When LeBron James makes his long-awaited return to the court, he won't just be forming a dynamic duo with Anthony Davis. With Dennis Schroder's emergence during James' and Davis' injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers could have something that resembles a Big Three.
The Lakers snapped a three-game losing streak with a 114-103 road win over the Orlando Magic on Monday, and while Davis had his best game since coming back with 18 points and eight rebounds, it was Schroder who was the best player on the court.
The point guard, acquired in an offseason trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored a team-high 21 points along with 10 assists, for his third straight double-double. L.A. outscored Orlando by 23 points in the 38 minutes that Schroder was on the court.
"He's really growing in particular with his floor general mentality and running the team," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "Seemed in control and comfortable in the pick-and-roll game and getting everybody involved. Obviously he's an elite defender too. So, great performance by Dennis tonight."
Schroder was at his best late, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-for-7 from the field and also finding teammates with four assists. At one point, midway through the final frame, he scored eight points in a row for L.A.
After the game, Davis found Schroder on the court and shot him a look of relief before sharing a quick embrace. Davis said the glance was layered: acknowledging the pass that Schroder delivered him that led to Davis finally making a 3 after being 0-for-10 from deep since his comeback and also noting the feeling of getting back in the win column.
"Now let's get this thing rolling," Davis said. "He's been playing huge for us, since I've been back and when I was out, figuring it out for us while still keeping us afloat and in the mix."
Last year, L.A. leaned heavily on Rajon Rondo to be a secondary playmaker even though James led the league in assists for the first time in his career. This year, with Rondo now with the LA Clippers, Schroder will be a vital pressure release valve when teams try to load up on James in the postseason.
"Jared Dudley always comes to me and says, 'Listen. You're the guy,'" Schroder said after the game. "I mean, LeBron's going to do his thing. AD's going to do his thing. I think we've still got a lot of firepower in this locker room. But when it comes to [being a] floor general, get a bucket if we need to, hold it down when LeBron is not on the floor, whatever it is, I try to help my team with that.
"Like I said, I'm ready whatever comes. I'll take the challenge. I try to get to that ultimate goal."
James could return as soon as this week, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. James has looked "strong" in his ramp-up workouts on the Lakers' current road trip, a source told ESPN.
While James will naturally command the ball in the Lakers' offense, Schroder -- who said he's been seeking out Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd for daily tutorials on the finer points of playing point guard in the league -- will still be invited to run the show.
"We need him to be the same Dennis," Davis said. "He's making the right reads, he's making great plays, he's finishing, shooting the ball. We need him to do the same thing. We don't want him to kind of fall back when Bron comes back even though Bron does handle the ball a lot. We still want him to push the pace and get in the paint, attacking, finding seams, finding guys for open shots, making those right passes and those right plays, and that's what we're going to need from him in order for us to win the championship."
Vogel said one of the silver linings to the midseason swoon L.A. found itself in without Davis and James was how Schroder "accelerated" his leadership on this team.
"Not that Dennis hadn't done it in the past, but he hadn't done it with this group, this system, this coaching staff, this set of teammates," Vogel said. "Obviously when Bron takes the reins back, you're going to have Dennis as an impacting scorer and comfortable in that situation as well and then Bron goes to the bench and then Dennis is back in the comfort zone of what the way he's grown over the last whatever month, or six weeks, whatever it's been."
Schroder said James has already been imploring him to be prepared to stay in attack mode when he returns.
"He always tells me, 'Dennis, you've got to be aggressive. You're not just a normal point guard. Do your s---,'" Schroder said. "We're really excited to get started again with him soon. Like I said, we're going to be ready.
"It's 11 games out [from the playoffs]. There's no excuses no more. Bron is about to come back soon too, hopefully. And then it's on."