DALLAS — The silver lining to Kyrie Irving’s injury for the Nets clearly has been the emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie as a legitimate All-Star point guard candidate.
But if you’re looking for a corollary to explain the Nets’ first three-game losing streak in the 21 games since Irving went down with a shoulder injury, it’s the fact Dinwiddie is getting superstar treatment from opposing defenses and has been forced to carry too much of the offensive burden.
Since stepping into Irving’s starting role, Dinwiddie has averaged 26.0 points and 7.2 assists while scoring at least 20 points in 18 of those 21 games and at least 30 six times, including a career-high 41. Even in the past three losses to the Knicks, Rockets and Timberwolves, Dinwiddie hit his numbers with 26.0 points and 7.3 assists per game.
But in those losses, Dinwiddie’s shooting percentage fell to .348 overall and .240 from three-point range, and though his free-throw percentage is .801 for the season, it is .634 during the losing streak plus an average of 4.7 turnovers per game.
Dinwiddie blamed himself for “playing terrible” in the Rockets loss, but Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, “You’re not going to be great every single game, and Spencer’s huge growth has been his consistency. He’s gotten a long stretch of playing great basketball. So, a game or two off doesn’t bother me at all. I know it bothers him as a competitor, but I expect him to bounce back.
“That’s where I see him [growing], that kind of toughness, that resiliency. When he doesn’t have a good game, he is not happy about it.”
Asked about the extra defensive attention he has been receiving, Dinwiddie noted that Rockets superstar James Harden played through every defense the Nets threw at him and still scored 44 points. It was a measure of his leadership that Dinwiddie took it upon himself to try and match the NBA’s leading scorer.
“I think it’s a growth level,” Atkinson said. “The great ones do it more consistently, and he’s trying to punch through another kind of level in his development curve, punch through that ceiling to get to the next level. That’s probably the biggest jump and the hardest jump is to do it for long periods consistently. I’m glad he’s aware of that and he’s accepting the challenge.”
During the Nets’ three-game losing streak, they have suffered a team-wide shooting slump — .364 percent overall and .300 from three-point range. But when Dinwiddie was asked if that put pressure on his game, he deflected the question, saying, “We believe in our players, we fully expect our guys to make shots. Sometimes, it’s a make-or-miss league, and we’ve just got to make shots.”
But his teammates sense Dinwiddie feels the onus to carry the Nets. “I don’t know if he feels the pressure, but sometimes, there is a lot of pressure on him,” center Jarrett Allen said. “He is running the offense. He wants to play to the best of his ability, but having all of that on you, you’re going to make some mistakes.”
No doubt Dinwiddie has grown in terms of his ability to lead the Nets. “He’s a confident, confident player right now,” Atkinson said. “He knows we need him as a primary ball-handler, and he’s playing great basketball.”
Still, Dinwiddie could use some help, and there’s a chance that Caris LeVert, who missed the past 23 games after thumb surgery might return when the Nets face the Mavericks Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
“Caris was supposed to be our second All-Star this year along with Kyrie,” Dinwiddie said. “Anytime you’re down your two best players, not including KD [Kevin Durant] when you get him back, it’s a big boost.”