With their roster now mostly set, any remaining holes within the Lakers’ rotation will likely have to be addressed in-house. One of those voids the team will have to fill this upcoming season was left behind by their previous point guard, Dennis Schröder.
The feisty guard made good in his second stint with Los Angeles — as he quickly emerged from just a late summer minimum free-agent signing, to a key wheel in the team's trip to the Western Conference Finals.
While his surface level numbers from this past year certainly won’t set the world on fire, replacing what Schröder brought to the table — on both ends — may be trickier than expected even when taking into account that the Lakers improved at the position.
From a sheer talent standpoint, the Lakers will head into their new campaign with one of their most talented backcourt groups in recent memory. Not only did they re-sign the likes of Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell, but also brought in playoff standout Gabe Vincent into the fold.
From a macro sense, Los Angeles should finally be in good shape when it comes to their guard play, especially in the regular season.
That being said, it can also be argued that even with their improved depth (viewing Reaves and Russell being starters from game one as an upgrade), there is not a singular player currently on the roster that can replicate the totality of Schröder’s skillset. That doesn’t mean they are not equipped to do so from a collective sense though.
When viewing Schröder simply through a skills perspective, there are three major ones he provided that the team will need to shore up: his driving ability, point-of-attack defense and intangibles
While he had his own limitations, Schröder’s speed and downhill force in the half court was an important dimension that helped add variety to an offense that skewed more towards the finesse end of the spectrum. This especially became the case after Russell Westbrook was traded, which in the process, pushed Schröder into the role as the Lakers’ most consistent downhill threat out of the backcourt.
According to the league’s tracking data, Schröder led all Lakers’ guards in drives per game (9.4) and ranked only behind LeBron James for the team lead (9.7).
The next closest guard on that list, D’Angelo Russell, could in theory help with the paint touches thanks to his evasive ball-handling. But he likely won’t create the type of traction toward the cup that Schröder did with his sheer quickness.
Gabe Vincent also likely shouldn't be viewed as a realistic driving option as he averaged just 5.2 drives per game with the Miami Heat this past season. Vincent was almost allergic to restricted area as only 14% of his shots come at the rim, which when compared to other combo guards around the league, ranked in the mere 11th percentile according to Cleaning the Glass.
The Lakers’ best option then to replicate Schröder’s rim pressure may fall in the hands of Austin Reaves.
While they are definitely stylistically different in their approach, Reaves proved similarly able to effectively collapse the defense with the ball. Instead of outright blowing past guys like Schröder, Reaves instead relies on his shiftiness and exceptional craft to create momentum to the cup.
Although Reaves averaged just 6.3 drives per game in his sophomore season, he saw that number jumped to 8.5 in the playoffs with more on-ball reps. Hopefully this is an indicator there’s another jump he could make as a driver, as he should experience his heaviest on-ball responsibilities of his career.
While Schröder’s driving ability will be missed, the Lakers will likely feel his absence the most on the defensive end.
As their assigned pest at the point of attack, Schröder was entrusted to be the first line of defense against the league’s most prolific guards on a nightly basis. This was a role he not only embraced, but thrived in.
According to the BBall-Index’s database, Schröder ranked in the 98th percentile in on-ball defense and in the 99th percentile in terms of ball-screen navigation this past season. This is particularly impressive when taking into account he checked the opposition’s primary ball handler 27.2% of the time (92nd percentile).
Using his aforementioned velocity, Schröder excelled in mirroring even the most lightning fast point guards in the half court, zig-zagged around picks and maintained the battery life to pester his matchup for 94 feet.
Like was the case on offense, there likely isn't another guard who will be able to produce the same defensive tenacity or be as effective as the 29-year-old, but their new point guard might come closest.
Where Vincent comes up short in the foot-speed department, he makes up for in size. Taller, longer and sturdier than Schröder, Vincent proved to be a Swiss-army knife for the Heat in their road to the Finals thanks to his versatility.
Often tasked with filling in the gaps, Vincent also got his fair share of opportunities defending at the point of attack for Miami — an assignment that allowed for his toughness and will to shine through.
Vincent ranked in the 87th percentile in on-ball defense, ball-screen navigation, and percentage (22.5%) of time matched up against primary ball-handlers.
It likely won’t take long for Vincent to become a favorite of Darvin Ham’s if he’s able to produce similarly with the purple and gold.
There’s already reportedly been dialogue about Vincent potentially starting over Russell if he impresses in training camp. But as was the case with Schröder, finishing is what may be more important, as it’s likely Vincent’s defense could be the swing skill that gets him onto the floor in crunch time.
Unlike his actual boxscore tallies, Schröder’s lasting legacy with the Lakers is unquantifiable. His contributions on both ends were important, but what endeared him to his coaching staff, teammates, and fans was his willingness to scrap and do what it takes to gain an inch.
Whether it was diving for a loose ball, chirping at the opposition or hitting a timely shot, Schröder’s hard-nosed approach to the game often helped set the tone. This was perhaps best exemplified in the playoffs, as it was often the Lakers’ point guard who matched the intensity with the likes of Dillion Brooks and Draymond Green.
A troll and irritant to every fanbase but the Lakers, Schröder ultimately provided something just as valuable as a driving layup or steal — he brought the edge.
He will now do so in a new country and for a new team. And for the Lakers, it’s going to take a group effort to fill his shoes, and attitude, as they work toward yet another trek to the top.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.