Spencer Dinwiddie sits in front of his locker with a plate of watermelon in late October. He might be nervous, but you’d never tell by looking at him.
The Nets were set to face off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dinwiddie was about to start for the first time last season, nearly 11 months after the Nets plucked him from the G League.
I asked the 24-year-old if he had any extra nerves going up against the NBA’s best after an up-and-down start to his career. He told me, “I don’t wake up when we play LeBron or anybody and say, ‘oh wow this is crazier than my wildest dreams.’”
That night Spencer Dinwiddie became a name in the NBA. The Nets and Cavs were in a tightly contested game when Dinwiddie hit what would be the game-winning shot with 44 seconds left. He finished with 22 points.
A (Nets) star was born. D’Angelo Russell got hurt after the twelfth game of the season and the Nets were left with Dinwiddie at the point. He started 58 games and averaged 12.6 points and 6.6 assists in less than 29 minutes per game, exceeding all expectations he had entering the season.
“I don’t think anybody had any expectations for me before the season. So, anything that was a net positive was going to exceed the expectations,” he told NetsDaily. “You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I was necessarily penciled in to play more than 15 minutes [per game]. I’m sure I disappointed people to some extent in certain situations, but that’s all part of the growth.”
Dinwiddie’s role entering the season was uncertain. He had a non-guaranteed contract coming in and he was playing behind Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. Both got hurt and the opportunity was his.
“I like to fancy myself as the hardest worker in the league, so the point guard situation never changed my approach. I work towards becoming great and leading a team to the championship one day. Look, I know I’m not there yet, whether it was before the season or after the season, so I’ll be working towards that goal,” he said.
He may not have achieved his ultimate goal just yet and understandably so, considering he just turned 25, but he showed that he’s a capable starting point guard in the league. He wasn’t the flashiest player, but he came in and orchestrated the offense better than any other point guard on Brooklyn’s roster.
Some would say he essentially saved the season from complete and utter disaster. Don’t forget last season. The Nets lost both of their point guards – Lin and Greivis Vasquez – for an extended period of time. They won 20 games with rookie Isaiah Whitehead starting 26 games.
Given Dinwiddie’s contract situation, his long-term future in Brooklyn is a known unknown but he knows where he wants to be. He’s said several times that he’s fully indebted to Brooklyn because he appreciates the values of the coaching staff and organization as a whole.
“The coaching staff has been first-class and this has been the best organization I’ve been on to date,” Dinwiddie, a veteran of the Pistons and Bulls organization, told us. “They really pay attention to development, they inspire confidence and try to build for the future. It’s just nice to have that tenor and positive work environment.”
“I certainly hope I’m helping [build the culture]. They talk about hard work, development, high character, and those are things people associate with me. I would hope I exemplified some of those traits.”
The question is whether the Nets feel the same, and if they do, is he worth the money? He will be guaranteed the full vets minimum of $1.52 million, whereas next year, he will have a similar arrangement, getting $250,000 when he makes the team. He will make $1.6 million next season once he gets past cutdown day.
On December 8, 2018 he will be eligible to have his contract extended for a total of four years, but the Nets would be limited to paying him 120 percent above the average player salary... a little more than $40 million over four years. Do they pay him the big bucks or try and get value for him? They could have four players who can play the point heading into next season.
His numbers tell the story. He finished second in the NBA for assists-to-turnover ratio at 4.1 – one spot behind Darren Collison who was at 4.3. He also finished seventh in the NBA for total assists while averaging just 28.8 minutes per game. If it weren’t for Victor Oladipo, Dinwiddie would probably have a legitimate shot at the Most Improved Player award.
All in all, he was probably Brooklyn’s most improved player, among many others, and he was probably their most valuable player considering how he stepped up.
He became a fan favorite early in the season and the love kept building. His humble yet smart-guy attitude was displayed through his interaction with fans on social media. That made him even more likable. Then, he won the Skills Competition during All-Star weekend, which gave Nets fans something to brag about.
And he wasn’t wrong about fitting the criteria that Brooklyn looks for in players.
Spencer Dinwiddie IS everything the Brooklyn Nets want to be about. Zach Lowe said berfore the season that the Nets needed him to become something like Danny Green and he did… in his own way. He developed from a G-League player to system-fit. In terms of character – they really don’t come much better. And more importantly, his production was the result of the hard work he put in.
If the Nets do not pay him, somebody else will.
“I tell you what. I said this earlier: That’s the best bargain in this league,” said Raptors coach Dwyane Casey. “That young man has really improved his game. Like I tell young players all the time, he’s taking advantage of an opportunity.”
Casey isn’t wrong, as this compilation of his best moments shows.
Next season? We’ll just have to wait.