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FILM STUDY: The case for keeping Spencer Dinwiddie

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Matt Brooks, the film study MACHINE, is out with another look at a Nets mainstay, this time Spencer Dinwiddie who he thinks should be retained. Damn the trade rumors!

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Spencer Dinwiddie is no better a man than you or I. He passes time scrolling through Twitter, trolling the trolls like a digital Robin Hood, and giving us famished sports fans someone to relate to (or antagonize) during this strange period of quarantined living.

For as busy as he’s been since the NBA season officially postponed on March 11th, his interweb shenanigans hide the underlying yet inescapable truth: Like many of his Nets brethren, Spencer Dinwiddie’s tenure in Biggie’s borough is held in a balance.

“I believe (the Nets) have telegraphed they intend to use some of their young talent to acquire a third star along with Kyrie and Durant,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst stated on his podcast The Hoop Collective back on March 30th. Presumably, a capable point guard like Spencer Dinwiddie would be one hell of a surefire way for the Nets to slide a foot or two in the door in any starry deal.

Of course, Windhorst was merely officiating what’s already been said in a near-excess; to a growing number of fans and analysts alike, completion of this prestigious championship core will occur the moment that Sean Marks takes his many appealing young chips, compiles them together, and pushes them center table, going “all in” for that prodigal third star –– the folklore of this Brooklyn Nets offseason. After all, we live in a league where 3’s > 2’s, so who’s to say that can’t apply to starry cores?

More than aware of the allure of that fabled trinity in Brooklyn, Spencer –– conscious as they come –– broke the social media fourth wall, commenting on one of the biggest talking points within any and all Brooklyn Nets communities… #BradBeal2BKN.

What’s lost in all of the transactional pish posh is the value in retaining a player of Dinwiddie’s caliber. Should Kyrie Irving miss time with another injury (or perhaps some “load management”), Spencer is more than capable of picking up the slack in Irving’s absence; he’s a starting-caliber floor general who has generously made himself into an elite 6th-man, rising to the occasion of running the show when called upon by his Brooklyn Nets.

Which, fittingly enough, is exactly what he did during this now-shortened 2019-2020 NBA season. With Irving available for just 20 of the Nets 64 total games, and with Caris LeVert missing time early on, Dinwiddie was given no other choice but to become the sole practitioner of any and all Brooklyn offense, setting career-highs in points (20.6), assists (6.8), rebounds (3.5) and minutes per game (31.2), nearly landing him a spot on the 2020 All-Star roster. It’s worth mentioning, as things tend to go with dramatic increases in volume, Dinwiddie also saw his efficiencies decline from last season (44.2 percent from the field, 33.5 percent from three) to now (41.5 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from deep). Though again, you can chalk that up to Dinwiddie largely being on his own this season (apologies due to makeshift December second-option, Joe Harris).

At this point, what Dinwiddie is on the offensive end is largely a known commodity. Blessed with impressive measurables –– 6’6” in bare feet plus a 6’8.5” wingspan –– at the lead-guard position, and with a tight handle and slippery first-step, the fulcrum of Dinwiddie’s offensive package naturally comes out of the downhill setting. Should matchups scramble and the University of Colorado product cross paths with a favorable switch, Dinwiddie can eagerly roast his defender with a 68th-percentile one-on-one gamesmanship. While most of you may identify the defender in the clip below as the CelticsEnes Kanter, Dinwiddie instead sees a delicious piece of Turkish delight standing in his path as he gobbles up two easy points at the cup after a series of jab-steps in the left corner.

With a shifty hesitation game, as good of a crossover as you’ll see in this league, jab-steps in bunches like a mid-2000’s B-Boy dancer, and a nifty portfolio of scoop layups, up-and-unders and other crafty at-rim finishes, Dinwiddie’s ability to combine and alternate all of the moves listed strikes fear in the heart of any defense. Once he finds that first step on the drive, there’s a 61.3 percent chance that points WILL be scored on the opposing basket in some shape or form (per NBA stats).

Adding an on-ball screen to the picture only provides Dinwiddie with another means to build counters. Perhaps my favorite aspect of Spencer’s half-court game is his tendency to zoom to the basket before the screen is set. In the clip below, notice how Dinwiddie quickly sniffs out Andrew Wiggins lazily trailing behind Garrett Temple in this guard-guard pick-and-roll set. By speeding downhill prematurely, Spencer catches Wiggins well behind the play with his pants at his ankles, his feet crossing like subway lines, on this sudden –– and unexpected –– switch at the elbow.

As one of the nine-best screen-and-roll scorers in this league, Dinwiddie’s perception precedes him in a sense, and double-teams converge subconsciously the second he appears to make his move on the go, giving the 27-year-old ample windows of opportunity to involve his bigs with an everlasting loop of alley-oops.

