Dennis Schroder will return to the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting lineup for their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on Friday night.
“Dennis is back, he’s available,” head coach Frank Vogel confirmed in his pre-game Zoom with reporters.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 27, 2021
The point guard has missed the past four games due to health and safety protocols (related to contact tracing, not a positive COVID-19 test).
The Lakers have dearly missed Schroder, especially on top of the simultaneous injury to Anthony Davis, who has missed six consecutive outings with a calf strain. The fatigued Lakers (22-11) have dropped five of those six games and enter Friday on a season-high four-game losing skid.
Certainly, Davis is LA’s second-best player. However, the absence of Schroder has arguably been just as crippling, at least during this particular February stretch.
Schroder is third on the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game. In the scattered first six games Davis missed before reaggravating his calf, the Lakers were 5-1, with Schroder, crucially, averaging nearly 17 per contest. They are winless without both.
Predictably, Schroder’s absence has rendered the sluggish Lakers unable to overcome the scoring void left sans AD (22.5 PPG). In their last game with Dennis the Menace and without Davis, the Lakers adequately made-up for a missing Davis in a W against the Minnesota Timberwolves—the team’s most recent victory—led by Schroder’s 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Dennis Schroder’s Importance to Lakers
As Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll (via NBA.com) noted, the Lakers are nearly 10 points per 100 possessions better with Schroder on the court (114) than on the sideline (104.6)—the biggest difference of any Laker besides Davis.
Beyond the numbers, though, Dennis the Menace’s ability to break down defenses, create kick-outs, and opportunities for cutters and drop-offs allowed the offense to continue humming. Perhaps more importantly, his on-ball defense helped keep ball-handlers out of the paint, where Davis’s absence is most glaring.
“It’s tough to pinpoint one area,” where they missed Schröder the most, Vogel said Friday. “He’s such a complete, two-way player. He’s an elite defender. The head coach also cited his “containment ability” and the tone he sets “picking up full-court.” On offense, Vogel credited his ability to attack the paint and create looks for others.
Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker are adequate bucket-getters, but they don’t generate offense off-the-dribble the way Schroder is capable of.
During the dog days of a condensed season, where the Lakers are over-taxed and under-motivated, the team needs Schroder’s bouncy energy and relentless hustle to spark the group and provide the type of “edginess” that Vogel has repeatedly mentioned this season.
Schroder leaving it all on the court. Work to do in the second half pic.twitter.com/c6bhqzOT5w
— LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) February 5, 2021
“Dennis carries a big load for us. He’s a big minutes guy,” Vogel said. “Really moves the needle for us on the defensive end with his containment and pressure, sets the tone for us. And obviously the versatility he brings to the table offensively with the ability to bring the ball up and have another ball-handler alongside ‘Bron — but also carry the scoring load as well. I think we missed him on both sides of the ball.”
Or, in the words of the greatest Lakers point guard of all-time:
The @Lakers really miss Anthony Davis and Dennis Schröder because they affect the game on both ends of the court.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) February 22, 2021
Dennis Schroder Returns at Perfect Time
Schroder’s return comes just in the nick of time. Here are the Lakers’ point guard matchups over the next six days before the break: Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, De’Aaron Fox. I’m exhausted just writing that list of names.
“Everyone’s just speaking about AD, and that’s a big hit, but we also haven’t had Dennis along this stretch for a few games too,” James said. “He’s a big piece of our puzzle as well. Everyone has to be put into positions they normally wouldn’t be put into under normal circumstances.”
The Lakers—or any team, for that matter—simply aren’t build to play without two of their three best players, and their efforts to overcome Schroder and Davis’ combined absence have accelerated the mid-season fatigue. If anything, Schroder’s return should ease the short-term burden on James.
One thing is clear: three months into his first season with the Lakers, the German guard’s intrinsic value is already readily apparent.
Next up: working out an extension.