The Boston Celtics stumbled into one of the best bargains of the summer when an oversaturated point guard market allowed Dennis Schroder to fall into the team's lap for the $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel.
Schroder reportedly rejected a four-year, $84 million extension from the Lakers last season with hopes of a bigger payday. Cap space evaporated quickly this summer, the Lakers moved on, and Schroder was left with few options among playoff-caliber teams.
The big question now is whether Schroder can balance a desire to reestablish his value with being an off-the-bench role player for the Celtics. Those two things seem to run counter to one another but there is the potential for a robust role in Boston if Schroder is willing to embrace the situation.
Marcus Smart, after inking the sort of four-year extension that Schroder essentially passed up, is set to be Boston’s starting point guard. The Celtics need Schroder to turn back the clock to his two-year stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder where he emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate while being a combo guard that made 128 of his 144 appearances in a reserve role.
Schroder’s usage rate dipped hard in those two seasons, plummeting from a career-high 33.4 percent in his final year with Atlanta to 25.8 percent in his first season with the Thunder. But the 2019-20 season was by far the most efficient of Schroder’s career. He shot career bests at 46.9 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc. All while handing out 4 assists per game with a 22.3 percent assist rate that ranked in the top quarter of the league among all combo guards, per Cleaning the Glass data.
The Thunder were 8.2 points per 100 possessions better with Schroder on the court versus off. Most notably, the team’s defensive rating in his floor time was 103, then spiked to 111.8 when he was on the bench. His speed can be a factor at both ends.
Schroder needs to recognize that the most obvious pathway to his next big payday is helping the Celtics exceed expectations while embracing a team-first approach. Reports this offseason indicated that Anthony Davis and the Lakers were frustrated by Schroder’s play last season with a suggestion that he too often stepped outside his point guard role. Schroder can erase that narrative and restore his free-agent value by simply channeling his OKC days.
There is going to be ample playing time available for Schroder. He can share the floor with Smart as Ime Udoka has expressed a desire for multiple ball-handlers on the floor at the same time. Schroder will get the opportunity to quarterback reserve lineups and, given Boston’s lack of offensive weapons, will have a green light to be aggressive in those situations.
But Schroder is also maybe the only player in the Celtics core that doesn’t have some semblance of future security. Smart and Rob Williams inked extensions this summer; Jayson Tatum’s new deal kicks in this year; Jaylen Brown is already on his second pact; and Josh Richardson tacked on a year to his deal this summer. Younger players like Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and Romeo Langford should be focused on simply establishing themselves as complementary pieces and not worrying about what comes after their rookie deals. Al Horford knows he’s a tradable asset with a partially guaranteed final season but it shouldn’t impact his on-court approach.
If Schroder buys in and rolls back the clock, the Celtics got a steal this summer. If he doesn’t, the team can still try to recoup value with an in-season trade. There should be other contenders intrigued by Schroder as a potential in-season pickup. Alas, his impending free-agent status won’t bring back much in return.
Again, the best result for both sides is getting Schroder to buy fully into the sixth man role. Schroder might have misplayed his cards last season but there’s a chance to shuffle the deck if he can keep the focus on the team this season.