All the sudden, Spencer Dinwiddie’s the best sixth man in the NBA.
His routine is largely the same: He still drinks his smoothies, showers before games and has watermelon juice at halftime when the Nets are at home.
But there’s something new. He’s become the destroyer of games.
Coming off the bench and being summoned as the team’s ‘go-to’ guy is now who he is.
Last year he was doing it as a starter when Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell went down to significant injuries, and reverted back to the bench after the All-Star break, when Russell got back up to speed.
Being a reliable get-hot-in-a- spot crunch time performer requires adjustment and intense study.
Dinwiddie – who has only started three of his 36 games played this season – examines his opponents like a high level boxer.
Are opponents blitzing when ball-handlers come off screens? Are big men dropping when the Nets run their pick-and-roll sets? Are they looking to double or trap near the baseline? All in the pace of the game.
And as a result, Dinwiddie has become the team’s Terence Crawford, improving with each round, each rep, and getting in the final shot when his opponents award the opening.
But again, this is all while coming off the bench.
“It’s a real luxury,” remarked head coach Kenny Atkinson when asked of Dinwiddie’s importance before playing the Indiana Pacers on December 21. “He’s basically a sixth starter when you think about the minutes he plays, the important minutes he plays, he’s in at the end of the game. He’s playing really good basketball.”
Atkinson’s said in the past that Dinwiddie’s unwillingness to accept a role off the bench after starting last season affected him down the 2017-18 stretch, where his numbers dropped off, as did his minutes. This season, Atkinson – who added that it may have been a failure on his part to define Dinwiddie’s role better – believes the change is his sixth man buying in.
“You just do whatever is best for the team and try to figure it out,” Dinwiddie told NetsDaily after recording 37 points, 11 assists and one turnover in 41 minutes on Wednesday, where the Nets outlasted the Charlotte Hornets in double overtime. Dinwiddie had 20 points and seven assists between the fourth quarter and the two overtime periods alone.
“If I was focused on, ‘oh man, I’m not starting,’ then all that negative energy and that other stuff has an adverse effect. There’s no reason for me to do that. If my focus was there, maybe I don’t play well and maybe we don’t win the game. So I don’t worry about it.”
In 29 minutes per contest, Dinwiddie is now averaging a team-high 18.1 points and 5.3 assists per game, while shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from three and 78.6 percent from the line.
Since LeVert’s injury on November 12, Dinwiddie has elevated to 30.5 minutes per game, posting 20.8 points and 6.0 assists, while hitting 47.1 percent on field goals, 36.1 percent on three’s and 78 percent on free throws.
All – except for three games – while coming off the bench. No one in the league has better numbers including big games like 37 vs. Charlotte and 39 vs. Philly.
“I think any time you are considering a guy as Sixth Man, he’s coming off the bench, providing a lot for your team,” said Pacer head coach Nate McMillan before snapping the Nets’ eight-game winning streak on December 21.
McMillan has his own Sixth Man of the Year Candidate, Domantas Sabonis, who is currently averaging 14.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists off Indy’s bench.
“That’s what both of these guys are doing, providing scoring,” McMillan added of Dinwiddie and Sabonis. “For us, rebounding, defending, somewhat of an energy as a guy who facilitates and creates things for us. That’s what Sabonis does.
“Dinwiddie is coming in and putting up points and giving them that energy in that second group that you need. You need a balance. You have a first unit. You need a second unit that can keep things even or bring even more production, and those guys are capable of helping second units do that.”
On November 17, Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers also discussed the importance of the role. Having coached previous award winners Jamal Crawford and now Lou Williams, Rivers knows plenty, even as he joked about not coming off the bench or being a scorer for most of his 13-year NBA playing career.
“Offensively, I don’t know how any of those guys do it,” he told reporters with a laugh before the Clippers played the Nets at Barclays later that evening. “They come in and they’re hot, I don’t know how you could do that when you’ve been sitting for that long.”
Again, for Dinwiddie, it was mental preparation, above all else.
“Obviously our line-ups have jumped around a little bit this year and so, we’re finding a little bit of consistency and there’s a lot of factors to it, but coming into the year I was already mentally prepared to be a sixth man or off the bench or whatever you want to call it. I knew it was coming,” he said.
“It wasn’t like last year where I thought I might be playing spot minutes behind (Lin) and (Russell), trying to fight for my life and figure it out. And then, ‘Oh, now I’m a starter, I’m rolling.’ I’m thinking, ‘I’m used to this, I’m feeling this, I’m doing 50, 60 games of this, and then it’s like, ‘Alright, now switch back.’
“This time, I knew coming in that I was going to be coming off the bench. It was pretty obvious, and then, playing with Ed Davis, I got accustomed to how he played. It means I have to be more of a scorer instead of how I play with J.A. (Jarrett Allen), there are a lot more lobs to the rim. I just come in, try to be hyper-aggressive, drive the ball and figure it out.”
As a result of his play, Dinwiddie is building an All-Star caliber season, in a year where many expected a drop-off from last year’s surprise.
And while he does feel that he’s All-Star worthy, he doesn’t expect to be included in the popularity contest.
“Look man, I’ll take it. It ain’t like I don’t want to be, you feel what I’m saying? Do I think I’ll be an All-Star? Nah, man. It’s a popularity contest. They’ve got Kyrie (Irving) Kemba (Walker), Kyle Lowry all in the East,” he told NetsDaily.
“In terms of a popularity contest, I ain’t gonna win that, you feel what I’m saying? In terms of how I feel, I’ve told you before. Every night, when I step on the floor for 48 minutes, I feel like I’m the best player on the floor. That’s what it is. I don’t care if it’s Eli (Pearlstein of the Nets public relations staff), wonderful media personnel or LeBron James out there. That’s just how I feel. It is what it is. But I understand it’s unlikely I’ll win a popularity contest so I’m not going to be too deflated when/if I get selected to the All-Star Game.”
So, hey, you never know. Plus, if the Nets pile up more victories, Dinwiddie should like his chances a bit more.