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It’s strange to think that the man who led the Atlanta Hawks to the best record in the Eastern Conference last year is now a backup point guard playing for the worst team in the league. But that’s where Dennis Schroder finds himself these days, and the change has been good for him.

The Los Angeles Lakers may be struggling, but point guard Dennis Schroder is thriving with his new team. The Lakers signed Schroder to a three-year, $70 million deal this summer after he spent the first eight years of his NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks. The German-born guard took a huge leap in production last season playing alongside All-Star point guard Trae Young, averaging a career-high 22.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game.

When LeBron James makes his long-awaited return to the court, he won’t just be a dynamic duo with Anthony Davis. With the emergence of Dennis Schroder during the injuries to James and Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers could have a Big Three of sorts.

The Lakers lost three games on Monday with a 114-103 victory over the Orlando Magic. Davis had his best game since returning with 18 points and eight rebounds, but Schroder was the best player on the court.

The point guard, acquired in an offseason trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored 21 points and handed out 10 assists for his third consecutive double-double. Los Angeles scored 23 more points than Orlando in the 38 minutes Schroder was on the court.

He’s really making progress, especially with his mindset as a leader and his management of the team, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. He seemed to be in control and comfortable with the pick-and-roll game and getting everyone involved. Of course, he’s also an elite defender. So Dennis did well today.

Schroder was at his best late in the game, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, going 6-of-7 from the field and handing out four assists to his teammates. At one point midway through the final period, he scored eight consecutive points for Los Angeles.

Kim Clement/USA Today Sports

After the game, Davis found Schroder on the field and gave him a look of relief, then gave him a quick hug. Mr. Davis stated that his views were multifaceted. He mentioned Schroder’s assist on Davis’ three-pointer, after he hadn’t made any of his 10 distance shots since returning to the team, and he also noted the feeling of winning again.

Let’s get to it now, Davis said. He’s been a big part of us since I got back and when I was away. He decided everything for us and kept us going at the same time.

Los Angeles leaned heavily on Rajon Rondo as a secondary playmaker last year, even though James led the league in assists for the first time in his career. With Rondo transferring to the Los Angeles Clippers this year, Schroder will be an important outlet as teams try to overload James in the postseason.

Jared Dudley always comes up to me and says: Listen to this. You’re the man, Schroder said after the game. I mean, LeBron’s gonna do his thing. AD will do his job. I think we still have a lot of firepower in the locker room. But when it comes to being responsible on the court, scoring when necessary, keeping the ball when LeBron’s not on the court, whatever it is, I try to help my team do that.

Like I said, I’m ready for any evolution. I accept the challenge. I’m trying to reach that ultimate goal.

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James could return as early as this week, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. James has looked strong during practice on the Lakers’ current trip, a source told ESPN.

James is naturally the ball handler in the Lakers’ offense, but Schroder – who said he contacted Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd for daily lessons on the intricacies of the point guard game in the league – will still be invited to run the show.

We need him to be like Dennis, Davis said. He reads the right things, plays well, finishes, throws the ball. We need him to do the same. We don’t want him to fade when Bron comes back, even though Bron works a lot with the ball. We still want him to pick up the pace and get involved in the offense, find the openings, find people to make open shots, make the right passes and the right plays, and that’s what we expect from him to win a championship.

Vogel said one of the positives of the midseason loss against Los Angeles without Davis and James was the way Schroder accelerated his leadership role on this team.

It’s not that Dennis hasn’t done it in the past, but he hasn’t done it with this group, this system, this coaching staff and these teammates, Vogel said. Obviously, if Bron takes over, Dennis will be a productive scorer and will be comfortable in that situation, and then Bron will go to the bench and Dennis will go back to the comfort zone he’s grown into over the last month or six weeks, whatever that may be.

Schroder said James has already asked him to be in attack mode when he returns.

This is what he always tells me: Dennis, you must be aggressive. You’re not just a playmaker. Do your thing, Schroder said. We look forward to working with him again soon. Like I said, we’ll be ready.

There are 11 games left in the playoffs. There are no more excuses. Source will hopefully be back soon as well. And then it starts.

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