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Lakers vs. Nets Preview: Is L.A. asking too much of Dennis Schröder?

The Lakers will be missing quite a few players when they take on the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, which could mean Dennis Schröder will be asked to play an even more outsized role than normal.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat

The Los Angeles Lakers released their latest injury report on Friday prior to their Saturday game against the Brooklyn Nets, and they may end up even more shorthanded than usual.

LeBron James (right ankle sprain), Anthony Davis (right calf strain and Achilles tendinosis) and Jared Dudley (right MCL tear) are still out, but joining them on the lengthy status update are now Alex Caruso (left knee soreness), Marc Gasol (left hamstring soreness) and Kyle Kuzma (left calf strain) all of whom are being listed as questionable. To be fair, we should also note that the Nets will be missing their own MVP candidate in James Harden, but they will have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, so the Lakers are definitely more shorthanded here.

But it was a player not on the injury report for this one that it’s probably time to have a discussion about: Dennis Schröder.

When looking at just the numbers, it doesn’t look like the Lakers are asking Schröder to do that much more for them since James and Davis got hurt. His usage rate is only up 2% — from 22.5 to 24.5 — since James went out. His minutes have only escalated 31.4 per game to 33.6.

Watching the games, however, tell a different tale. It turns out that going from the second, third or fourth bullet point on the scouting report to receiving the attention reserved for a team’s top off-the-dribble threat, all while leading a Lakers team missing its two best players and several other weapons is a pretty big change. Schröder’s shooting percentage has dropped from 43.6% to 40.5%, despite him only taking half a shot more per game. He is also turning the ball over on 14.4% of his possessions since James went down (up from 12.3% before), although to be fair, ball security has never been his strong suit:

But in the interest of fairness to Schröder, the looks he’s getting as both a passer and scorer are as tough as he’s faced this season. And it’s not like he doesn’t recognize the problem, either. After coughing up the ball a team-high 7 times to go with his 14 assists (both season highs) against the Miami Heat on Thursday, Schröder was self-critical, chalking up the former issue to “stupid decisions” after the game.

“I was careless with passes,” Schröder said. “I just got to do better there for sure.”

So he clearly knows there is an issue, but this is also kind of who he’s always been, and at 27, likely who he (mostly) always will be. Some of this is that the Lakers may just need too much from him right now, with his talents under-qualified for the role he’s being slotted into. That he can’t prop up an offense designed to optimize LeBron James is not really a legitimate criticism of Schröder’s game.

But this isn’t all about his flaws as a (still-valuable) player, though. Schröder also revealed postgame that the wear and tear of his role isn’t just showing up in the stat sheet. After playing nearly the entire first half against the Heat because Caruso got hurt and Talen Horton-Tucker was suspended, Schröder finished the night playing 40 of 48 regulation minutes, all as the primary creator and first option, in a season that’s seen him average a career-high in minutes per game 31.9. His minutes total against Miami was just one short of his previous season high (41), the latter of which had come in double overtime against the Pistons.

And while Schröder isn’t old, for a player whose biggest skill is his speed, it’s all starting to take a toll, as he revealed nonchalantly after the game.

“I’ve got a whatever it takes kind of mentality. I wasn’t even sure if I was playing today,” Schröder said.

Wait, what? Why? Was he worried he’d be suspended like Horton-Tucker was for the scuffle between the Lakers and Raptors?

“Hell no. It was because of my body, my knee, but it’s nothing crazy, nothing to worry about,” Schröder said, before declining to specify which knee was bothering him.

“Does it matter?” Schröder asked rhetorically, and for a waterbug-quick point guard like him, I’d argue it probably does not. Right or left, a knee injury would be limiting.

So Schröder has struggled, and even though that’s obviously not all about a knee injury that thus far has not appeared on the team’s injury report, he still deserves credit — if for nothing else — for how hard he’s continued to play while the Lakers are so undermanned and asking so much of him. This stretch also doesn’t really tell us anything about whether or not he’s worth big money in the summer, because the Lakers wouldn’t be signing him to serve as the fulcrum of their offense, they’d be signing him to play a secondary role alongside two of the best players in the NBA. Schröder is a wheel in the Lakers’ machine, but while wheels are great, they’re not going very far without their engine, especially if they’re having trouble getting downhill.

In short, Schröder is not meant to be a first option for a team, and he’s not your stereotypical floor general, but he’s the closest facsimile the Lakers have to one right now. They were always going to struggle during this stretch, but they literally would not even have a chance without Schröder at least going out there and trying.

The good news? He’s not planning to leave the lineup anytime soon, even if it’s fair to wonder at this point if the battles the Lakers are tossing him into are beginning to come at the expense of their season-long war to defend their title.

“I’ll be ready. I always prepare myself to play. I don’t like to sit out games,” Schröder said. “If I have to play 48 minutes, I’ll play 48 minutes.”

Given all the names on their injury report, the Lakers may yet need him to.

Notes and Updates

  • Here are the full injury reports for both teams:

The Lakers and Nets will tip off at 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday. The game will be televised exclusively on ABC.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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