OKLAHOMA CITY — What is it exactly that has made Dennis Schröder a 2019-20 NBA 6th Man of the Year candidate?
He’s not scoring a career-high. His current 19.1 points per game output is barely outdone by his 2017-18 run with the Atlanta Hawks (19.4). There is no assist or rebound number that jumps off the screen.
Yet, Schröder is right there amongst names like Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell of the LA Clippers, or Derrick Rose of the Detroit Pistons for the bench-MVP award.
It may be that the Oklahoma City Thunder have exceeded many expectations this season. When you trade away foundational superstars like Russell Westbrook and Paul George, teams are supposed to become irrelevant overnight. Chris Paul being a professional and making the most out of a situation has been the catalyst to OKC finding short-term success.
Schröder’s role in Thunder success comes next. He, along with Steven Adams and a young core led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, have bought into a team identity. Everyone has a role. Schröder has taken his and run with it.
Isn’t the same role he had last season? Yes. No. Schröder is in the same sixth man/finisher role he was in last year. The fit this season seems to be much better.
Last season, a lineup consisting of the Thunder’s three best players – Westbrook, George and Schröder — was their 16th most used three-man lineup. Their offensive rating of 118 ranked first on the team out of other three-man combinations who played over 500 minutes. The defensive rating of 109 balanced it out to a point OKC couldn’t rely on it as much as they possibly desired.
This season, the much-praised three-guard lineup of Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Schröder have only played 324 minutes together — they are on pace to be around the same minutes-usage as the previously mentioned lineup (644 minutes).
This lineup has a stellar 128.7 offensive rating, 96.4 defensive rating to round out a 32.2 net rating. The offensive rating is the third best in the NBA amongst three-man lineups. The net rating? It’s the best in the NBA.
So last year’s best three did well relative to the Thunder. This year’s best three have done fantastic relative to the league.
Each member deserves credit, but Schröder has really opened eyes around the league with his play.
If the point of a sixth man is to play the role your team and situation dictates, Schroder is filling in to his role exceptionally well. Plus he is achieving individual success without taking away from the team.
Don’t worry. Where last year’s three-man lineup was undone by inconsistent defense, this year’s edition will likely play more as we inch closer to the postseason.
Without Paul, Schröder-led lineups are a minus-4.0. With Paul, the Thunder out score their opponents 16.6 points per 100 possessions.
More opportunities for Schröder to showcase his fit with the team and rack up numbers.
“I think he is (Schröder as the Sixth Man of the Year),” Nerlens Noel said at practice yesterday. “It’s really that simple. I don’t think there’s too many guys out there putting up twenty a night. Having the team success that we’re having, he comes in and is selfless, scores when he needs to.”
“I think if it’s not in discussion, he should be at the top of the list for Sixth Man of the Year.”
Of course Schröder’s favorite teammate — his own words — would say this. But Chris Paul has routinely brought up how much he appreciates Schröder’s competitive nature.
“I always loved playing against him,” Paul said back in November. “When we came together in the summer, I was excited to have him on my team. He is a competitor at a high level and someone I want on my side.”
We saw Schröder fit alongside a player like Russell Westbrook. Personality-wise it was a match made in Heaven. Two fiery, at times to the detriment of their own team, players who do most of their damage becoming intimate with the paint and attacking the rim.
Fitting in with Paul on the basketball floor is no trial. But Schröder’s ability to not only acclimate with two other ball-handlers but increase his efficiency has been the surprise. His career-high 39-percent three-point shooting on a career-high 5.4 attempts is mirrored by a career-high in field goal percentage (47).
Schröder, a culprit of the streak, has steadily climbed in numbers all season.
With Oklahoma City sitting at 7-11 before December, Schröder was scoring 15.4 points on 44-percent shooting — 29 percent from three — to go along with four assists.
Since the final month of 2019, Schröder has 21.3 points per game on 49-percent shooting — 44-percent from three — with OKC going 23-9 in that stretch.
Team success and steadily increasing numbers. Not to mention the three-guard lineup will get more run as the season wears on.
“I’ve heard it (Sixth Man of the Year noise),” Schröder said yesterday. “Honestly, I just want to play and win games. I’ll do whatever I can for this team.
Schröder just needs to keep doing what he’s doing. It’s working for him and the Thunder.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. He also hosts the “Locked on Thunder” podcast, part of the Locked On Podcast Network Monday through Friday. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports