Oklahoma City Thunder: Will the Dennis Schröder Deal Be a Bust?

The Thunder acquired Dennis Schroeder to backup incumbent point guard and walking triple-double, Russell Westbrook in a July deal that saw a handful of guys change teams. Most notably, this was the Carmelo Anthony to Atlanta (bought out shortly after that).

One great thing about this deal for OKC was that instead of moving or buying out Carmelo and getting nothing in return, they were able to acquire an actual NBA player with playoff experience in Schroeder.

Often, when teams make deals merely to move a contract, or to appease a trade demand, the return is some sort of mercurial mix of fringe NBA players and draft picks that may, or may not, ever convey in a meaningful way. Despite having next to no leverage in a deal with Anthony, OKC and Sam Presti were able to make themselves better, deeper, and more athletic.

A backup PG was a desperate need. Long a weakness, the role was filled with the likes of Samaje Christon and Cameron Payne before him. Raymond Felton isn’t getting any younger, though is still capable of providing a bit of scoring in spurts from time to time. This is, undoubtedly, a massive upgrade.

Schroeder is capable of scoring despite not being a very efficient shooter, he’s a good enough facilitator, and his length and size make him a tough matchup for smaller guards on both ends. It is easy to envision a Thunder lineup that includes Schroeder playing alongside Westbrook for stretches.

That, however, could pose some issues for OKC on both ends. Schroeder has never really learned to use his size and length to be an above average one on one defender, and we know that Westbrook struggles in that regard as well. When I refer to being a matchup issue, I’m talking about switchability and skill playing passing lanes.

Within a team concept, Schroeder can be a net positive for OKC. A backcourt featuring Russ and Schroeder, however, probably cannot survive terribly long on passing lane gambles alone, as they’re likely to be taken advantage of in isolation situations.

Oklahoma City has a roster that is a great many things. They’re athletic, they’re long, they’re dynamic, and with the addition of Schroeder, they’re much deeper. What they are not, however, is a team full of quality shooters. Paul George remains their best player on both ends, as well as their best shooter and their only genuinely consistent threat from range. Schroeder, a career 32% shooter from three, shot a paltry 29% from distance last year.

His second lowest mark in that category since shooting 24% in his rookie campaign. Building a roster this way is going to make it difficult to compete with teams that are dropping bombs all over the NBA, and also happen to figure to be OKC’s most prominent competition. In that regard, acquiring Schroeder feels more like adding something of value because you can, and not so much because it solves a problem. An upgrade? Absolutely. A long-term solution? There are significant and reasonable doubt there.

Schroeder, like Westbrook, thrives with the ball in his hands, being dynamic, and getting to his spots in the mid-range game. He’s terrific in those spots, and he’s very good at getting to them off the bounce. The question here is whether or not he’s great at getting to those spots because of his skill set, or if he’s great at getting there because teams are allowing him to get there by giving him several feet of space, daring him to shoot, and not minding if he mid-ranges them to death during his minutes.

Figuring to lead the second unit, Schroeder’s time likely won’t coincide too much with Andre Roberson, which is helpful in many respects. While a great defender, nobody is going to mistake Roberson for someone that demands attention anywhere outside of the key, saving the occasional night he gets hot from the corner. Alex Abrines is a good enough shooter but struggles to get to his spots with or without the ball to get open looks. Being a good shooter that can’t get shots is like being a great chef that has an empty pantry. Not doing anyone much good.

The other issue with Schroeder is personality fit and off-court concerns. An arrest in September of 2017 had Schroeder staring down the barrel of possible felony charges. There are reports from Atlanta that he was far from a locker room favorite, griping about a bevy of things, even after being handed the reigns as the team’s undisputed starting PG after Jeff Teague was moved in 2016.

A move made, at least in part, because Schroeder had both earned and lobbied for more minutes from his coaches. The last time OKC had a backup PG that wanted more minutes, didn’t shoot well, and was a disruption in the locker room was Reggie Jackson. That ended somewhat bitterly when he was moved to Detroit on a crazy trade deadline afternoon.

Dennis Schroeder is a fine NBA player. Like most guys, he has his limitations. The key for guys is knowing what they are (on and off the floor) and either staying away from those situations or working tirelessly to improve in them. In his time in the league, the Thunder’s new point guard has no demonstrated an ability, or willingness, do advance himself in either regard.

While this deal is, undoubtedly, on paper, a clear win for OKC, it is not without its potential pitfalls. It does not appear that OKC is a team full of leaders, veteran presence, or the type of strong personality that captivates and changes the way that guys view themselves, the game, and their role in the organization. For this acquisition to be an unequivocal success, someone will have to emerge as such. Otherwise, we may be hearing Dennis Schroeder’s name pop up quite a bit as we approach deadline time in February.

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