Back in August, Zach Lowe of ESPN wrote an in-depth article on the cultural transformation of the Brooklyn Nets. In a rather subtle way, Lowe mentioned how someone like Spencer Dinwiddie must become Brooklyn’s version of Danny Green.
“For that path to lead anywhere beyond mediocrity without a tanking detour, one of Marks’ long-shot bets must pay off. A castoff like Spencer Dinwiddie must become their Danny Green.”
Some may say Lowe was speculating. Many would say he was working.
With the emergence of Dinwiddie this season, it’s worth looking at the two players and how similar their paths have been. Sure, Green has a ring and plays for one of the most respected franchises in any sport, but his journey getting there is what pops. It screams Dinwiddie, but it also signifies how the Nets are trying to emulate the Spurs by developing their own with limited resources.
Green was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 46th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. He was waived 20 games later and the Spurs scooped him the following season. The bumps continued along the journey, as the Spurs waived him and he was forced to play in the D-League with Reno. Green impressed, and he was brought back up as a developmental project. They assigned him to the Austin Toros on April 2 and then recalled him April 3.
One year later, Green became a crucial piece to San Antonio’s team and started in 38 of 66 games, averaging more than nine points on 43.6 percent shooting from deep.
Now take Spencer Dinwiddie, a lanky combo guard out of Colorado taken by the Detroit Pistons with the 38th pick back in 2014. Dinwiddie was signed to a three-year deal, but spent most of his time with the Grand Rapids Drive. Two years later, Dinwiddie was traded to the Bulls, was waived, and assigned to the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s D-League affiliate.
The Windy City Bulls were in town to take on the Long Island Nets on November 29 of 2016. He went off for 25 points and 12 assists in a victory at what would very soon become his new home, Barclays Center. One week later, the Nets, who were point guard-deprived at the time, signed Dinwiddie to a three-year, minimum deal. Was Sean Marks at that D-League game? Don’t know, but either he or Trajan Langdon were always hanging out at Barclays when the Long Island Nets played.
Like Green, Dinwiddie became a developmental project. He got minutes with the big league club and Kenny Atkinson and his staff liked what they saw. He fit the script – a long guard with the ability to play/defend point or wing.
It took a chunk of the 2016-17 season for Dinwiddie to develop and gain real experience in the NBA. Jeremy Lin was hurt, Greivis Vasquez was waived, and Isaiah Whitehead was the starting point guard.
He impressed enough to stay with the club and was committed enough at Brooklyn’s training facility over the summer to get another chance. This time, Lin went down on Opening Night and D’Angelo Russell played in only 12 games before he too went down.
The Nets were once again point guard-deprived, but Marks and Atkinson knew they might have struck gold. There was no panic. With Lin and Russell both going to miss an extended period, Dinwiddie took the ‘next man up’ thing to a different level.
The basketball vagabond has emerged as one of the most improved players this season, averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 assists per game. He’s 12th in the league for assists per game and he’s second in assist-to-turnover ratio. He leads the league in buckets to tie or take the lead in the final minute, hitting 7-of-17 clutch shots this season. And really, no one knows his ceiling.
The Nets currently own an 18-30 record with three games left in January. They won a total of 20 last season. With so many players down early, many worried the Nets would be even worse than the initial expectations on them. In large part due to Dinwiddie, they’ve come through the storm and sit 6.5 games back.
Suddenly, a rising star is in the making. The kid they picked over Yogi Ferrell – and caught flack for – is proving that he’s a starter in this league. Fans started a Spencer Dinwiddie All-Star vote campaign on Twitter as somewhat of a goof, but then people started taking it serious. He finished 15th in voting among guards. Pretty impressive for somebody who was in the D-League 14 months back.
As for the player Lowe said the Nets needed to use as a model, Green is still contributing to the Spurs. The Long Island product is averaging 8.5 points a game, starting all 38 Spurs game and still putting up big numbers from deep, nearly 40 percent for his career, nearly 38 percent this season. It’s that long-term success with a contender that Dinwiddie will have to match to make the comparison complete.
Still, like Green, Dinwiddie’s proven that ups and downs can’t break somebody if they stay persistent. In Green’s case, he’s lucky the Spurs took a shot on him. In Dinwiddie’s case, he’s lucky the Nets took a chance on him.
The rest is their own doing. Also, it didn’t hurt that Marks had seen Green’s development as an assistant GM and assistant coach of the Spurs, winning a ring as coach the same year Green won as a player.
Lowe’s subtle, yet loud statement wasn’t a mistake or a coincidence. Like he said, he was working. The Nets felt strongly about Dinwiddie from day one and it’s paying off. He has exemplified everything they’re trying to make of the limited resources they have.
The best part about it: He isn’t Danny Green. He’s Spencer Dinwiddie.