Dennis Schröder: Competitor, Teammate, Family Man
Two years ago, when Dennis Schröder was just arriving in Oklahoma City, he was re-acclimating himself to a bench role. During his previous two years in Atlanta, he started all but one game while averaging 17.9 and 19.4 points per game, respectively.
Then he was traded to the Thunder and Head Coach Billy Donovan brought him in as a super-sub. In a transitional 2018-19 year where he played 29.3 minutes per night, Schröder averaged 15.5 points and 4.1 assists while starting just 14 of 79 games. In 2019-20, he followed that up with 63 games of masterful ball – 19.0 points on a career-best 46.8 percent shooting, augmented mostly by a career-high 38.1 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. Those are starter numbers, though Schröder only started one game this year.
“Everybody knows he could be a starting guard in this league anywhere,” Donovan said.
Instead of allowing his current status as a reserve off the bench be a chip on his shoulder or a sign of an opportunity he doesn’t have, Schröder has been fully focused on taking advantage of the situation that he does have in front of him.
“The one thing I've always admired about Dennis is I think he's always raised the competitive spirit of our team,” Donovan said. “I don't think there’s any question he will do that once we get back to playing in August.”
WATCH: Thunder Talk - Team Praises Schröder
When he’s not in the game, Schröder is rarely actually on the bench. He’s typically standing up or pacing maniacally a few steps behind Billy Donovan. Even if he isn’t on the court, his presence is felt there. He’s talking to teammates, warning them of impeding opposition play calls, sending out positive words of encouragement or simply whooping it up to egg on the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd. Down at the re-start in Orlando though, Schröder won’t have the metaphorical sixth man to help him with energy creation.
“Thunder fans like the best fans in the league, doing a great job every game of supporting us, so we’re going to miss them for sure,” Schröder said.
According to his teammates, however, Schröder has been serving that Sixth Man role better than anyone else in the league this season.
“I have a list of only good things, a long list, about Dennis,” said veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, who has played with a variety of guards in the NBA. “First of all, he's a freak of nature. Body-wise he can do stuff on the court and even in the weight room that not a lot of people can do. On the court he is a very unselfish guy and I think he's Sixth Man of the Year for sure.”
“I don't like to talk about myself a lot,” Schröder demurred earlier this season when asked about the award. “I try to come out and try to help my team win and they'll make the decision. We're on the same page. We all sacrifice and we make plays for our teammates.”
Schröder’s offensive renaissance has come from his surge at the 3-point line in addition to better marksmanship off the dribble in the midrange and solid finishing ability at the rim. He’s shooting above league average on corner threes (52.0% from the left corner, 50% from the right) and 40.2 percent above the break on the right wing, 5 percentage points above league average. When teams have taken away the three, Schröder has eviscerated defenses with a pull-up jumper in the midrange and some blowby speed to get to the rim.
Where the German lightning bolt has made his mark this year more than perhaps ever in his career, however, is on the defensive side of the ball. His tenacity to play 94 feet of defense, to take on the challenge of elite scorers and ability at 6-foot-1 to body up and stay in front of guys 4-5 inches taller than him have made him an absolute pest on defense.
“He's one of the best two-way players in the league right now. He’s the only player that presses full court. I haven't seen any other player doing that,” Gallinari explained.
“He’s just locked in for the full game,” said forward Mike Muscala, who has been friends and teammates with Schröder since their rookie seasons with the Hawks in 2013. “That’s what makes him such a great player in my opinion. He takes everything one possession at a time. I think when you look at the course of a full game, he’s locked in on every play. Throughout the course of a game, throughout the course of a season, that stuff goes a really long way.”
One thing Thunder fans also know is that Schröder is equally committed and locked into his role as a husband and a father. His precocious son, Dennis Jr. and his wife Ellen were often seen courtside before tip-off or in the tunnel at Chesapeake Energy Arena for pregame and halftime kisses. The Schröder family is expecting their second child in early August, meaning that Dennis’ heart will be in two places at once.
“I love my teammates. I love basketball but, you know, the family comes first, all the time,” Schröder said. “I'm not leaving my wife by herself.”
“(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I'm for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family,” Schröder continued.
Schröder will be leaving the bubble in Orlando to be there for his family, then come back to Orlando. Unlike when he’s resting between stints on the floor, he’ll truly be sidelined and in quarantine for the NBA-required 10 days before rejoining his Thunder family on the court. Once he’s back, all his teammates know he’ll be ready to roar.