Seconds after cooking the Miami Heat for 32 points and spearheading a Lakers’ win despite the absences of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Dennis Schröder reached into the stands and retrieved a baby.
Schröder looked down and smiled at his one-month old son, who was meticulously swaddled and soundly asleep thanks to the combo of a pair of headphones and his father’s gentle rocking. The point-guard then proceeded to do his post-game interview with the precious cargo still in his arms.
“I treat every game like it’s my last,” Schröder remarked. “You never know what can happen,”
Only two years removed from his previous venture in purple and gold, Schröder’s second go-around with the Lakers is a prime example of not only the unpredictability of the NBA, but also how quickly perception can change on a player.
Physically, the 29-year-old looks mostly the same as Lakers’ fans remember. That trademark yellow streak still shocks his dark hair like lightning across the night sky. And his frame remains wiry, but sturdy, thanks to years of hardening his exterior after countless falls off of his skateboard. He could probably point out the scars if asked to.
But when it comes to his aura, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to him this season that feels noticeably different. Although there are still glimmers of that youthful recklessness he once frustratingly gave off, they have mostly been controlled and made way for reliability, steadiness and maturity.
Perhaps this change in demeanor is thanks to that aforementioned newborn. Or maybe it’s due to a tightrope-esque cautiousness to make this opportunity in Los Angeles a smoother one. Whatever it may be, Schröder has gone from player who once was etched into the team’s long-term plans, to late offseason signee, stop-gap and now solidifier.
Since making his return from a thumb injury on November 18th, the Lakers are 16-12 with Schröder in the lineup and also possess the 11th-
best point differential in the league during that span according to Cleaning the Glass.
Although the team’s resurgence after their dismal 2-10 start to the season is not solely because of Schröder’s reintroduction, his presence on both ends of the floor has helped stabilize a crowded guard-rotation where he has swiftly emerged as a starter for the foreseeable future.
While never regarded amongst the league’s most proficient point guards on offense, Schröder has made waves since his return by simply being the best version of himself. As of this article, Schröder is posting the best points per shot attempt of his career and his 2nd best eFG% to date.
The uptick in efficiency this season can be directly linked to how and where his shot-attempts are coming from.
As can be seen in his career lows in both usage and assist rate, Schröder has been tasked with proving able to score without dominating the ball. Often easier said than done, the results thus far have been encouraging for both player and team alike.
Perhaps where this is most evident is through the strides Schröder has made with his outside jumper.
Not only would Schröder’s 36% shot-frequency from behind the arc be his highest (when excluding his short 15 game stint with Houston last year), but his 39% conversion rate would be tied for the best mark of his career.
Schröder’s ability to space the floor effectively, especially on his quality looks (44% on wide-open threes), has only complimented what has always been strength: blurring past the defense.
Renowned for his speed on the court, Schröder possesses a lightning fast first-step that he combines with accordion-like crossovers, pump-fakes, and a sheer herky-jerkiness to his live dribble that makes him one of the league’s most unorthodox covers.
It is through these skills where the point-guard has been allotted a spotlight for his creativity, and also, been a valuable release valve for the likes of James and Davis in the half court.
Whether against his primary defender or especially on a switch, Schröder has excelled this season in isolation chances once the initial action has broken down. Not to the extent of a break-in-case of emergency option, but there is a notable level of confidence his teammates have when tossing him the ball and standing aside.
According to Synergy, Schröder is now scoring a blistering 1.19 points per isolation possession this season, which is both places him in the 90th percentile of the league and also is an impressive +0.16 points better than expectations based on the site’s shot-quality evaluation.
According to Synergy, Dennis Schröder had 7 isolation possessions last night against the Heat. He scored 16(!) points alone on those chances.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) January 5, 2023
On the season, Schröder is scoring 1.2 ppp on his isolation chances, landing him in the 92nd percentile of the league. pic.twitter.com/uGUQdGMzIa
On defense, Schröder has resumed the previous duties he had during his first stint with the team, which essentially boils down to being an on-ball pest.
Despite being on the shorter end of the players on the roster, Schröder is arguably one of the team’s most tenacious competitors, where in the correct matchup, he can make up for his size limitations with both his athleticism and competitive fire.
Predominately tasked with being the club’s point of attack option, Schröder uses his foot-speed well in hounding opposing guards 94 feet where he can routinely be seen hugging their hips and lunging at the ball along the way.
Schröder’s defensive tools and prowess have also bled over into half court. Whether it’s funneling and adding back-pressure into the team’s drop coverage or simply getting back into play with the help of his afterburners, Schröder has been especially stingy defending pick and roll action. On the season, Schröder is allowing a mere 0.70 points per possession when he’s been involved in checking the pick and roll ball-handler according to Synergy.
While not the head of the Lakers’ proverbial snake, Schröder has emerged has one the team’s chief tone-setters. It won't come via a rah-rah speech during a timeout, but with every tear-drop floater he balloons in after dusting his defender and turnover he causes on the other end, Schröder instills confidence in his team because he has instilled it first in himself.
Like those days and nights during his childhood spent skating against a backdrop of heartache and intolerance can attest, Schröder is fearless in his pursuits. So there was no running from a return to the Lakers, and the spotlight, when it presented itself.
There is no secret that Schröder and the team previously parted ways on awkward terms. The infamous $84 million contract snafu and first-round exit being chief amongst the biggest contributors. Schröder would also go on to sign with the Celtics (of all teams), and the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook.
That should have been the end of their story, with each simply serving as a footnote in the grander text. And yet, both parties have arrived at this very intersection point once again.
Although neither side likely saw it coming, the reunion has thus far been a welcome one. A still rough around the edges but wiser point-guard, and an uneven but plucky team back together. A flame rekindled, perhaps at just the right time.
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