As his team gathered for just their seventh practice since the regular season started, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel decided to change things up. To break up the monotony of an expedited regular season made even more dreary and isolated by the NBAs stringent-but-necessary COVID protocols, he took his team outside to work out in the beautiful Los Angeles sun across the street from their practice facility. And after watching Dennis Schröder and the rest of his team chop their feet through some football drills, Vogel was asked about how his starting point guard has used his speed to attack screens, but he wanted to focus on what Schröder has done on the other end of the court.
His impact has been felt more on the defensive end than even the offensive end, Vogel said. His speed is a problem for opposing teams. Its a problem for guys like Kemba Walker and Trae Young when theyre trying to get into the lane, when theyre trying to beat him off the bounce.
Sometimes a basketball team just needs a jolt of energy. In that case, Schröders intensity is like a sentient version of the effect of taking practice outside to change things up and infuse some newfound enthusiasm. Hes just always moving with an infectious energy, and its probably the only type of spread the Lakers want this season. While Vogel was talking about the Lakers prior two wins, but he could have just as easily been talking about Schröders effort in their victory against the Denver Nuggets, when Schröders double-diving hustle got Vogel so fired up that he ran onto the floor to help the 27-year-old off the ground:
Schröders hustle was one of the few signs of life for the Lakers defense in their first two quarters on Thursday, and in addition to Vogel lighting the team up for their lack of effort at halftime, it was one of the things Anthony Davis credited for them turning a dispiriting effort into a blowout, 114-93 win in the second half.
Hes making big plays for us. Hes picking up 94 feet. Hes everywhere. His hands are on the ball, Davis said. Hes doing everything for us.
So far, the numbers havent reflected that level of impact. They actually show the complete opposite. The Lakers are never worse defensively allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions than they are when Schröder plays, and never better than when he sits (96.4) according to NBA.com. That trend mostly held against the Nuggets, but those numbers also ignore a little bit of context.
For one thing, Schröder is often replaced by Alex Caruso, whose defensive on/off ratings (97.1 and and 106.3, respectively) are the exact inverse of Schröders in that among rotation players the team is never better when he is on the floor and never worse than when he sits. Considering that Caruso is one of the best guard defenders in the NBA, its hard to penalize Schröder too much for that.
To some degree, this could also be an instance of what Ill dub The Avery Bradley Effect. All last year, the Lakers raved about Bradleys defense and the boost it gave them, even though prior to the NBA shutdown, they were only marginally improved defensively with Bradley on the floor. Unlike Schröder, the Lakers were better with Bradley on the floor, but the difference was basically negligible (a defensive rating 104 on vs. 105.2 off).
Still, the team felt like Bradley gave them some electricity, and inspired the team with his hustle. Numbers cant always account for that stuff, but with plays like Schröders last night, or the way he hounded Young and Walker in their prior games, its easy to see that hes making an impact on defense. Hes just playing in front of someone who is even better, but its also obvious to see that the team is inspired by how much heart the spritely guard is playing with on that end.
When the Lakers acquired Schröder, most of the focus was on his offense, but despite the numbers, its clear that the team feels hes been more impactful in how hes utilizing his natural tools on the other end. Is he going to win Defensive Player of the Year anytime soon? No. Is he even a great defender? Probably not, but he is a good one, and the eye test screams that hes better than his metrics and reputation would suggest on that end of the floor.
He uses that defensive presence, Vogel said. His speed is one of the reasons why we have him on this team, and hes certainly given us a big lift in that regard.
Its why Vogel clearly wants to lift Schröder too, whether hes correcting a national reporters question about offense to shine a light on Schröders defense, or literally scraping him off the floor after he leaves it all out there on the hardwood.
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