2019 Summer Feature: Dennis Schröder
At this time last season, Paul George’s free agency decision loomed, and it was unclear not only how, but whether Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti might be able to upgrade the team.
In an overhaul of the back end of the roster, Presti re-invigorated the group with a new second unit, spearheaded by a shifty, quick German playmaker – Dennis Schröder. The former Atlanta Hawks point guard was known as a competitor by nature, a dynamic scorer with the ability to be a pesky defender. After hanging in there during a tough, 24-win 2017-18 season in Atlanta, Schröder was ecstatic at being traded to Oklahoma City and joining a contender.
For the 2018-19 season, Schröder averaged 15.5 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 41.4 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from three-point range and 81.9 percent from the free throw line. Finding his niche as an attacking guard, finding creases and driving into the lane, Schröder shot a career-best 40.6 percent between 3 and 10 feet, mostly on floaters and runners.
“Coming here, I think that helped me,” Schröder said. “How people think about me, being a good teammate, doing everything I can to help my team win - I think I achieved that individually. Even what I did on the court for my team, I think it helped the team and the organization to win games, so I'm really satisfied with what happened this year.”
The chance of scenery also coincided with a role change. After starting for Atlanta, Schröder was the consummate teammate and embraced a role off the bench in Oklahoma City. Within the Thunder’s umbrella, Schröder shined as a super-sub, starting some games when Russell Westbrook and Paul George were injured and finishing out most games alongside the starters to provide extra ball-handling and another scorer in crunch time.
In fact, the Thunder reserve became known as “Second Half Schröder” on Fox Sports Oklahoma broadcasts, as his shooting percentage jumped from 39.8 percent in first halves of games to 43.5 percent in the second halves, including a remarkable 38.9 percent from three-point range in third quarters in 2018-19.
“It was a learning process for all of us, and I think he did a good job of trying to figure it out,” said Westbrook.
WATCH: SCHRÖDER SUMMER
During the Thunder’s blistering November, Schröder was sensational, shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three, but when the Thunder swooned in March, Schröder did as well, knocking down just 39.6 percent of his shots from the field. In the playoffs, Schröder struggled in the opening two games on the road but was a factor at home, scoring 17 points in each contest at Chesapeake Energy Arena and then 17 again in the series-ending Game 5. Ultimately, the effort wasn’t enough to overcome the deep-shooting Portland Trail Blazers, and Schröder said it was, “way too early for this organization to be out.”
While he won’t stop watching playoff basketball, Schröder does see the end of the Thunder’s season as an opportunity to spend more time with his family. It was an exciting year for the Schröder household, as the point guard witnessed the birth of his first child, Dennis Malick Schröder, Jr. The paternal duties caused Schröder to miss two games right before the All-Star Break, but now that the season is over he can be there for more of those little moments with his infant son.
“It was the best thing that happened to me in life,” said Schröder of the birth of his son. “It was different, but I think I got used to it, and it's great.”
“My baby (was) born in a critical time,” Schröder added. “But now in the off-season I'm going to be with my family, my family in Germany a lot, and after three or four weeks I'm going to get back to work.”
Germany is home for Schröder, and he’ll spend a good portion of his time there this summer, while also possibly competing for the German national team in the 2019 FIBA World Championships in China. The games begin on August 31 and end on September 15, about a week or two prior to the start of the Thunder’s training camp. It remains to be seen whether Schröder will compete for his home country, but if he does, he’ll likely be in basketball rhythm by the time he arrives in Oklahoma City.
With his new role formed clearly after a season of meshing with his teammates, Schröder is ready to attack this offseason with a major focus on a few aspects of his game. The postseason showed that physicality is crucial when going up against high-caliber Western Conference guards, so Schröder will be in the weight room as much as he is on the floor. When he’s working in between the lines, the point guard noted that stretching his shooting range off the dribble is a vital factor. As the Thunder saw against the Blazers, ball-handlers who can knock down jumpers while coming around screens are very difficult to handle.
“That's the main key for my game,” Schröder said. “I'm so fast getting to the basket, but I think when I use the screen and they've got to go over the screen, (they) got to be aggressive and got to be up. I think it's going to take my game to the next level.”
In 2018-19, Schröder was the Thunder’s best off-the-dribble shooter from the field overall, shooting 39.4 percent on 5.4 attempts per game, but he shot just 28.7 percent on pull-up three-pointers. For comparison, Schröder shot 35.0 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
Overall Schröder shot 34.1 percent from three, the second-best mark of his career, and he took a higher percentage of shots from behind the arc than he ever has. That’s the direction then NBA is headed, and with Schröder and Westbrook’s propensity for getting into the lane and attacking the rim, it’s vital that they also pose a threat from the outside.
Putting defenders in binds is critical to generating efficient offense, and if Schröder can amplify his shooting numbers off the dribble and from behind the arc, it could make a huge difference for his numbers, and for the entire Thunder offense.