It’s been a couple of years since Spencer Dinwiddie proved the skeptics wrong and established himself as a valuable standout for the Brooklyn Nets.
This season, he’s proving nearly everyone wrong again.
Kenny Atkinson’s much-hyped, new-look squad got off to a rocky start this fall. A three-game skid in mid-November sank Brooklyn to 4-7, then both Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving were sidelined with injuries shortly thereafter. The Nets needed to lean on Dinwiddie, and he’s been the catalyst of their 9-4 run back into the playoff picture.
The sixth-year pro has flourished as a shot-creator, facilitator off-ball weapon during his fourth year with Atkinson. In just 29.8 minutes per game, Dinwiddie is averaging 20.8 points, 6.2 assists and 6.2 free-throw attempts. He’s shown he’s versatile enough to carry the Nets’ offense for substantial stretches.
Dating back to his college days at Colorado, Dinwiddie has always been a skilled guard with a smooth playing style and a great feel for the game. But it’s still impressive to see him overcome his junior-year ACL injury and the journeyman start to his NBA career.
Dinwiddie’s expanded responsibilities at the Nets’ helm are revealing a star-caliber ceiling many continue to overlook.
GREEN LIGHT EARLY IN THE SHOT CLOCK
Atkinson has given Dinwiddie loads of leeway to be creative while putting him in positions to excel as a slasher, shooter and facilitator.
Dinwiddie is great at hunting scoring opportunities early in transition, whether it’s a drive before the help defense is ready or a pull-up triple while defenders are still backpedaling. This year, he’s torching opponents early in the shot clock, shooting 56.6 percent within the first two to six seconds of the timer, per NBA.com.
Watch how he brings the ball down the court, gathers himself and launches when defenders give him just enough room. Dinwiddie fits right in with the modern NBA’s disregard for early-shot clock “etiquette:”
The downside of this green light is that Dinwiddie sporadically forces ill-advised shots, and he’s not Stephen Curry.
Although he’s hit a few game-winners in crunch time, he also occasionally jeopardizes the Nets with late-game chucking. He’s shooting 42.9 percent on field goals and 30.6 percent from distance, and his abundant confidence is partially to blame. Dinwiddie’s uptick in usage has also translated to a career-high 2.7 turnovers per game.
Fortunately, he’s found more of a rhythm in his calculated aggression and mid-range scoring lately: He’s shooting 46.7 percent in December so far.
The Righty Reverse
Like most competent shoot-and-slash players, Dinwiddie slithers around defenders when they crowd him too much on the perimeter. His combination of length and polish separates him from many combo guards as a slasher. Despite his middle-tier agility, he accesses the rim regularly, thanks to his footwork and long arms.
One of Dinwiddie’s best selling points as a draft prospect was his size. At 6’6” in shoes with a 6’8.25” wingspan and an 8’7” standing reach, he’s taller and longer than the majority of NBA 1’s and 2’s. His expansive reach allows him to convert forays to the bucket even when he doesn’t blow past his man.
When he drives on the left side of the floor, he often finishes with his right hand because he’s so long. Even though traditional fundamentals preach left-hand finishes on the left side, Dinwiddie almost always uses his right. He gets the ball on the glass quicker and more fluidly than he would with his weak hand.
It’s not a revolutionary move; plenty of guards have it in their arsenal. But Dinwiddie pulls it off more frequently and smoothly than the vast majority of the league. He sets up his lengthy finger rolls with great change-of-pace and euro-step footwork. When opposing defenses don’t have their help rotations set up perfectly, Dinwiddie capitalizes by gliding to the bucket with precision.
Opponents know that he loves the righty reverse, yet they don’t have an answer for it. Check out how many times he’s snuck the right-handed layup on the left side in recent weeks:
Dinwiddie’s outside shooting threat and creative handles also make him an above-average weapon off the ball. He inflicts critical damage on rotating defenders when handlers like Irving or LeVert swing the rock to him. He has such a diverse repertoire and can maneuver to the most lethal spots with regularity.
UNDER-APPRECIATED PASSING PROWESS
While he’ll always be a score-first player, Dinwiddie has supplied significantly more playmaking this season than last. He’s posting his second-highest assist rate as a Net (6.2 per game) by dissecting opponents in pick-and-rolls and making some superb skip passes.
He owns the vision and length to zip high-level dimes that a lot of guards can’t make.
Dinwiddie’s size also makes it tough for opponents to trap or fluster him. He’s adept at drawing multiple defenders and then reversing the ball to the top or rifling it to a cross-court shooter. With long arms and elite dexterity, he wraps tricky one-handed passes around defenders or over the entire defense. Here are a few examples of high-difficulty dimes that he executes seamlessly:
Not only is he smooth with basic pick-and-roll drives and pocket passes, but he’s good at delayed pick-and-roll handling. Dinwiddie is masterfully unpredictable for opponents
He snakes around screens, puts defenders “in jail” (i.e. maneuvering in front of them if they go over screens, keeping them behind him). That allows him to manipulate help defenders and get a favorable look for himself or the roll man.
It’s no surprise that his favorite target in pick-and-rolls is big fella Jarrett Allen. The third-year center out of Texas has feasted on Dinwiddie’s assortment of well-timed lobs. Allen is already a phenomenal receiver, and Dinwiddie makes his life that much easier. Their growing chemistry has become a foundational weapon for the Nets’ offense:
Dinwiddie’s sizeable production has generated some Eastern Conference All-Star buzz. It’s still early, but it’s worth the discussion.
There are only two Eastern Conference guards who are matching or exceeding Dinwiddie in both points and assists per game— Trae Young and Bradley Beal. And while Kemba Walker will likely earn a bid to Chicago’s midseason festivities, none of the remaining Eastern guards have a better case.
Dinwiddie probably won’t get voted into a starting spot, but if he keeps up his production, the coaches will strongly consider tabbing him as a reserve. The eventual return of Irving and LeVert may put a dent in Dinwiddie’s candidacy, but for now, he’s All-Star material.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball