The Dennis Schroder experience can be a real roller coaster.
There are times when it feels like he’s dribbling the air out of the ball (he averages a team-high 5.19 seconds per touch) before committing a careless turnover. At other times he is a key crunch-time presence capable of providing a much-needed offensive jolt.
Sometimes, he’s both on the same night.
Like on Monday in Cleveland, where Schroder brushed off a sloppy start (first half: two turnovers, four points on 2-of-7 shooting) to star at the finish line (second half: 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, one turnover). He had a pretty feed to Al Horford in a key spot and followed with a pair of clinching buckets as Boston escaped with a victory.
Schroder, who fell into Boston’s lap this offseason after cap space dried up around the league, is averaging 17.1 points, 5.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 turnovers, and 1.1 steals over 33 minutes per game. The Celtics have a net rating of plus-3.4 in Schroder’s 462 minutes of court time, and that dives to minus-4.4 in his 240 minutes on the bench.
Schroder has asserted himself as a key crunch-time presence. Even as Ime Udoka suggested that Schroder will soon shuffle back to a reserve role when Jaylen Brown is healthy again, Boston’s first-year coach also made sure to stress that Schroder will often finish games.
“He's a pseudo sixth starter for us,” said Udoka. “A guy that finishes games and, in that role, he's very comfortable.”
Starting in place of Brown over the past five outings, Schroder has averaged 24 points while putting up a whopping 18.8 shots per game. He’s shooting 51.1 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent beyond the arc. His assists are down (3.8 per game) and his turnovers are up (4.4) in that span but he’s endeared himself to Celtics fans given the team’s general lack of offensive weapons.
All of which makes it fair to start wondering about Schroder’s future.
The Celtics inked him to a one-year, $5.9 million deal this past summer utilizing the taxpayer’s midlevel exception. He’s eligible to be trade starting December 15.
So what happens moving forward?
Will the Celtics trade Schroder this season?
That decision almost certainly hinges on where the Celtics stand among East rivals in advance of February's trade deadline.
If Boston feels like it’s a legitimate contender and is OK with lingering above the tax line (there will be other ways to trim money, too), then Boston could simply ride out the season with Schroder while knowing its ability to re-sign or simply recoup value for Schroder is quite limited after the season.
If the Celtics are lingering in the bottom half of the East playoff bracket (or worse) as the calendar flips to 2022, then maybe the team is more inclined to examine trade opportunities with veteran-craving rivals.
Schroder’s value to a contender, even as an expiring deal, could help the Celtics fetch draft assets that might be valuable if they desire to trade for an impact talent to pair with Brown and Jayson Tatum further down the road.
Can the Celtics re-sign Schroder after the season?
Sure; they have three primary options:
- The Celtics can use the non-Bird exception to re-sign Schroder after only one season of service in green. Boston can offer him up to 120 percent of his 2021-22 salary -- or $7 million. That’s unlikely to be enough because ...
- Boston -- or any team that’s willing to stay below the tax apron -- can offer Schroder the $10 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception. Doing such would hard cap the Celtics for the season, which is less than ideal unless another impact player was previously added. That’s still not likely the sort of payday Schroder is hoping for after fumbling a potentially bulky bag from the Lakers.
- Boston’s path to cap space is loaded with obstacles. Essentially, to get to even $20 million in cap space next summer the Celtics have to trim to bare bones of Tatum, Brown, Rob Williams, Marcus Smart, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. That would mean having to get off the final year of Al Horford’s partially guaranteed contract, moving the recently extended Josh Richardson, and also dealing Romeo Langford and Grant Williams along the way. All this without bringing back salary that would linger on the 2022-23 books.
The Celtics could move Smart as his four-year, $77 million extension kicks in but, again, would need to limit salary coming back if they desire to get an even bigger chunk of cap space. And even if Boston did all that, would it want to use its one remaining swing of the bat on a shoot-first guard with a streaky 3-point shot who will turn 29 before the start of next season? There would likely be better options to pursue even if the Celtics did open cap space.
Essentially, none of Boston’s three avenues to retaining Schroder are ideal for either the player or team.
Can the Celtics sign-and-trade Schroder next summer?
Yes, but Boston would still be limited to the smaller salaries described above. And the Celtics couldn’t take back a player via a sign-and-trade without triggering the hard cap (unless they dipped below the tax line).
Again, there will be at least a small handful of teams with cap space that could pursue Schroder at salary mark equal or better than what Boston can offer.
All of which is to say, enjoy the Schroder Experience now while you can. The speedy point guard is fun to watch when he’s attacking the basket or hounding an opposing guard.
How can Schroder be even better for Boston? As he shuffles back to that Sixth Man role he can strike the right balance of being an offensive focal point and trying to make the players around him better.
His assist rate is lower than it was with the Lakers last season and needs to climb. He needs to throttle his shot attempts and boost his efficiency. He does do a great job getting to the free-throw line, something the Celtics desperately need. Taking care of the ball has to be of premium importance. The NBA’s tracking data has Schroder holding opponents to 2.3 percent below their expected field goal percentage and that’s an encouraging sign if defense is going to be the hallmark of this team.
Schroder is exceeding his value given his affordable salary this season. The Celtics are reaping the benefits of Schroder on the floor now, but tougher decisions are ahead to ensure the brightest possible future. It’s not the worst scenario if Schroder simply walks away to sign with a deeper-pocketed bidder in the summer of 2022.
Until then, jump on this roller coaster. It might be a limited-time engagement.