The Brooklyn Nets returned to practice this week, and on Wednesday spoke to the media for the first time since the end of All-Star Weekend.
No Net had a better Weekend than Spencer Dinwiddie, who won the Skills Challenge on Saturday in Los Angeles, near his hometown of Woodland Hills.
Moving forward, he may be paired with a former California resident, D’Angelo Russell, more often than we’ve seen at any point this season. So says Kenny Atkinson.
“I think you’ve noticed we’ve started to do it more, get a sample size” said Russell. “I think it’s something similar to Jeremy (Lin) and D’Angelo in the beginning. I do like that. I do like having two guards that can really handle the ball. Now, you’ve got to look at the other pieces and how they fit. Someone’s got to be out. One of our good wing players has got to be out if they’re going to play. Or we go super small; that’s another way. Figuring that puzzle out is a challenge.”
Atkinson added that we should “expect to see more of that,” without further detail. Still, Dinwiddie likes what he hears.
“Assuming that his minutes go up, I would certainly hope so,” said Dinwiddie regarding whether or not he expects to play more with Russell. “Because if not (laughing), then that means I ain’t playing. Remember, when he was doing his thing killing in the first part of the season, I was on the bench, bruh. Now he’s been finding his rhythm and stuff, and it’s been after a pretty lengthy absence because of his injury. I’m not surprised by that at all.”
As for Russell, when asked if he expects to play with Dinwiddie more, he says he has no idea.
“Like I said previously, that’s for coach to make [that decision],” he said Wednesday. “I have no idea, I’m new as well. So it’s my first time trying to figure that out too. So like I said, that’s a job for coach has to make happen. I’ll go out there and do what he says.”
In order for Dinwiddie and Russell to play more together, something has to give. Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, or a Nets big, like Jarrett Allen, may have to sit in favor of a ‘small’ line-up. That might not be great. Crabbe, for example, has averaged 37 minutes a game over the last four games, the best such stretch of his career.
Atkinson doesn’t think that it would affect player morale that it wouldn’t be an issue. But finding the balance remains an ongoing mystery for the Nets, who have been hammered with injuries and in search of a happy and correct medium.
“We have great guys. I think we have the type of guys whoever you ask they’re going to do what’s best for the team,” he said. “There’s no ‘Oh man, we can’t bring this guy off the bench.’ Like, whatever we ask they’ll do. And my high school coach always said it’s not who starts it’s who finishes. That’s a real important one to me. Because whoever starts out of all those guys, wings, D’Angelo and Spencer, they end up getting their minutes, just in a different way. We’re just trying to figure out what’s the best way to basically manipulate the lineups throughout a game.”
Russell also needs to find his rhythm, and earlier in his media session, Atkinson said the former Los Angeles Laker is “starting to round into form” and that he “doesn’t think (Russell’s) at peak level yet.”
So where is Russell? Still adjusting. Adjusting to life off the bench, a role that, at least for now, he’s willing to handle.
“Players in the league, who have that sixth man role, every team they are on, if you throw them into the starting lineup, that would probably mess their whole rhythm up,” he said, comparing his sixth man situation to others around the league. “Then you got guys who are just starting players, but it’s best for them to come off the bench – (Manu) Ginobili is a guy they always talk about. Whatever the role is, I feel like the sooner you figure out what your role in this league is, the easier it’ll be.”
Dinwiddie also lent voice to Atkinson’s comment that Russell needs to re-gain his rhythm, expressing what he’s seen from afar. Or, in his case, from up close.
“I think obviously the first part of the season is more indicative of what type of player he is,” Dinwiddie said, exuding optimism in Russell. “When you miss 40 games, 30 games or something like that, you’re gonna have some of that up and down because you’re trying to find yourself, find your rhythm, a team has been running a certain way in your absence because they’ve had to and now the team has to adjust. It wasn’t like it’s a two-game thing, it was half the season.
“All of that is a growth process,” continued the Skills Challenge champion. “It’s something that he’s going through and we’re all going through but you can’t get worst by adding more talent. We look forward to finding that balance of him finding his rhythm completely. I think every single game when you sit down and watch the film, there are things where you say ‘oh okay, he’s getting that step there,’ or ‘oh okay, he’s seeing that pass there,’ or ‘oh okay, he’s getting that shot off there.’ It’s every single game. Sometimes it shows in the box score and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The Nets are hoping it shows in the win column.