LOS ANGELES — It is generally viewed as a sign of disrespect when defenses go under screens against perimeter players‚ because it means the opponent does not really consider the ballhandler’s outside shot a threat.
When viewed through a different prism, however, it is also an indication that the defender is fearful of the offensive player’s ability to attack. If the defender goes above the screen and the offensive player gets one quick step, he could have a clear path to the rim in a blink.
Celtics guard Dennis Schröder is one of the league’s quicker and craftier penetrators, and defenses are certainly aware of that. Throughout his career he has also been a mediocre 3-point shooter, and defenses are aware of that, too.
So time and again, when a Celtics big man steps out to set a screen on Schröder’s behalf, the opponent slides behind the screener and dares Schröder to let the ball fly from long range.
“I mean, they’ve been playing like that my whole career,” Schröder said. “I’m comfortable in that situation. When I know people are going under, I can set my feet whenever I feel like it, [and if] I want to shoot it, I can shoot it.”
Midway through the first quarter of the Celtics’ 145-117 romp over the Trail Blazers on Saturday night, Portland guard Ben McLemore went so far beneath an Enes Kanter Freedom screen for Schröder that he ended up at the free throw line. That gave Schröder time to size up an open look before stepping confidently into it and drilling the 3-point shot.
That was the start of a dominant night for the veteran point guard. He hit five of seven 3-pointers, tied for his highest total since the 2018-19 season, and finished with 31 points and eight assists. The Jazz, like most teams, took a similar approach to defending Schröder in Utah’s win over the Celtics on Friday night, and Schröder connected on three more 3-pointers in that game.
He has made 10 of 19 shots from beyond the arc over his last three games and is now shooting a respectable 35.8 percent for the season, the second-highest mark of his nine-year career. Schröder was asked after Saturday’s game whether his improved shooting has created opportunities for him elsewhere, and he smiled and said that defenses continue to go under screens against him anyway.
“But for me, of course if I hit those shots, it opens up a lot for my teammates,” Schröder said. “They are not shifting when [Jayson Tatum] or [Jaylen Brown] have those [isolation plays]. They can’t shift that much. Me, I just try to keep working on those things to help the team get better, giving them spacing and all that stuff. So, keep working on it.”
Schröder is most comfortable slicing between openings the size of a mail slot and using his speed and savvy to get to the hoop, and that will not change. He said that when defenses go under screens against him, he often looks to find a good angle where he can attack.
With Brown out for the last two games because of a sore hamstring, Schröder was at the center of Boston’s offensive explosion that resulted in 275 total points. Schroder averaged 28.5 points, 5.5 assists, and just 1.5 turnovers.
The Celtics said the offense has been invigorated by an emphasis on playing with pace. Players have not been standing around and watching either Schröder or Tatum pound the ball onto the court for seconds at a time.
This season, 31.5 percent of Schröder’s shots have come after he took at least seven dribbles. He understands that figure is simply too high, and this hot stretch has offered further evidence of that.
“We play fast, move the ball,” Schroder said. “I think when we do that, we’re going to be in great shape. I think that’s what we have to focus on. Not too much iso, and somebody switched on me, [so] wait for the iso … I think we just have to get that ball rolling out there, and everybody touches it. It starts with me.”