The Thunder are running it back next season, albeit with one notable difference. After watching him have the worst season of his career, the franchise decided to trade Carmelo Anthony to the Hawks this offseason in exchange for dynamic point guard Dennis Schroder.
Schroder probably won’t start for the Thunder, but he has the potential to keep the team afloat whenever Russell Westbrook isn’t on the court. As NBA.com’s Scott Rafferty recently noted, Schroder checked out as a volume pick-and-roll scorer and an efficient isolation scorer last season.
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While he isn’t much of a scoring threat from 3-point range, having someone on the second unit who can create his own offense could prevent the Thunder’s offense from falling off a cliff (-9.6 points per 100 possessions) when their MVP is on the bench.
From a skill perspective, it’s easy to see why the Thunder are drawn to Schroder. While he’s only 6-1, he makes up for being slightly undersized with his blazing speed and a massive 6-7 wingspan. Few players are as quick as he is with the ball in his hands, both from a standstill and in the open court, which will give a team that is already one of the more athletic in the league a dynamic piece off the bench.
Schroder puts that speed to far more use in pick-and-rolls and isolation than he does in transition. He averaged 9.2 points per game as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls last season — the four-highest rate in the league behind Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker and James Harden — and 3.5 points per game in isolation — the 11th-highest rate in the league behind the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving. He scored those points at a decent rate, ranking in the 68.8 percentile in pick-and-roll efficiency and the 90.1 percentile in isolation efficiency.
Whether Schroder will be able to play alongside Westbrook and Paul George remains to be seen. His inconsistencies as a shooter — Schroder hit only 28.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season — prevent him from making an impact when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, and he’s not the defender you’d expect someone with his length and speed to be.
It might not prevent him from being a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, but he’ll need to improve as a shooter and/or defender to make the $46.5 million remaining on his contract worth it for the Thunder.
Perhaps a new situation will motivate Schroder to be a more engaged defender. If it doesn’t, the Thunder can at least hide him on that end of the floor in ways the Hawks couldn’t by surrounding him with versatile defenders at every position, from Andre Roberson and George in the backcourt to Jerami Grant and Steven Adams in the frontcourt.
His shortcomings on defense won’t prevent him from being a solid backup in Oklahoma City, but it would limit his ceiling tremendously if he doesn’t improve.
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