This season, the New York Knicks have finally thrown pride out the window and committed to the tank in the 2018-2019 campaign.
Following a disappointing first round exit against the Jazz in the 2018, the Thunder looked to be in a difficult spot, with Paul George a free agent and the team seemingly stuck with Carmelo Anthony who had underperformed throughout the season.
Enter Sam Presti. He re-signed George and worked a three-team trade that sent the defensive sieve Anthony to the Hawks and receiving among others, Dennis Schroder. It was hoped Schroder could breathe some life into the struggling second unit of the Thunder.
14 games into the season and Schroder has delivered.
Through this time, he has averaged 17 points, 5.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Both coming off the bench and starting in place of Westbrook, the energy and shot creation Schroder brings is something which the Thunder has typically lacked from its reserves, and the Thunder are much better because of it.
Per 100 possessions, the Thunder are a +9.5 when Schroder is on the court, with their offensive rating jumping from 110 to 116.6 when he is on the court compared to off the court. His shot creation allows him to score in bunches, be it from a pull-up off the pick and roll, or from getting to the ring.
Furthermore, he’s shown flashes of elite-level playmaking, with a recent nine-assist game against Phoenix and 12 against New York. These numbers may decrease with the return of Westbrook, but his start is not one to take lightly.
An ability to create and distribute on the offensive end is one which is sorely missed when Westbrook sits and it is a problem which the Thunder has constantly struggled with. Schroder solves this problem.
Through the 118 minutes the line-up of Schroder, Steven Adams, George, Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant have played together, they outscore opponents by a whopping 28 points per 100 possessions. Whilst the sample size is small, Schroder is regularly involved in many of OKC’s best line-ups.
His shot creation and facilitation ability keeps the defence honest, making him a much-needed improvement over the now third-string point guard Raymond Felton. Furthermore, the gravity he can draw on defence draws attention away from George, allowing him to get open more often from deep, where he is attempting a career high 8.9 three pointers per game.
Admittedly, Schroder has struggled to shoot to begin the season, going 41 per cent from the field and 34 per cent from deep, but that’s expected given the transition from being a primary option in a weak Atlanta team to the 6th man in a powerful Western Conference team.
What’s more, in the month of November through eight games, his shooting has lifted to a respectable 47 per cent from the field and 38 per cent from three, demonstrating his increasing comfort within Billy Donovan’s system, as well as an ability to step up when required.
Give time, and he will develop further within his position and become more efficient offensively. While it’s much too early to start a sixth man of the year conversation, Schroder’s offensive punch should allow him to produce numbers that propel him into consideration for the award, given that he can adapt to the role when Westbrook is starting.
What’s most important, however, is that Schroder’s addition to OKC adds serious depth to back up Westbrook, allowing the superstar to rest without having the carry so much of the burden of leading the team’s offence.
Having a reliable threat at the back-up point guard position is something which the Thunder has lacked since the departure of Reggie Jackson, and this is perhaps one of the biggest issues that has plagued the team over recent years, with failed projects such as Cameron Payne and Semaj Christon unable to fix the problem.
With a healthy Westbrook soon returning and Dennis Schroder headlining the bench unit, the Thunder are fast becoming a new and improved team which should not be overlooked in the West.