Boston Celtics: Dennis Schroder makes his case for a starting role

Boston Celtics guard Dennis Schroder (71) Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics guard Dennis Schroder (71) Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

After an ugly start to the season, the Boston Celtics have found their way back to a .500 record, sitting at 6-6 after last night’s overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks. More impressively, they have done a portion of their best work without one of their best players in Jaylen Brown as he currently is nursing a hamstring injury. They’ve been doing good without him, and they will do even better once he returns.

However, Brown’s absence has left some minutes up for grabs, and no player has taken advantage of those minutes more than Dennis Schroder. Schroder has stepped into the starting lineup with Brown out for the time being, and the Celtics haven’t missed a beat.

Prior to Brown’s injury, Schroder had been primarily coming off the bench, making spot starts when other guys were injured. But each time he has been called on, Schroder has delivered, and he is making a serious case for starting minutes even once Brown returns from injury. The Boston Celtics are winning games with Schroder in the starting lineup, and they would be foolish to not include him in it moving forward.

The Boston Celtics need to start Dennis Schroder even once Jaylen Brown returns from injury

First and foremost, an acknowledgement on my end; moving Schroder into the starting lineup would mean sending Marcus Smart to the bench, which doesn’t seem likely to happen. The ensuing argument for Schroder getting starting minutes is not meant to be a knock on Smart, and while I have certainly aired out my issues with him in the past, such as his new contract or his recent comments to the media, that’s not going to happen here.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Schroder’s production over the last three games, all of which he has started in place of Brown. The sample size is admittedly small, but over those three games Schroder is averaging 26 points, five rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, which would put him the top tier of point guards in the league currently. It’s also worth noting these averages may be a bit skewed due to Schroder’s 38 point outburst against the Bucks the other night.

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However, Schroder doesn’t score 38 points if he comes off the bench in this game. In an ideal world, Schroder doesn’t have to see the court as much as he did last night because Brown is healthy and Smart is playing well. But Brown is out and Smart has endured a horrid start to the season, so here we are.

In fairness, Smart probably had his best game of the season last night too (19 PTS, 6 AST, 6 REB, 3 STL), but for most of the season he has been borderline unplayable. He still makes his typical “Marcus Smart” plays, but he has been an absolute mess offensively. Without Smart’s struggles, this probably isn’t even a topic of discussion 12 games into the season.

Now, Schroder isn’t perfect either; if he was he wouldn’t have signed a one year, $5 million deal this offseason. Schroder has struggled with turnovers throughout his career, but he’s been turning the ball over at an alarming rate recently, racking up 14 giveaways over the past two games. Schroder has been a much more productive scoring option than Smart, but Smart has generally been much more careful with the ball, which cannot be overlooked.

The key reason why Schroder should be starting is because of the scoring ability he has shown so far this season. Defenses are now being forced to account for him, even as he has been running alongside Jayson Tatum in the starting lineup recently. The Bucks badly wanted to lock in on Tatum last night and make someone else step up for Boston. Schroder did just that.

With Brook Lopez out for the Bucks, Schroder constantly got Bobby Portis switched onto him, and took him to the rim on seemingly each possession. Schroder shot 16-27 on the night, including 13-18 on shots from inside the arc. Schroder pretty much got the rim at will, and when even when the Bucks collapsed in, it opened up shots on the perimeter for the rest of the team (although they only managed to shoot 29.3 percent from three).

Smart offers a different style that just doesn’t mesh as well with Tatum and Brown. Smart really excels in the pick-and-roll, as him and Rob Williams are basically guaranteed to connect at least once on an alley oop every game now it seems.

But Tatum and Brown really aren’t going to be setting screens for Smart, which kind of limits what the offense can do with him in control. The idea is that the pick-and-roll will cause defenses to collapse, but after the defense sees it run once, they just hedge Williams and everyone else stays in place, rendering it virtually useless. Smart is a more effective player when he gets to the paint, but he just can’t do that as consistently as Schroder.

Swapping Smart and Schroder would result in a decrease of defensive efficiency in a sense, but it’s nothing that the Boston Celtics couldn’t realistically handle, especially with Brown back on the court. Schroder occasionally gets picked on by opposing teams, but this is also a team that was making due with Kemba Walker in their starting lineup for the past two seasons. Schroder may not be as good as Smart defensively, but he’s better than Walker.

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Schroder also falls into lulls where he works too hard to look for his own shot, but for the most part he’s done a great job of moving the ball. Of course, there are times like last night’s game against Milwaukee where he can’t seem to miss, and it is justified, but there are going to be times where the offense has to run through Tatum or Brown, which hasn’t seemed to click for him just yet.

But all in all, Schroder’s recent play has shown that he offers more value to this team in a starting capacity. He compliments Tatum and Brown’s style of play in a way Smart just hasn’t been able to, and it seems like it would be an easy call to make. Schroder has proven to be capable of starting for this team, the question now becomes whether the Boston Celtics coaching staff will give him what he has earned.