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Spencer Dinwiddie Tribute Post: When things get tough, Brooklyn Nets rely on their rock

Players go down, come back, but Spencer Dinwiddie has been the backcourt rock this season.

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Too often, Nets fans have taken Spencer Dinwiddie for granted, both now and when he was on his first tour with Brooklyn. The 6’6” combo guard has filled so many roles since joining the team in 2016, whether a development piece his first two years, a great fill-in during Kyrie Irving’s first, injury-filled season in 2019-20 or now as the guy who carries the team in often overlooked ways while teammates recover from all sorts of maladies. You can even make the argument that if he didn’t go down with a knee injury after three games in 2020-21, the Nets trophy case might have been fuller by now.

Smart, hard-working and with the wisdom that comes from a varied career, Dinwiddie is once again contributing in a number of ways. This year, just being a stable, consistent force has been hugely valuable to Jacque Vaughn. His stats only show one aspect of his value. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds with shooting splits of 41/35/80. But as Vaughn will tell you, that’s only the starting point (pun intended.)

“The human brain loves consistency, and he’s been able to have a consistent role going into every game. I’ll take the blame for the way our team is constructed, the versatility,” Vaughn admitted. “Some nights the roles would change and he was [impacted] in a bad way by some of that change on a nightly basis.

“But I give Spencer a huge amount of credit for sticking with me and sticking with us and knowing that he’s such a proven veteran in our league that we’d need him in some sort of capacity that might look different at the beginning of the year. I encouraged him to stay with us, we’ll figure this thing out … and now he’s in a really consistent role on a nightly basis.”

Moreover, Dinwiddie has missed only one game this season, back on November 1 which for the Nets backcourt is an extraordinary feat. Ben Simmons has played only six games, missing 13 so far and unlikely to be seen till near Christmas, Cam Thomas has missed nine, Dennis Smith Jr. seven. Lonnie Walker IV is now out for a minimum of seven with a hamstring issue. Overall, the Nets have not a clean injury report once this season as they prepare to play their 20th game. It’s been that bad.

As Brian Lewis writes Wednesday, Dinwiddie hasn’t just filled in. He’s excelled.

Through his first nine games, Dinwiddie averaged a modest 10.7 points and 4.8 assists, a plus-28 with just one 20-point performance.

But with the Nets shorthanded, he’s poured in 19.7 points and 8.2 assists over his last six with four 20-point outings and a plus-72 that ranked second in the NBA.

In the 11 games since Simmons went down, Dinwiddie’s 3.68 assist-to-turnover ratio was fifth among players who had averaged at least 30 minutes, the free agent-to-be only boosting his stock.

Dinwiddie says it’s all about his teammates.

“Credit to my teammates. We all have a next-man-up mentality and everybody does a good job of filling in for guys that are out,” said the 30-year-old. “We’re hopeful Ben comes back soon, because obviously we’re a better team at full health.”

He also admits that he takes pride in his role.

“Anything in life, if you’re dedicated to it and open and humble enough for it, then you learn and you evolve with every experience,” he added. “It’s like a little baby computer: It’s going to take in information and try to continue to learn and grow. Just wisdom of age, right?”

Dinwiddie of course was away from Brooklyn for two years, traded to Washington in a complicated sign-and-trade deal in August 2021, then returning in the Kyrie Irving deal at the deadline in February ... the interim not exactly filled with stability.

He likes what he sees from this year’s Nets despite the injuries, the tough schedule, the fallout from KD and Kyrie. It reminds of him of the 2018-19 Nets who after some tough times early went on a run that defined the season.

“This reminds me of when we were 8-18 in 2018, and went on that 9-1 streak and ended up making the playoffs,” Dinwiddie said of the Nets turnaround that ironically came at this point of the season.

“During that 9-1 streak, the plus-minus and the impact on the game and … the advanced stats pointed to somebody having an extreme impact on that 10-game stretch, even though sometimes we have revisionist history on that season and what saved that season. So it looks very familiar to that.

“But this is a collective effort and we’re excited to be able to be in the hunt, be in the fight with everybody that’s been hurt.”

A run like that now would be a big deal for an organization in a modified limit rebuild. The Nets have won four of their last five, blowing out the streaking Orlando Magic three days ago. It would also be a big deal for Dinwiddie who will be a free agent come July. He’s eligible for a four year, $128 million deal but that is highly, highly unlikely. Lewis reports, “the feeling in league circles is he could exceed Josh Hart’s four years and $81 million.”

Re-signing Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton might not be realistic. The Nets do not want to cross the luxury tax threshold next season and face the financial and flexibility issues the repeater tax would bring in 2025, a big year for free agency. But at this point, there can’t be many in the organization who don’t believe he deserves it.