Many things have changed for the Oklahoma City Thunder since the 2017-2018 experiment. Other than acquiring a couple reliable bench players and dropping some dead weight, the acquisition of Dennis Schröder for Carmelo Anthony made the biggest difference.
Raymond Felton was helpful for the Thunder last season as Russell Westbrook’s backup, but there was a clear dropoff in the offensive flow. The bench played at an entirely different pace than the starters, which sometimes jumbled things up and was disruptive. The Thunder had no real identity.
Were they a run-and-gun style of offense or were they a half-court offense? That’s the question we still can’t answer from last season.
After Sam Presti traded Carmelo Anthony and a late first-round pick for Dennis Schröder, everyone knew the uncertainty from last year would be remedied. The speculation around how this team would play was still present but one thing that was clear was that Dennis Schröder would make for a great backup point guard while maintaining the pace Russell Westbrook set among the starting unit.
Schröder is a better point guard than Westbrook and it’s not close. Westbrook clearly can do more and is the better overall player but if you’re looking for a point guard that crosses halfcourt each possession with the full intention of getting his teammates the best shots first, Schröder is your guy. No, just because Schröder is a better pure point guard than Russ doesn’t mean he should start. Keep him exactly where he is, because the second unit desperately needs him. Although he won’t be starting permanently, doesn’t mean there aren’t things he does better than Westbrook.
1. He’s a pass-first, low-risk type of player.
As already mentioned, Dennis’ goal is to create shots for his teammates every possession. On very rare occasions will he cross halfcourt with his mind set on getting a basket and when he does do that, he likely sees a mismatch that he can take advantage of.
Over the last two games against the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, Schroder has 21 assists on only four turnovers.
2. Ball movement is at a level the Thunder haven’t seen in a while now.
OKC’s ability to move the ball with Dennis in the lineup is the biggest difference and most significant role he brings to Oklahoma City. Where last season was the year of iso-ball for the Thunder, this season is about sharing the ball and creating high-quality shots for whoever is on the floor.
In the second and third quarter of the Thunder-Knicks game, ball-movement was at an all-time high. Oklahoma City hasn’t seen that level of sharing the ball since the 2012-2013 season.
3. Maintaining the pace of Russell Westbrook.
This is the hardest aspect of being Westbrook’s backup. Everyone knows he’s one of the three fastest point guards in the NBA and because he moves so fast, his starting lineup is tailored to match that speed. After Presti added more athleticism and speed to the bench, the Thunder desperately needed someone who can maintain what Russ starts. Schröder is perfect for that.
Thinking of pace, there isn’t much of a difference when head coach Billy Donovan substitutes Dennis in for Russell, which does away with that awkward gap where the Thunder go from a run-and-gun style offense to suddenly a halfcourt style of offense.
The era of Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schröder has just begun and the two have only played a handful of games together. Westbrook’s abilities are obvious. He’s a perennial NBA All-Star. Schröder’s strengths are Westbrook’s weaknesses and Westbrook’s strengths are Schröder’s weaknesses. That makes for a dangerous tandem, which along with their top two defense will help propel them into contention in the NBA.