Welcome to the “who he play for?” time of the year as NBA teams start to reshuffle their roster in hopes of a championship season.
The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who haven’t even celebrated yet, have kick started the NBA offseason in hopes of repeating.
As first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Lakers are on the verge of acquiring Thunder guard Dennis Schröder for Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in Wednesday’s NBA Draft.
Because the Lakers owe New Orleans a protected 2021 first-rounder, they can’t officially trade the 28th pick until after the selection is made, per NBA rules, but that becomes a formality. The Thunder would control the asset, which is the appealing portion of this swap for a franchise undergoing a massive rebuild.
For the Lakers, the appeal is simple. Schröder would immediately become their third-best scorer. He averaged 18.9 points off the Thunder bench last season, scoring 1,191 total, the most among all NBA reserves. That’s also significantly more than any Lakers player not named Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ third-leading scorer, didn’t even reach 13 per game.
Despite his small stature, Schröder is able to score from all 3 levels; including his knack of getting to the rim by slithering past defenders and slaying the bigs at the rim with his floater. It is that part of Schröder’s game that will add a new dimension to the Lakers offense. Schröder made 157 shots in the restricted area last season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, for example, made 95.
The need for a scoring threat from the guard position has been a need for the Lakers since they landed LeBron James in 2018. Schröder meets that criteria. Beyond his ruthless driving attack, Schröder has defenders on their heels with an effective stop-and-pop midrange. He was 117-of-243 on 2-point jumpers last season, a respectable 48.7 percent, which was efficient enough to keep defenses honest.
But it’s his capable 3-point shot that might add the most to a Lakers team in desperate need of some supplementary shooting. It didn’t bite them in the playoffs — mostly because Caldwell-Pope got hot at the right time — but the Lakers were a bottom-10, collective 3-point shooting team last season, allowing defenses to collapse on James and Davis and bog down the offensive flow for stretches.
Danny Green, an excellent lifetime three point shooter, was a major culprit. His 3-point accuracy tumbled from 45 percent during his lone season in Toronto to 36 percent with the Lakers, trickling down to 33 percent in the playoffs when his cold streaks hurt the most. The Lakers created 45 wide-open 3s for Green in the playoffs — no defender within six feet of him, per NBA.com/Stats — and he only made 16 of them.
Schröder, still in his early prime at 27, is more potent and capable. Last season, he made 125 3-pointers, more than every Laker except James, who led his team in 3s for the first time since 2008 in a glaring sign of the lack of spacers around him. Schröder’s accuracy was 38.5 percent, which was equal to Caldwell-Pope, who led the Lakers.
If the Lakers were acquiring the Atlanta Hawks version of Schröder I would be skeptical. But since then Schröder has developed as a player, particularly playing off the ball. In his Atlanta days, Schröder was often the lead initiator, but playing next to Russell Westbrook and later Chris Paul in Oklahoma City, he became more comfortable in the type of off-ball, supplementary role he’ll fill when sharing the court with James.
Ninety-six of Schröder’s 125 made 3s in 2019-20 were of the catch-and-shoot variety, done with 41.4 percent accuracy. When left wide open, he was 66-of-139, a 44.6 percent clip. He’s just much more dangerous from deep than Green at this stage of their careers.
Is there a downside?
Of course. Green is a longer, stronger, more accomplished defender. He is not a stopper, but he’s a veteran who can reliably take shifts on James Harden, Leonard and Paul George and even smaller guards like Damian Lillard and Steph Curry. Green’s defensive presence will be missed by the Lakers if they don’t find a replacement defender.
Schröder isn’t that. You can’t put him on bigger wings and, if he’s on some of the league’s better guards, he’s in survival mode. There will be times when the Lakers might have to hide him on the opponent’s least threatening option.
But Schröder also is not awful on defense. It won’t be a problem like the Clippers have with Lou Williams. The Thunder actually had a much better defensive rating with him on the floor (103.0) than off of it (111.8) last season. It was the same situation in OKC’s seven-game first-round series against the Rockets: 103.8 with Schröder on it, team-worst 114.9 with him off of it. That might be the greatest argument why Schröder will work in the postseason for a defense-first Lakers team. He just worked in a playoff series against a conference rival.
This move to acquire Schröder heavily impacts the rest of the offseason plans. It allows the Lakers to have a comfortable walk-away point with Rajon Rondo, who declined his player option in search of a bigger, free-agency payday (the Clippers are reportedly interested). Rondo’s secondary playmaking was vital next to James because of the team’s lack of other creators, but Schröder is a creator. Is he “Playoff Rondo” probably not, but he’s a guaranteed contract, and likely a cheaper option.
he loss of the draft asset in this transaction shouldn’t be ignored. It’s hard to find a rotation player with the 28th pick, but it’s not impossible. The Lakers found gems like Kuzma, Josh Hart, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson with late round picks, all of whom have become rotation pieces across the league. It would have been nice to add another younger, developing player to a team filled with old heads.
The Lakers already traded away their entire 2021 draft, plus a couple of other future firsts. It’s difficult to re-layer the roster for the middle of the next decade without first-rounders.
But that’s not the Lakers’ priority. They have to take full advantage of having Lebron James and Anthony Davis on roster. They’re in pure win-now mode, set up with a prime chance to defend their championship next season. The upgrade from Schröder to Green, just days before they go free-agency hunting, is a huge boost to that goal.
Look for the Lakers to continue to reshuffle their roster when free agency begins.