Dinwiddie’s playmaking ability in the screen game stems beyond just simple point-blank dimes to the bigs. He’s a heady skip-passer, who routinely dished gorgeous strong-hand hook-assists to Brooklyn’s corner snipers.

Even though he’s by no means a great defender (nor even a good one, at that), he did take a slight leap compared to last season. Dinwiddie’s defensive RPM rose from -3.21 (506th out of all 514 NBA players who qualified) in 2018-2019 to a -0.92 DRPM this season –– basically the difference between Lou Williams and Steph Curry as overall defenders. Perhaps with a reduced role on offense, Dinwiddie can continue to apply himself on the other end of the floor, busting over the top of screens with more regularity (a MASSIVE pain-point for Dinwiddie a season ago)…

…and utilizing that aforementioned wingspan and stature to guard a variety of offensive players. Room for improvement is a good thing, and it reflects Dinwiddie’s still-very-tangible upside as a defender.

Of course, when looking at his immediate future in Brooklyn, Dinwiddie faces the same daunting questions as the rest of his Brooklyn teammates. Does he fit seamlessly next to the stars? And, more importantly, can he and the hometown hero –– Kyrie Irving –– co-exist?

As mentioned before, in order for the Nets to finagle their way into third-star discussions, Brooklyn must part with one –– if not both –– of their talented younger guards, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. The general consensus is that LeVert is the one to retain because of his palpable star power, defensive integrity, and frictionless ego. It also helps that he, um, doesn’t overlap positionally with Kyrie. And yet…

I’m here to argue the contrary.

Though the samples were limited due to Irving’s tumultuous season, two-man lineup data yielded notable findings. In the 305 total minutes they shared on the court, Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie accounted for a tremendous 117 points scored per 100 possessions and allowed a solid 110 points per 100 on the other end of the court (about league average), culminating to a net-rating of +7.

Irving and LeVert, on the other hand, were far from prolific as a duo in their 284 shared minutes, scoring a miniscule 105.4 points per 100 possessions and allowing a disastrous 116.1 points per 100, producing a -10.7 net-rating. (For context, the league’s 29th ranked offense [Chicago] scored at a rate of 105.8 points per 100 possessions, and the league’s absolute worst defense [Washington] allowed 115 points per 100. So yeah, pretty effin’ awful stuff from LeVert and Irving in their limited sample.)

Looking beyond the advanced numbers, NBA’s tracking data points us toward similar findings. As a catch-and-shoot marksmen, Dinwiddie had himself a strong season from behind the arc, connecting on 53 of his 142 total looks off the catch (37.3 percent). LeVert, meanwhile, was far less imposing, canning just 31.9 percent of his 69 total catch-and-release threes.

As detailed in a Trending Up, Trending Down column from earlier in the season, Dinwiddie and Irving showcased immediate familiarity within the half-court setting, with Dinwiddie curling around screens like a goateed-version of Joe Harris. Once again, a hat tip to NBA’s tracking library for this one: Off passes from Kyrie Irving, Dinwiddie shot an astounding 13-of-29 from deep –– good for 44.8 percent. This stagger screen set (known around the league as “away”) was a staple for Brooklyn’s idiosyncratic backcourt.

I’ve already expressed some doubt about LeVert’s ability to slot next to Kyrie Irving; his three-point numbers –– as impressive as they may appear on the surface –– were bloated by a boatload of variable pull-up threes, and I fear that his iffy catch-and-shoot numbers may be a better indication of LeVert’s abilities as an outside shooter (you can read more about that topic here). Finding guys who insulate the all-world scoring talents of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant should be of the utmost importance for general manager Sean Marks this summer.

If Spencer Dinwiddie can fully commit himself to a more spot-up-heavy role, the numbers suggest he may be a feasible fit next to the “Clean Sweep” duo. Withdrawing a bit on offense should, ideally, maintain energy and focus for application on defense, and given his impressive measurables, there is a chance he can survive at the two-guard next to Irving in certain lineups.

Of course, “if” is doing a whole heck of a lot in this equation. Accepting a role as an ancillary piece is a big ask for a guy who rescued the Nets from surefire hell during this 2019-2020 season. (Seriously, where would the Nets be had it not been for Dinwiddie’s incredible December run?). His ego must suddenly cater to his superego after years of pleasing his id; a sudden evolution will be asked from Dinwiddie –– an overnight transformation from near-All-Star hero to supplementary worker bee. No longer will Dinwiddie enjoy free reign in the offense, chucking any shot he may choose (29.4 percent on step-back threes just isn’t going to cut it!). He’ll be looked at as an off-ball spacer next to the stars… a mid-inning reliever while playing with the reserves, knifing down driving lanes like a battering ram in the noble pursuit of uber-efficient basketball.

What got him here no longer matters. Now it’s about conforming to the demands of title contention. We’re asking a lot from Spencer Dinwiddie. For most guys of his caliber, those asks would prove to be too much.

But I’m willing to believe he’s got what it takes.