Since trading away Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics looked thin at the point guard position. With only Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard as legitimate options at the 1, there were concerns about how the Celtics would navigate any injury or load management throughout the season.
More importantly, the lack of talent at a position of need would increase pressure to the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. So, when the Celtics announced their acquisition of Dennis Schröder, you could understand the excitement of landing such a reputable guard.
Schröder is only a season removed from coming second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting and last season, he provided the Los Angeles Lakers with a reliable ball-handler next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Obviously, Schröder has faced some criticism for turning down an $84 million offer from the Lakers last season, especially since he’s now making the taxpayer’s MLE of roughly $5.9 million in Boston, but betting on yourself and coming unstuck doesn’t dictate your ability on the court.
I wasn’t high on Schröder as an acquisition for the Celtics. I thought his style of play wasn’t conducive to elevating other roster members and that his shoot-first mentality has been seen before with poor results. However, you can’t judge a book by its cover, so, into the film, I dove.
With so many possessions on both ends of the floor, my focus was on areas of Schröder’s game that will fit alongside the likes of Tatum and Brown while also filling holes that were apparent last season.
Like most score-first point guards, Schröder’s bread and butter offense comes from pick-and-roll actions. In fact, Schröder used the pick-and-roll twice as much as any other form of offense, with it accounting for 34.9% of his total attacking possessions.
Contrary to popular opinion, Schröder’s first choice when peeling off screens is to find some space around the elbows or free throw line extended and pull-up for a mid-range jumper.
According to Instat’s tracking data, Schröder took 193 pull-up attempts like the one above and converted almost 50% of them. There are times you will see the Braunschweig native attempt these shots in traffic, which might leave you pulling your hair out, but for the most part, Schröder is quite reliable with these mid-range efforts when getting downhill off a screen.
When the point guard isn’t stopping and popping, he’s doing what most people know him for best: pressuring the rim.
Schröder likes to attack the lane once he recognizes any gaps or overhelping along the helplines. He either likes to beat his man off the dribble, seal them on his hip, or use changes of pace to put his defender in jail before thundering towards the cup. Schröder’s shifty like that.
The Celtics penetration was anemic last season, leading to late clock shots that we would rather forget. Adding somebody like Schröder, whose offensive game is primarily based on infiltrating the defense, goes a long way to resolving those issues. But, as many have previously been calling for, creating for others off dribble-drives is crucial, and Schröder has proven reliable at doing just that off the dribble or from forcing defensive breakdowns.
According to @InStatBasket tracking data, Schroder had 116 assists as a ball-handler in PnR situations last season. Good mix of pocket passes, redirection off penetration, and kick-outs too pic.twitter.com/sjdT2IcXwI— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) August 14, 2021
Even before elite players in a Lakers uniform surrounded Schröder, he was still using his pace and rim threat to generate open looks for others. During his final season with the Thunder, the Celtics' brand new guard addition finished second to only Chris Paul in total assists with 322.
Drives like these are precisely what the Celtics were missing last season. Having someone who puts the defense on the back foot, causes a rotation, and then locates the open man will unlock or rekindle new areas of players' games that we didn’t see last year.
Unfortunately, looking at Schröder’s assist numbers (either per season or throughout his career) can be a fool's errand. With the high usage rate the veteran has had throughout his eight seasons in the NBA, it’s easy to get enticed by his 4.7 dimes per game career average, but when digging deeper, the picture becomes a little clearer. According to Cleaning The Glass, Schröder’s assist-to-usage ratio has always been below league average.
To get the best out of the Celtics' latest guard, Ime Udoka will need to preach ball movement. From a talent standpoint, the 27-year-old is more than capable; it’s just a matter of whether he’s willing to sacrifice some of his own stats for the team's good.
Surprisingly, in Oklahoma and Los Angeles, Schröder often found himself operating as a secondary catch-and-shoot scorer - possibly due to playing alongside other ball-handlers like Paul and James. However, despite finding a modicum of success in this area last season (he averaged 1.04 PPP last season), having Schroder as a catch-and-shoot option should be low on the totem pole of the Celtics offensive options.
But, ask Schröder to catch-and-drive, and now you’re cooking with gas. Schröder’s first step is lightning, and he picks up pace like he’s the Road Runner out-running Wile E. Coyote. Having multiple players capable of attacking the rip-through, or beating a defender closing out, will generate secondary and tertiary offensive looks for Udoka’s team.
Here’s Schröder driving off the catch for the Lakers.
And here he is doing it for the Thunder.
Schröder totaled a combined 143 possessions of driving off the catch over the last two seasons. Logically, Schroder’s primary usage comes as an on-ball threat, which could explain his low usage on catch-and-drives. But, with his speed and rim finishing - he’s a career 54.3% finisher at the rim - Schröder could be a solid option as a secondary offensive weapon in these scenarios. The Celtics would also thrive with Schröder teeing guys up off secondary penetration or providing dump-offs, kick-outs, or lob passes to a cutting or trailing teammate.
But unlike most MLE players, Schröder isn’t a single dimensional player (offense or defense) player. The former Lakers guard is as capable on the defensive end as he is on offense, which bodes well for a Celtics team that struggled to guard the perimeter for stretches last season.
According to The Basketball Index, Schröder’s best defensive role is as a point-of-attack defender, which tracks due to his speed, 6’6’’ wingspan, and intensity. “His impact has been felt more on the defensive end than even the offensive end; His speed is a problem for opposing teams. It’s a problem for guys like Kemba Walker and Trae Young when they’re trying to get into the lane when they’re trying to beat him off the bounce.” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said last season.
Quotes like Vogel’s are encouraging and sound similar to how coaches speak about Marcus Smart.
Dennis Schröder plays every game like it’s his last #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/SmeDalffA0— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 5, 2021
Where have we seen plays like this before?
By having another tenacious defender whose willing to pick guys up from half court or throw their bodies over screens, the Celtics can mitigate any dropoff when players like Smart head to the bench. And that’s where the problems stemmed from last season, not having enough defensive pieces within the rotation, so when the starters sat, the drop-off was noticeable.
Brad Stevens has made a point of acquiring multiple players known for their defensive chops this off-season, and Schröder is built in the same mold. Now, with guys like Josh Richardson and Schröder, the Celtics have additional ball-handlers who can create for themselves and others while locking up on the defensive side of the ball.
On defense, Schröder spent most of his time guarding pick-and-rolls and limiting transition opportunities last season. Plays like the one in the above clip show the veteran guard's willingness to fight through screens and how his speed can close gaps quickly, allowing him to contest shots consistently.
So, while Schröder may not be an $84 million player, he’s certainly better than his current $5.9 million price tag would indicate. Brad Stevens has added a scoring playmaker whose one of the more tenacious guard defenders in the league.
Suddenly the Celtics rotation is full of defensive upside and veteran know-how, and regardless of whether Schröder starts games or fulfills a sixth man role, he’s going to provide value that far outweighs his current contract.