Spencer Dinwiddie has earned his share of accolades during a career in which he mostly has come off the bench, finishing third in the Most Improved Player voting after the 2017-18 season, winning the skills challenge before the 2018 All-Star game and hearing his name bandied about as a Sixth Man award candidate. But since taking over as the Nets’ starting point guard for injured Kyrie Irving, Dinwiddie suddenly is hearing a different kind of buzz.
The new adjective some NBA coaches and players are using to describe his play is “All-Star caliber.” Going into the Nets game Saturday in Toronto, they were 9-4 with Dinwiddie as starting point guard, and he had scored at least 20 points in 11 of those 13 games while averaging 23.8 points and 7.6 assists. Dinwiddie also has been among the league’s best at driving to the basket drawing fouls and then converting at the free throw line.
But when he recently was asked about the All-Star buzz he is generating, Dinwiddie downplayed it as a “team award,” saying, “It’s a credit to everybody on our roster. It’s a credit to the winning streak we’ve had, the high level we’ve played. Only superstars and perennial All-Stars get to go to the All-Star game if their team [stinks]. For me to be in that position, it’s because our team is doing well, so thank you to the guys.”
Ever since the Nets signed Dinwiddie out of the G League on Dec. 8, 2016, he has played with a chip on his shoulder. He stepped up and carried the Nets through numerous rough patches, including when D’Angelo Russell was out for 10 weeks in 2017-18 and again when Caris LeVert missed 42 games last season.
Dinwiddie always has viewed himself as capable of being the best player on the court, and the results were borne out when he signed a three-year extension valued at $34 million. Dinwiddie said he was encouraged at the start of his career with the Pistons when he played well in practice against such guards as Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings.
“That’s where you gain confidence at the start, and then, you’ve just got to be able to put it on the floor,” Dinwiddie said. “Not doing something due to lack of opportunity doesn’t mean you can’t.”
The Nets gave him that opportunity, and he has run with it, never more so than this season. Summarizing his evolution with the Nets, Dinwiddie said he was told to acclimate himself to the system and pick his spots in his first season. After injuries to Jeremy Lin and Russell in his second season, Dinwiddie was asked to run the team, expand his role and get others involved. Last season, he was challenged to come off the bench and provide scoring.
“This year, it was a little bit up in the air,” Dinwiddie said. “With the injuries (to LeVert as well as Irving), they’ve said, “Try to lead the team to as many wins as possible.’ So, it’s trying to strike a balance and do again what’s asked of me. It’s not this crazy mental shift. It’s literally what’s being asked, and I just try to do it, and fortunately, we were able to win.”
IT'S BEEN A GOOD MIX
One of the key ingredients for last season’s surprising 42-40 Nets playoff team was the leadership of long-time veterans DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis and Jared Dudley, and it was concerning when all were released to create salary cap room for Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan. But again, general manager Sean Marks brought in an accomplished veteran group, including Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler, to join the big three free agents.
“I think we struck it rich again,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think that was a big part of our conversation when we signed guys, how they’re going to fit and that leadership. Because we know leadership is part of development. If we get the wrong guys, it impedes development. I’ve been thrilled with the group we put together -- guys that have pretty nice resumes, too, so that helps. I think part of our success right now is our chemistry.”
Jordan said chemistry began building before training camp when the newcomers and holdovers got together for workouts not only in Brooklyn but at a camp they ran in Los Angeles. “I think it’s a testament to us putting the work together early on this summer,” Jordan said. “We just vibe with each other on and off the floor. When you get on the floor, it’s better. Everybody gets along. We have a lot of inside jokes. We have a team group chat that’s very funny.”
Last season, second-round rookie Rodions Kurucs was a surprise who started 46 games in which the Nets went 28-18. But over the course of the summer, Kurucs was hit with a sexual assault allegation that is winding its way through court. The Nets have supported him, but Kurucs has played only 10 games and lately has been relegated to the G League.
But Atkinson has been encouraged by Kurucs' performance in eight games with the Long Island Nets, where he is averaging 11.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks but still is shooting only 20.5 percent from three-point range. “That’s what’s great about Long Island,” Atkinson said. “It seems like he’s having fun again, and that was part of the idea. I think he started out the season super tense, so, I think this stint’s going to help him. I expect him back with us soon.”