Oklahoma City Thunder: Dennis Schroder making case for Sixth Man of the Year

(Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

It’s still early in the 2018-19 NBA campaign, but the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Dennis Schroder is making a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year award.

With Carmelo Anthony’s desire to leave, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away almost nothing to secure one of this season’s top reserves in Dennis Schroder.

As part of a three-team move back in July, the Thunder unloaded the colossally “untradeable” $27.9 million contract of Anthony and a first round pick in a bid to free up some money and strengthen their depth on the bench.

The move for Schroder was scrutinized by some after a relatively shaky final year with the Atlanta Hawks, with the German guard receiving some criticism for his on-court effort and off-court attitude.

So far in Oklahoma City, it’s been a match made in heaven.

Schroder provides a potent scoring punch off the bench and gives the Thunder some much-needed depth behind Russell Westbrook at the point guard position, a role filled previously by an aging Raymond Felton. In addition to leading the second unit, Schroder has already proven he’s up to the task of taking on a bigger role in the starting lineup, with Westbrook missing nine games early on.

So far, through the first 22 games of the season Schroder is averaging 16.6 points, 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game and is playing by far the best defense of his career. He’s posting a career-high 108.8 offensive rating and his net rating at +10.0 is by far the best of his time in the league, and his first positive net rating since 2015-16.

The scoring only tells half of the story for Schroder. His playmaking and surprisingly impressive leadership within the second unit has been one of the key points to Oklahoma City’s thunderous start to the season. He’s pushing the pace and moving the ball in transition, which is opening up the offense for other guys on the team like Nerlens Noel, who’s beginning to thrive in this up-tempo system.

Schröder and Westbrook
(Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

This season’s Sixth Man of the Year award is going to be one of the most closely contested in NBA history. The usual suspects like Lou Williams and J.J. Barea are in the running as always, but the emergence of guys like Montrezl Harrell, Julius Randle and Domantas Sabonis create a real log-jam of reserve players vying for the spotlight with their respective teams.

One of the biggest stories of the year, and potentially Schroder’s biggest threat to win the award is the breakout year Derrick Rose is having for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The former MVP is having the most efficient scoring season of his career, posting 18.4 points, 4.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds with .498/.487/.859 shooting splits.

The scoring efficiency is one thing Schroder will have to improve. His 41.9 percent shooting from the field and 34.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc are fine, but for a team with championship aspirations, “fine” isn’t enough. Schroder can get to the rim, and his elite first step is getting him there at a decent rate, with more than one-third of his shots coming at the basket. Unfortunately, he’s only converting 49.1 percent of those looks, well below-average.

Interestingly, Schroder is also converting his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this year at a solid rate (38.8 percent), with 81 percent of his shots from beyond the arc coming off an assist. This is the key to him playing alongside Westbrook in a double point guard lineup. His ability to stay in front of the ball on defense also means that he can take some of the pressure off Westbrook in guarding the opposing team’s main ball-handler when the pair shares the floor.

The Thunder’s top three scoring lineups on the season all feature Schroder, two of which occur when he shares the court with Russell Westbrook, so this is something that head coach Billy Donovan can have confidence in to close out games.

The apparent progressive scoring burst that’s happening around the league this year hasn’t passed the Thunder by. They’re right at the halfway mark in points at 110.0 per game, but it’s the renewed sense of competitive urgency that’s propelled them to one of the NBA’s elite teams with a league-best defense.

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Dennis Schroder is thriving in his new role off the bench on one of the best teams in a loaded Western Conference, putting him right in the thick of it with some of the league’s top reserves in the Sixth Man of the Year race.