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Dennis Schröder sets pace vs. Thunder

Schröder’s speed and rim pressure helped the Celtics squeeze past a resilient Oklahoma City Thunder team.

Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

The second night of a back-to-back and down two starters with tired legs looking weary down the stretch, it’s easy to see why the Celtics failed to get the Oklahoma City Thunder to tap out from Boston’s early chokehold. When you need energy or scoring, you turn to Dennis Schröder — controlled chaos is what he does best, whizzing down the court and forcing the defense to rotate before it’s even become settled.

We’ve all lamented some of Schröder’s decision-making this season, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to overlook all the good he’s doing for the offense, regardless of whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench. Sure, for a team who wants to play fast and aggressive, letting the ball roll on numerous possessions can be a frustrating point for some, as can Schroder’s affinity for looking off corner shooters in favor of a contested drive, but when he’s cooking, even Gordon Ramsey takes notice.

This brings us to Schröder’s performance against the Thunder: a 29-point, 6-assist, 4-rebound showing from the 9th year guard against his former team, making this the eighth time in seventeen attempts that he’s scored 20 or more points.

Teleportation-level speed is allowing Schröder to damage opposing defenses, and the Celtics are doing everything they can to get him moving downhill with the rock in his hands. Take the below play for example which was the 6’3’’ guard’s first bucket of the contest. The possession starts with a little give-and-go action, providing him with enough space to build momentum en route to the rim for an easy finish.

Take note of how many Thunder players collapse into the paint on this possession, it’s borderline ridiculous how much attention Schröder is drawing when he gets paint touches. Of course, as Ime Udoka would say, “he understands the crowd that he draws,” and in recent games, Schröder has shown a willingness to kick the rock out when the defense pounces on him.

Understanding the gravity that you possess is an important aspect for any high-usage offensive player; it’s what allows you to take steps towards becoming a better playmaker, which in turn creates a more cohesive offense. When Schröder first joined the Celtics, we took a look at what he brings to the table, and one of the primary concerns was his inflated assist numbers, which primarily came as dump-offs or last-minute kick-outs when all else looked lost.

At times, the Braunschweig native still looks every inch the gunner, looking for his shot and his shot only. Other times, Schröder is hitting the paint, drawing defenders, and then kicking out to the corners for some easy offense. Take the below play as another example of Schröder’s growth when distributing the rock.

Scorers need moments like this, where they draw the defense before hitting the open man as it creates quite the conundrum for defenders on future possessions. Hit them with one pass, and they will likely see it as a byproduct of the offense; hit them with two or three, and now they’re thinking twice before helping off their man to impede a drive. The result is a confused bunch of defenders not knowing what to do for the best, and that’s when you have them and can start to turn the screws on offense.

Take a look at the above possession, and keep an eye on the strong-side low-man who is guarding the corner. He’s in perfect position to provide some pressure defense in the form of a stunt or dig (a momentary jump towards the ball handler to apply pressure and possibly generate a turnover) but they don’t want to leave Marcus Smart open in the corner, so they stand there, offering defense only in mind and spirit. As such, Schröder finds a ton of room to drive at the rim, courtesy of an Al Horford seal down low, and gets another finish at the rim.

With Jaylen Brown sidelined and Robert Williams also missing of late, the Celtics were in need of a secondary scoring weapon behind Jayson Tatum, and in a game where the pace fluctuated like an ECG machine, Schröder was the perfect foil. With a blend of rim pressure, elbow jumpers, and drive and kick offense, the guard toyed with the Thunder’s young and inexperienced rotations but did so within the flow of the offense.

Schröder may not be in the starting lineup all year, as he’s likely to return to his natural role as a 6th man, but there’s something comforting in knowing that the Celtics have a true pinch hitter that can put up points and distribute the rock when the team finds itself short-handed.

Granted, there are times when Schröder makes boneheaded decisions, but it would seem that Brad Stevens is a fan of “experience players” and Smart by himself just wasn’t enough in the backcourt. So, now we have the Dennis Schröder Experience too, and after the Thunder game, those tickets are selling at a premium.