Dennis Schroder has been a full-time NBA starter in the past, but it largely hasn't gone well. Across two seasons in the driver's seat, Schroder's Atlanta Hawks posted a 67-97 record. He played an integral role on Atlanta's 60-win 2014-15 team as a backup, though, and finished second in Sixth Man of the Year last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The majority of his success as an NBA player has come off the bench, and that makes sense given his playing style. Schroder is a small, score-first guard, exactly the sort of player whose defense might become problematic against starters, but whose offense can shred bench units. Usually, when such a player joins a better team, his role is somewhat reduced. Schroder went from the decent Thunder to the defending champion Lakers in an offseason trade, seemingly cementing the idea that he would perpetually challenge for the league lead in bench scoring while filling the sorely needed ball-handling role created whenever LeBron James went to the bench last season. Before the bubble, lineups without LeBron scored only 105.2 points per 100 possessions.
But Schroder seemingly disagrees with this logic. He conducted his first media session as a member of the Lakers Monday and made it clear that he wants to start.
"I did this off the bench stuff already for two years with OKC," Schroder said. "I think I will try to move forward, and I think with A.D. [Anthony Davis] and LeBron, I can be helpful as a starter at the PG position so that LeBron don't have so much stuff in his mind."
He went on to add that he believes his agent discussed such a role with the team before the trade, so for the time being, it appears as though the Lakers at least expect Schroder to open the season as their starting point guard. It's an odd decision considering how successful last year's team was with LeBron in that role.
The Lakers' core starting five last season of James at point guard, Avery Bradley and Danny Green on the wings and Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee up front outscored opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions. James led the NBA in assists last season, and the offense as a whole scored a strong 114 points per 100 possessions when that unit played. The exact names changed somewhat in the postseason, but the basic formula remained: LeBron plus Davis plus defense and shooting tends to equal winning. With the additions of Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol this offseason, the Lakers had a chance to improve upon that model while preserving their two most expensive offseason additions, Schroder and Montrezl Harrell, for a supercharged bench.
Starting Schroder complicates that plan. Schroder, by nearly any measure, is inferior to Matthews and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope defensively. His shooting is more of a question mark. Schroder hit 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point looks last season. If that sustains, there won't be any issues offensively. But he shot 35 percent on such attempts in his first season in Oklahoma City, and 28 percent in his final go-round with the Hawks. Some regression is coming. If it does, Schroder's value alongside LeBron is compromised.
Now, the goal might not be to turn Schroder into an entirely complementary player. There is also some credence to the idea that the Lakers want to preserve LeBron's energy for the postseason. He turns 36 less than two weeks into the season, had his offseason shortened and is facing a condensed schedule. Schroder functioning as something more like a typical point guard with James playing more off-ball could help keep him fresh for when games count, but that also raises questions about how much energy he'd actually be saving if Schroder's defensive limitations force him to play harder on that end of the floor. Last season, the Lakers were able to use LeBron primarily as a help defender. His assignment was often the weakest opposing perimeter player, which limited how hard he had to work defensively and allowed him to make plays as a sort of free safety. If Schroder has to guard that player this season, LeBron obviously can't. Putting Schroder on higher-usage perimeter players weakens the defense as a whole.
There is going to be tinkering. The opening night lineup does not necessarily need to be the one they bring into the postseason. But Schroder doesn't exactly seem enthused about the idea of coming off the bench. With only a year remaining before he hits free agency, that's understandable. But if it turns out to be his optimal use, as his entire career before joining the Lakers suggests, getting him on board with the idea early on rather than springing it on him in high-leverage moments would seem to be the prudent approach.