
It is a marked improvement for Schroder compared to previous seasons. Dennis used the lob a lot last season, with Nerlens Noel being a frequent target. Those passes were often wayward and lacked accuracy. The lob thrown to Ferguson is anything but wayward, it is precise and measured.
Schroder starts this possession in the half-court playing against Jayson Tatum. Tatum’s length can be a real problem for Schroder to fight through. Tatum is very good at containing his assignment in man to man situations.
Beating Tatum requires the element of surprise; Schroder needs to catch Jayson Tatum off guard to get into the lane and attack the rim. Schroder hard dribbles left and deployed a quick turn in pace.
Tatum continues to play smart, diligent defense. Tatum shades the drive towards the help defender, Marcus Smart. Smart’s presence makes the dribble drive for Schroder harder; it is another obstacle for Dennis to navigate. Smart can step onto Schroder and smack the ball away from Dennis.
Schroder shows good positional awareness on the drive, and he slithers through the gap between the Celtics and shields the ball away from Marcus Smart. Schroder protects the ball expertly and does not allow any chance of the ball being turned over.
As Schroder breaks into the paint, Daniel Theis rotates over and protects the rim. Theis’ rotation makes it much harder to get a good look at the rim. The sturdy rim protection provided by Daniel Theis challenges Schroder’s decision making. Schroder has to choose out of two distinct options quickly and accurately.
Schroder can opt to pull up in the painted area for a mid-range jump shot. Schroder’s release means that Dennis can hit from this area of the floor reliably. However, the mid-range jumper is complicated by Tatum. Tatum’s length means the Celtic can reach over and block the shot as Schroder releases the ball.
Schroder chooses the better option; he kicks the ball out to Nerlens Noel. Noel is left open as a result of Theis’ rotation to the interior. Theis is not in a position to challenge Noel’s cut to the rim. Schroder can make the easy swing pass to Noel, which leads to an excellent finish from Nerlens.
On this play, Schroder shows improved play-making compared to previous seasons. Schroder shows calmness and patience that was not evident in his game last year. Dennis waits for the excellent look to arise before shifting the ball; Schroder is not forcing anything.
Last year, Dennis would play at full speed consistently. He did not slow down and pick his spots on offense. This style of offense worked to some degree, but it was mistake-happy. Possessions on offense would be wasted due to the relentless pace that Dennis liked to play.
The Celtics inbound the ball on the baseline. Brad Stevens has drawn up an inbound set with two options. Langford can throw the ball to Tatum, who can make an easy catch as he has a smaller defender on him. Langford can also throw the ball deep to Walker, who is sitting out way past the 3-point line.
The Celtics’ do not need to rush this possession; Boston has 19 seconds on the shot clock. Deep inbound into Walker allows the Celtics to run their offense in the half-court attack without time pressure.
The Tatum option is a decoy on the inbound play. Tatum pushes towards the wing and tries to drag his defender with him. Dennis Schroder does not buy the bait and drops off Tatum into the midrange area.
Schroder shows a good sense of anticipation on defense during this possession. Schroder recognizes that the inbound pass is much too high for Tatum to catch and realizes the pass is going to Walker. Schroder’s engagement on defense makes the anticipation possible; it is evident from his body language that Dennis is overseeing Langford.
Schroder’s defensive intelligence comes to the fore on this possession. He makes an informed decision regarding his positioning. Schroder places himself in a position where he can elevate and catch the ball comfortably. If Schroder were one step too forward, the ball would sail over his head and into Walker’s hands.
The play made to steal the ball is impressive, but the fast-break offense that comes out of the steal is terrible. Dennis makes a wrong decision in transition; he chooses to dump the ball to Nader instead of attacking Walker.
Walker is an average defender, but his lack of size means it is difficult for Kemba to contest other players at the rim. Schroder needs to be more selfish and go at Walker. A layup against Kemba is a good look for Schroder.
Instead of getting an easy layup, Schroder throws a bounce pass to Abdel Nader. The bounce pass takes all of the forward momenta off the ball, which allows Walker time to recover. By the time that Nader receives the ball, Walker has shuffled over to guard Nader and stops the layup.
I want Schroder to be more aggressive in transition. He is capable of getting the bucket, and he needs to take this opportunity. Transition opportunities are good easy points; wasting these chances is unnecessary.
The last example which I have selected comes right at the end of the game. Oklahoma City is in a pressured situation, and the Celtics are up by one with just thirteen seconds on the clock. The Thunder need a stop to have any chance of winning the game.
It is hard to form a trap in such a short amount of time without wasting precious seconds off the clock. The Thunder have to balance stealing the ball and managing the clock correctly. It would be pointless to try and trap Kemba if he can run out the time remaining.
Oklahoma City manages this situation adeptly; Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder work in harmony to steal the ball and get the game-deciding basket. Paul’s defensive work stops Walker from going backward and wasting time. Paul forces Walker to double back on himself.
Schroder plays excellent defense on this possession; he closes the distance quickly and gets into Kemba’s jersey. Walker is flustered defensively, and he does not know how to escape from the two players hounding him.
Walker cannot escape from the two-person trap, and Schroder can poke the ball away from the Celtics’ guard. Dennis Schroder collects the ball and goes straight to the rim for an easy layup. Schroder’s play wins the game for the Thunder. Oklahoma City was able to steal a game on the road in a hostile atmosphere because of Dennis.
Dennis Schroder’s improvement has been impressive this year. He has improved across the board; Schroder is a better player than he was a year ago. Schroder’s level of play has made him the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year.
There have been times during the season where Dennis has come off the bench and won games for Oklahoma City. He has filled the Sixth Man role correctly; Schroder makes a huge impact that can decide games for OKC.
Schroder’s play still has room for improvement. Schroder can run a pick and roll effectively, but he does not quite have the timing to be an elite operator in this action. I would like to see Schroder spend working on this aspect of his game.
The pick and roll is a staple of offense in the NBA, and every coach will have a pick and roll set within their playbook in some form or variation. Schroder being excellent in the pick and turn as a passer rather than just being a scorer will make him even more dangerous.
Dennis is lucky that Chris Paul, an elite pick and roll guard, is his team-mate. Schroder can take the time to pick Paul’s brains and understand where he should be putting his passes for a big man to receive.