Despite multiple injuries, the Brooklyn Nets are starting to find a rhythm and Spencer Dinwiddie is at the epicenter of that success.
NEW YORK, NY—The Brooklyn Nets, somehow, someway have managed to claw back to a .500 record despite Kyrie Irving’s prolonged absence and Caris LeVert’s recent surgery. With both teams a little banged up, Spencer Dinwiddie stepped to the forefront.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson can’t say enough about the way Dinwiddie is playing. He is the engine for Brooklyn right now and he came up with all the big plays needed to dispatch the New York Knicks. The victory was the fourth in five games for Brooklyn and coincidentally, Dinwiddie started all five of those contests.
“Difference maker right now. They were double-teaming him all night,” Atkinson said after the game. “Credit to them, I would have done the same thing. They did a good job getting it out, exploiting the mismatch. What he’s also doing, he’s doing on both ends. He’s doing on the defensive end too, he’s playing really good basketball.”
Free throws were the most glaring difference in this game. The Nets were 27-for-34 from the charity stripe while the New York Knicks finished 9-for-16. It was an obvious win condition in a two-point victory and Dinwiddie was in the middle of it all. In fact, the Brooklyn point guard went 13-for-14 from the free-throw line by himself.
Dinwiddie does a great job at drawing out contact from defenders and that was on full display against the struggling Knicks.
“I think the biggest stat that really hurt us was the touch fouls and putting them on the line,” Knicks head coach David Fizdale said.
Dinwiddie’s primary defender, Frank Ntilikina, did a decent job, but the Knicks employed a switch-heavy style of defense that breeds mismatches.
“Frank is a phenomenal defender. He makes it as tough as the elite guys in the league; he’s in that class,” Dinwiddie told reporters after the game. “I was able to shoot a lot of free throws, attack in transition. It’s not like I had 30 on Frank.”
But when push came to shove, Ntilikina couldn’t stop Dinwiddie.
This play illustrated how great of a scorer Spencer Dinwiddie is. Isolated against a capable defender in Frank Ntilikina, with the game hanging in the balance, he got to the spot, showcased elite footwork and finished when the Nets needed a basket. pic.twitter.com/CDr7mLwU67
— Nolan Jensen (@N_Jensen95) November 25, 2019
Scoring and free throws aren’t the only areas where Dinwiddie excels. He chipped in with four rebounds and four assists without a single turnover. His familiarity with Brooklyn’s offense has made for a smooth transition from the leader of the second-unit to the focal point of the starting five.
“The role just changes, like an amoeba. Sometimes its defense, sometimes it’s going to be scoring,” Dinwiddie said. “Obviously, my usage rate is probably through the roof right now because Kyrie and them are out and Caris and obviously the monster [Kevin Durant] is going to be back probably next season. For now, my job is to do this it will shift when they get back.”
Of course, the Nets are a better team with Irving in the lineup. That much is indisputable. But that doesn’t change the fact that Dinwiddie is taking his game to another level in the absence of his All-NBA teammate. Since joining the starting group, he’s averaging 25.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game.
“He’s been big,” center Jarrett Allen said of Dinwiddie. “He’s had a couple of 20-point games these last couple of games. He’s just keeping the energy high for everybody.”
Although he’s not shooting the ball well from three-point range, he’s offsetting some of that inconsistency by—you guessed it—getting to the free-throw line. He’s averaging 9.4 free throws per game over the last five games and converting those attempts at a 93.6% clip.
It’s going to be tough for Brooklyn to sustain this level of winning with Dinwiddie in the starting lineup. That has nothing to do with his play and everything to do with the lack of scoring punch on the second unit.
Atkinson is favoring a nine-man rotation at the moment, but there isn’t much offense checking in off the bench. Dzanan Musa, DeAndre Jordan, Theo Pinson, and Iman Shumpert combined to score 16 points against the Knicks.
The eventual returns of Irving and LeVert will help bolster the depth and ensure that Atkinson always has one or two of the Irving-Dinwiddie-LeVert trio on the court at all times.
Until then, the outspoken point guard will have to continue to shoulder a heavy load for Brooklyn. Entering Monday’s slate of games, the Nets are 8-8 and in seventh place in the horrid Eastern Conference.
The win on Sunday kicked off a three-game road trip for the Nets. A Monday matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers is next on the docket while a Thanksgiving Eve grudge match with the Boston Celtics looms large.