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Dennis Schroder's first season with the Thunder altered his image

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Dennis Schroder, right, improved his image during his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The guard is a candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Dennis Schroder, right, improved his image during his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The guard is a candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN]

“Rip-your-eyeballs-out maddening.”

That’s how Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described Dennis Schroder in an article last June. That evaluation came sandwiched between compliments of the then-24-year-old Hawks point guard’s talent and ball handling skills and criticism for being “emotional and immature and streaky.”

Aside from the streakiness, that critique didn’t sound like the Schroder the Thunder got to know over the course of this season. Now 25, a father and OKC’s second-unit point guard, Schroder addressed the rehabilitation of his image in his opening comments at exit interviews two weeks ago.

“Coming here, I think that helped me,” he said. “How people think about me, being a good teammate, doing everything I can to help my team win, I think I achieved that individually. Even what I did on the court for my team, I think it helped the team and the organization to win games, so I'm really satisfied with what happened this year.”

Schroder’s legal troubles, stemming from an arrest a year and a half ago for battery, haven’t made news since he arrived in OKC. He improved his 3-point shooting from 29 percent last season to 34 percent with the Thunder. He accepted a role off the bench and positioned himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

As for being streaky, Schroder went into a shooting slump after the All-Star break, with his field goal percentage dropping from 42.6 percent before the break to 38.9 percent afterward. He wasn’t alone. The Thunder went 7-13 out of the break before closing the season on a five-game winning streak.

Whether the two events were connected or not, Schroder’s shooting slump also coincided with the birth of his son, which he missed the two games leading into the All-Star break for.

“It was the best thing that happened to me in life,” he said of his son’s birth.

But he was back to work within a week and a half.

In the Thunder’s first two playoff games, Schroder went 0-of-8 from the 3-point line. But he shot 70 percent from the field in Game 5 at Portland, when the Trail Blazers knocked the Thunder out of the Western Conference first round.

While Schroder’s late inconsistency might have tempered the hype that surrounded him early in the season, it didn’t tarnish the bounce-back nature of his season.

“He’s a starter anywhere else,” Thunder All-Star Paul George said last month.

And he had been for two years.

Every game this season, on the other hand, he transitioned from being a second playmaker alongside Russell Westbrook, to the leader of the second unit, and back again.

“Whatever it takes for the team to win games, I do it,” Schroder said at Thunder media day in September, and he repeated that sentiment throughout the season.

When he took the podium two weeks ago, the first question he fielded was about taking a role off the bench. But he had something he wanted to say before he dove into that topic.

“First off, I want to thank the organization for giving me this opportunity,” Schroder said.

Whether he stays with the Thunder next season or is traded somewhere he can be a starter again, the remastering of Schroder’s image promises to benefit both Schroder and OKC moving forward.

No need to rip any eyeballs out.

Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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