How the Thunder should and shouldn’t use Dennis Schroder

Dennis Schroder might be the answer the Oklahoma City Thunder’s have been searching for to solve their bench woes and a new problem if they play him with their main unit. Since the Russell Westbrook era started two years ago, the Thunder has yet to find a consistent scorer or just anyone who could actually score when Westbrook goes to the bench. Although Schroder brings some baggage with him from Atlanta, there is one thing he proved he can do and that is score. However, he is not a consistent shooter and is not the type of player that should be paired with Westbrook.

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Last season the Thunder’s bench was 29th in the NBA in scoring averaging 26.4 points a night, a full 10.2 points shy of the league average of 36.6. Even putting Paul George in the second unit, didn’t fix their issues. By the end of the season, none of the OK3 (Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony) was playing with the bench unit for the most part. This is where Schroder can come in and play a huge role for the Thunder.

This past season Schroder averaged 19.6 points and 6.2 assists a night as a starter for the Atlanta Hawks. Before the Thunder made the trade, Sam Presti and Billy Donovan sat down with Schroder to make sure he would be okay with a role coming off the bench. Even though he does not have the best reputation as a locker room guy but he fits the Thunder’s needs perfectly on the court.

Donovan now has a player off the bench who can get to the rim with the lightning-quick Schroder. He showed off that quickness and craftiness with the ball against the Utah Jazz. He blew right by Ricky Rubio when the ball was swung to him and then shook Rubio with a quick crossover after he was stopped along the baseline. Last season Schroder had a points per possession of 1.184 on drives to the rim and that is an element that was missing in the Thunder’s second unit.

Schroder is already quick enough, but he becomes even more difficult to defend with a ball screen. A lot of the Hawks sets ended with a pick-and-roll, here they run a horns set with a series of dribble-handoffs that ends in a high pick-and-roll. Schroder recognized that Rudy Gobert was in drop coverage so he pulled up for a jumper. Again, with his speed, if teams are not ready in their pick-and-roll rotations he will blow right by the primary defender and get to the rim over and over again.

Averaging six assists a night; Schroder will be able to create for others like he did for the Hawks, especially out of the pick-and-rolls. He’ll be able to throw lobs to Jerami Grant the way he found the bouncy John Collins when he rolled to the rim, use the pocket bounce pass to find a rolling Steven Adams, and find Patrick Patterson in pick-and-pop situations. Unlike when Raymond Felton is running a pick-and-roll, teams are going to have to respect Schroder’s ability to get to the rim that will open the passing lanes up.

There is a severe drawback to having Schroder though, it isn’t clear if he can play with Westbrook on the court. Last season Schroder shot only 29% from three that is a drop off from the 34% the year before. This won’t work for the Thunder if they try turning Schroder into a catch and shooting player when he is on the court with Westbrook.

According to synergy sports tech, Schroder shot 30.3% with a PPP of 0.77 in spot-up opportunities last season. Catch and shoot is just not his game. It also isn’t Russ’ game either, and when both share the court together teams will pack the paint and dare them to beat them from the outside. To fully maximize both Westbrook and Schroder, the Thunder is going to have consider not pairing them on the court too often.

Bench scoring has been a dire need for the Thunder since they traded Reggie Jackson in 2015 and they may have found that in Schroder. The key for the Thunder will be if they deploy him with Westbrook and George because of his shooting limitations. Schroder could be a sixth man candidate if he embraces his new role, but this move will fail if the Thunder uses him in any other way than that.

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