Point guards come in all shapes, sizes, and skillsets. For head coach Ime Udoka and the Celtics, their bullpen of ball handlers couldn’t be more diversified. With Marcus Smart, they have a defense first guard who does a little bit of everything on offense. Payton Pritchard is a pure shooter whose outside jumper is more of a threat than his game inside the arc.
Put simply, Dennis Schroder is a driver. If an NBA game was a bank heist, Schroder has one focus: getting the loot from the vault to the getaway in the quickest way possible. The question that Udoka has to answer is whether Schroder's penetration is best served with the starters or peppered in with mixed lineups with the bench. An argument can be made that any fivesome that includes both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown doesn't need more playmaking from the point guard position. Smart can create some, shoot some, and will most likely draw a difficult defensive assignment to start.
However, Schroder does make Tatum and Brown's job easier. In this season's so far small sample size, he's leading the team in drives, a carryover from his one-year stint with the Lakers. Even playing seven minutes less than Tatum, Brown, and Smart, he’s averaging 16.7 drives per game to their 12, 10.7, and 6 respectively. That’s top-10 in the NBA.
More importantly, Schroder’s style of play is leading to points. Per Second Spectrum tracking, passes from Smart and Schroder are resulting in nearly identical number of field goal attempts (20.3 FGA and 17.7 FGA respectively). However, teammates are shooting 47.2% off of Schroder’s potential assists vs. 41% on a Smart pass. Some of that is randomness and again, an extremely small sample size, but it could speak to just how much Schroder affects the defense.
Schroder is only 6’1”, but he’s long and quick. Not unlike former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, if he can get his first step and shoulder around his defender, he’s looking to score with a scoop layup or floater.
Whether he scores or not, the depth of his drive is critical. Unlike Smart who tries to power through his opponent or Pritchard’s probing style, Schroder is trying to get to the rim with abandon. Paint touches can shrink a defense, but rim attacks fully engage defenders.
Drawing that kind of attention opens up the floor immensely and creates secondary attack space for Brown and Tatum. He’s averaging 5.7 assists per game, but most of his dimes have come on the catch-and-shoot variety to Romeo Langford and Josh Richardson or pick-and-roll actions with Robert Williams. Plug him into more opportunities with the Celtics’ star duo and that could jumpstart a team that’s in the bottom third in field goal percentage and offensive rating.
Who comes off the bench then? Since the Toronto game, Udoka has some a better job of staggering minutes between Horford and Williams. Horford gets a quick hook after five minutes then spells Williams to bridge the first/third and second/fourth quarters. That way, the team can sustain their double big lineups with Grant Williams also in the front court mic. So, that could mean replacing Smart with Schroder in the starting lineup.
Brad Stevens affectionately referred to Smart as his "sixth starter" with Smart constantly backing up an All-Star point guard in Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker. After signing a four-year extension this summer, it seemed like Smart would finally take the mantle as the team’s starting point guard. If Stevens hadn’t signed Schroder, that might have been a foregone conclusion. Now, it may not be as clear.
Schroder started in Boston’s first win of the season in Houston, effectively moving Smart to shooting guard and Schroder manning the point. Udoka has said that he’s looking to use the start of the regular season as an “extension of the preseason” because of all the missed time from the Celtics key players. That affords him and his coaching staff to experiment with different lineups and combinations and yes, his starting point guard. Schroder is again slotted to start tonight in Charlotte with Horford out.