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Spencer Dinwiddie stealing the show as the lead act - a breakdown of his improved play

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Behind a stat-sheet stuffing 32-points, 11-assists, 5-rebounds, 2-steals, and 2-blocks, Spencer Dinwiddie masterfully out-dueled All-Star Kemba Walker and the Boston Celtics on Black Friday in Brooklyn, leading the Nets to their sixth victory in their last eight games.

Being successful in the lead role has become commonplace for Dinwiddie as of late. While Kyrie Irving has missed the last eight games for Brooklyn, Dinwiddie has stepped up, amassing averages of 24.5-points, 7.8-assists, 3.0 rebounds on 42/34/93 shooting splits. He has been magnificent, even being rewarded with the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week last Monday, culminating the day (his father’s birthday) with a game-winning jumper in Cleveland. Most importantly, of course, Dinwiddie’s strong play has contributed to winning, leading the Nets to a 6-2 record over the eight game span, albeit against a softer schedule.

Dinwiddie is currently averaging 20.2 points per game for the season, a career-high. While much of his inflated numbers can be contributed to simply having a higher usage rate with Irving and Caris LeVert on the shelf, there is at least one area of Dinwiddie’s game where he has made a noteworthy leap.

Dinwiddie is averaging a career-high 6.3 free throw attempts per game and 7.5 attempts as a starter. That 6.3 attempts from the stripe per game rank 13th in the NBA and his 7.5 mark as a starter would sit 8th, only behind James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, and Damian Lillard. Nice company.

So what has led to the rise in Dinwiddie’s free throw attempts?

His percentage of shots within 10 feet remain relatively identical to last years. Last season Dinwiddie took 45.9 percent of his shots from less than 10 feet. This season, that number has only risen to 47.3 percent, not a huge difference.

Dinwiddie believes much of his new elite skill has come from finally receiving the respect he deserves from the officials ... or at least some of it.

With Iman Shumpert jokingly congratulating his teammate for securing eight free throw attempts, Dinwiddie told NetsDaily:

“Yeah, probably a little more respect quite honestly. I mean when you got max players, stuff like that, it changes the tenor of the team. Being a team that’s supposed to win. Last couple of years, I’ve been driving the ball quite a bit, so it’s definitely nice to go to the free throw line. Thank you refs, I appreciate, y’all.”

At 6’6’ (in sneakers) and possessing top-end speed, Dinwiddie is an NBA-elite driver, according to Kenny Atkinson. In fact, over the years, Atkinson has implored Dinwiddie to drive even more, often joking about how much he despises Dinwiddie’s step-back three’s as an alternative.

Despite a 6-for-8 showing from deep against Boston, Dinwiddie by his own admission has been struggling from 3-point range this season:

“I actually haven’t shot the three better than I did to start last year. So that’s something I’d like to do better.”

In spite of his overall 31.6 percent (34 percent as a starter) shooting from behind the arc, Dinwiddie has been able to remain relatively efficient because of his heightened free throw rate and a career-high percentage from the line of 86.7 percent (a staggering 93 percent as a starter.)

Dinwiddie sports a 55.7 percent true shooting percentage, which incorporates free throw attempts and accuracy as part of its calculation. While a 55.7 percent TS percentage isn’t great, it’s very respectable for a perimeter player of Dinwiddie’s usage level. Dinwiddie’s TS percentage is higher than many notable players including Kawhi Leonard, Ben Simmons, Lou Williams, Zach LaVine, Blake Griffin, and Donovan Mitchell.

Nothing in Dinwiddie’s analytics suggests that he can’t maintain this level of play. His improved play is very much simply about a greater opportunity and higher usage level.

Perhaps most importantly, Dinwiddie’s coaches and teammates have the utmost confidence in him.

Jarrett Allen said of Dinwiddie: “He’s super-talented, he’s super-skilled, he’s super-athletic. I think (his performance against Boston) could be a normal night for him.”

On what has changed for Dinwiddie this season, Atkinson added:

“He’s more confident. He didn’t know how good he was. I think his confidence is just growing... he’s playing as good as anybody in the NBA right now, in my humble opinion.”

And his respect among officials —his numbers plus the “sexiness” of his personality around the league — should only continue to blossom as the Nets improve, re-integrate Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Kevin Durant, and garner more national television time, as Dinwiddie noted.

In fact, if Dinwiddie continues this level of play, or something close to it, there’s a reasonable chance he could represent the Nets, along with Irving, at the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago, where he’s also likely to defend the 2018 Skills Challenge Championship that he didn’t get the opportunity to do last season. He was out with a thumb injury.

The highly refined cache of “Spencer Dinwiddie” would resonate by leaps and bounds if he’s able to represent Brooklyn as an All-Star in the city of a team that gave up on him.

Thank you, Chicago, by the way!

But that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves. For the time being, Nets fans are simply enjoying the brilliance of Dinwiddie.

When Irving returns, which should be soon, the question will be: can the Nets two showstoppers share the spotlight? There were, you may recall, similar questions regarding D’Angelo Russell and Dinwiddie at the beginning of last season.

Early indications are that it should work ... just as it did last season. Two-man lineups with Irving and Dinwiddie have outscored opponents by 7.6 points, the fourth best Nets two-man combination of duos that have played at least 100 minutes together.

Taking into account their skill-sets and analyzing the statistics, there’s no reason Dinwiddie and Irving shouldn’t be able to operate as “Portland East.”

Injuries and adversity often help illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of a roster for a coach over the course of a season. Rotations are crafted, opportunities come (and go), and the cream rises to the top. Dinwiddie has proven he’s a major part of the Nets; currently their second best player. For the Nets to maximize their potential this season, they’ll have to find a way to keep Dinwiddie playing like this when Irving returns.

Brooklyn’s Backcourt™ keeps getting more dangerous.