The measure of how much Spencer Dinwiddie has grown in less than a year since the Nets signed him out of the G-League clearly was evident in their 126-121 victory over Orlando in the home opener Friday night at Barclays Center. With the game in the balance, coach Kenny Atkinson went with Dinwiddie at point guard rather than D’Angelo Russell for a stretch of 12:07 from midway through the third quarter until Russell re-entered with just 4:52 left to play.
During that time, Dinwiddie showed toughness on defense, and he exuded a commanding floor presence with his teammates that was a marked contrast to a year ago when he joined the Nets 19 games into the season. Now, that the Nets have lost Jeremy Lin for the season with a ruptured right patella tendon, it seems clear Russell and Dinwiddie basically will split the minutes at point guard.
“That was our first time trying out kind of a new lineup,” Dinwiddie said after practice on Saturday. “So really, nobody knew what to expect. Obviously, we had some success in being able to change the tide of the game. So, it’s a testament to [Atkinson’s] confidence in us, and we, as a bench, appreciate it.”
The Nets face Atlanta Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, but through the first two games of the new season, it’s clear the second unit is playing much more hard-nosed defense than the first unit. Against Orlando, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the only starter with a positive plus-minus number (1), while the entire bench was even or positive led by Dinwiddie’s plus-15.
Dinwiddie’s ability to set an example with his defense and ball-handling — one turnover in 24:42 compared to Russell’s eight turnovers in 25:26 — underlined his leadership. He also contributed a well-rounded game of 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“When I first got here, we were 20-30 games in and I’m learning the system,” Dinwiddie said. “So, you’re not always comfortable telling people what to do because you’re still learning it yourself. Naturally, as a point guard and a person who’s led on every team I’ve been a major piece of, that’s a natural position for me. It’s just being comfortable and I think also earning the respect of the guys to be able to tell them.”
Some Nets fans were disappointed when the club waived Yogi Ferrell, who now is the starting point guard in Dallas, to make roster room for Dinwiddie. But at 6-6, Dinwiddie is the big guard Atkinson favors, and he can play all three perimeter positions.
“He’s earned it,” Atkinson said of Dinwiddie’s play at crunch time. “There’s a certain trust you have when you see the work he’s put in every day. You feel confident with him out there. I think last night we did keep him out there a little longer than planned. It’s because he was playing really well.”
Atkinson said the leadership Dinwiddie now provides “is the place where he’s progressed the most. When he first came here he was not a very confident player. It was one of the things I was very concerned about. You saw the talent, you saw the size, you saw the athleticism, liked the player. But he was very unsure of himself, very hesitant.
“I guess it’s just maturity. He feels more comfortable. I think he’s gotten physically stronger. So, I see a much more confident player.”