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Spencer Dinwiddie’s all-star play for the Nets without Kyrie Irving is no fluke

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Dinwiddie is saving the Nets’ season without Irving, Kevin Durant, and Caris LeVert.

Spencer Dinwiddie celebrates after a three.
Spencer Dinwiddie is becoming the leading man for the Nets.

It was three years ago this week when the Brooklyn Nets signed Spencer Dinwiddie out of the G League. At that point, Dinwiddie’s career was on life support: he had slipped to the second round of the draft after tearing his ACL in his final year at Colorado, he was traded by the Pistons for Cameron Bairstow, he was cut by the Bulls in favor of Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan. Anyone in the league could have signed him when Brooklyn plucked him out of Chicago’s farm team.

Three years later, Dinwiddie is cosplaying as a star in the league’s biggest market. The Nets were 4-7 when Kyrie Irving exited the lineup on Nov. 14 because of a shoulder impingement, seemingly content on riding out the season until Kevin Durant returned next year. Since then, Brooklyn is 9-3 and look like they’ve unlocked something truly special in Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie has always had a rare knack for delivering in clutch moments since joining the Nets. He did it again versus the Nuggets on Sunday night, scoring two buckets in the final minute and helping force a stop on Will Barton to give Brooklyn the win (Dinwiddie also became the biggest meme night when he didn’t see Durant’s high-five).

Dinwiddie was coming off the bench until Irving’s injury, but now has a legitimate all-star case. He’s averaging 20.6 points and 6.2 assists per game on the season. Those numbers don’t seem like a fluke. Brooklyn is +3.6 points with Dinwiddie on the floor, and -8.3 without him.

How is Dinwiddie doing this? Can he keep it up? This is why Dinwiddie has become one of the league’s breakout stars this season.

Dinwiddie is built for a leading role

Dinwiddie is putting up numbers that are akin to some of the best players in the world since joining the starting lineup. With Irving out, the Nets are putting the ball in Dinwiddie’s hands and letting him act as sole offensive initiator. He’s playing with the biggest usage rate of his career this season at 29.7 percent, and proving he’s one of the few players in the world capable of thriving in such a role.

At 6’5, 215 pounds, Dinnwiddie a big ball handler who can leverage his size specially in the pick-and-roll and as a pull-up shooter, two areas where he’s been lights out as of late.

Dinwiddie has hit 33 pull-up threes this season, which is the eighth most in the league so far, per NBA.com. Dinwiddie has actually shot the ball below his typical level this season, making just 31.2 percent of his threes, but the volume at which he’s shooting off the dribble forces defenses to respect the shot. His ability to consistently get off quality looks on dribble pull-ups is part of the reason he’s developed a reputation as one of the league’s sneaky good closers. Just ask the Cavs:

Dinwiddie can get to the basket, too, especially when he’s coming off a screen. He’s always posted high free-throw rates throughout his career, and that continues to translate even when he’s carrying a bigger usage burden. He’s currently grading out as “very good” in pick-and-roll situations, per Synergy Sports. He has his developing chemistry with Jarrett Allen to thank for much of that.

Dinwiddie has a special connection with Jarrett Allen

Allen was averaging 9.3 points per game with Irving as the starter and Dinwiddie on the bench. Since Dinwiddie has joined the starting unit, Allen is averaging 15.2 points per game. The two have a close bond off the court and it’s translating to chemistry on the court, as well.

Dinwiddie to Allen has been one of the league’s best combinations at the rim. Per PBP Stats, they’ve connected for assists 31 times, which is the No. 7 mark of any duo in the league. Allen is an excellent rim runner, and Dinwiddie has the timing and patience required to fully unlock him. When both are cooking, their connection looks effortless:

On the season, Allen and Dinwiddie have a +6.6 net rating when they share the court together, which is the second-best mark on the team for any pairing with at least 150 minutes.

Dinwiddie is hiding in plain sight on the Nets

The Nets gave Irving a max contract to be their lead creator in the offseason. They have Durant waiting in the wings next season. They are also currently missing Caris LeVert, who hasn’t played since Nov. 10 after thumb surgery.

Will this opportunity still exist for Dinwiddie on the Nets when everyone else is back healthy? Probably not. Irving will go back to having the ball in his hands, Durant will take a huge percentage of possessions, and all of the crunch-time opportunities will go to either of the two stars.

The unspoken truth is that, right now, the Nets are a lot better as a team with Dinwiddie as the lead offensive initiator instead of Irving, who has a negative 1.4 net rating so far. The Nets need Irving because he gives them a higher ceiling, and because he recruited Durant. A smart team paying attention should try to nab Dinwiddie and give him the role he deserves.

Dinwiddie could become a free agent after next season should he opt out of his contract. Dinwiddie gave the Nets a bargain when he signed his most recent deal, but his next contract could put him in Malcolm Brogdon territory. Still only 26 years old, Dinwiddie is proving he’s at his best in a featured role that he’ll be unlikely to maintain when the Nets have everyone back. Head coach Kenny Atkinson is aware of just how good he is:

Dinwiddie is clutch. He’s masterful in the pick-and-roll and he’s capable of taking and making the pull-up jumpers that define so many of the league’s best players. Dinwiddie might technically be a role player for Brooklyn, but he’s proving he’s so much better when he’s set up to be the star.