From overlooked benchwarmer to NBA starter: the story of Spencer Dinwiddie

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets

After the Brooklyn Nets traded for D’Angelo Russell last summer, the direction of the entire franchise instantly changed.

Ravaged and haunted by their infamous trade that sent multiple first-round picks to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce a few years ago, the Nets were arguably in worse shape than every other NBA franchise until they decided to get rid of Brook Lopez and fully commit to a rebuild.

Russell starred for Brooklyn to start the season, but then went down with a knee injury. Missing over two months of play as a result, a number of other players have stepped up to fill the void.

Although Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has established a fast-paced system and doesn’t believe in giving anyone heavy minutes, a few young players have taken advantage of the extra usage and added opportunities with Russell off the court.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is one. Caris LeVert is another.

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets

But, no one has taken advantage of the opportunity more than Spencer Dinwiddie, who has emerged as a viable building block for the franchise moving forward. His path to this point hasn’t been easy.

Overlooked prospect

Unless you are a fan of the University of Colorado or a Pac-12 hoops team, there’s a solid chance that you might not have heard Dinwiddie’s name before his name was called 38th overall in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons.

At Colorado, the 6’6” Dinwiddie played a combo-guard role. Based on his size, he was not used as a traditional point guard, but did spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands. During his freshman 2011-2012 season, he averaged 10.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. In his sophomore campaign, he posted 15.3 points, 3.2 boards and 3.0 assists over 32.5 minutes. His junior season was cut short after just 17 games due to a torn ACL. Before he suffered the injury, he averaged 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest.

Colorado v Baylor

"I got a lot of interest from the league," Dinwiddie said when he decided to declare for the draft and forego his senior season. "Everybody likes what I bring to the table. ... It was the best for me and my future... I have first round talent across the board. A lot of people are of course going to doubt my knee. Whoever I play for is gonna get Spencer Dinwiddie, not 'Spencer Dinwiddie with a bad knee.’" 

It appears as though no organization viewed him as a first-round talent.

It's worth noting that during two of his seasons in Colorado, he played alongside Andre Roberson. Dinwiddie and Roberson remain close friends and Dinwiddie is currently dating Roberson’s sister Arielle.

2014 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

Overlooked pro

Like most second-round picks, Dinwiddie didn’t have a clear path to playing time during his rookie year. In fact, during the 2014-2015 campaign, he saw action in just 34 games, averaging 4.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in just 13.4 minutes per contest. Mostly seeing the court in garbage time, he struggled to make much of an impact from a shooting perspective, converting just 30.2 percent of his shots and 18.5 percent of his three-point attempts.

In his second season with the Pistons, he only saw action in 12 games, averaging 4.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 13.3 minutes per contest. During his first two seasons, he had multiple assignments with the Grand Rapids Drive, Detroit’s G-League affiliate.

In June of 2016, he was traded to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Cameron Bairstow. The Bulls then waived him a month later before re-signing him and waiving him again before the regular season tipped off.

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets

After accepting a contract with the Windy City Bulls of the G-League in October of 2016, he landed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets in December of that year after dominating his competition at the lower level. Making just $726,672 for the rest of that season, he finally received the opportunity he was looking for: consistent minutes on a rebuilding team.

Appearing in 59 games, he made 18 starts for Brooklyn in 2016-2017, averaging 7.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 22.6 minutes per game. Most of all, he showed the rest of the NBA that he’s a legitimate pro player and showed an immense amount of improvement on the offensive end of the floor, shooting a career-high 44.4 percent overall and 37.6 percent from three-point range.

In his first two seasons, he went 13-for-75 (17.3 percent) from deep. In 2016-2017, he went 38-for-101.

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets

Heading into this season, Dinwiddie was fully expected to assume a similar role, especially after the Nets traded for D’Angelo Russell, who immediately became the face of the franchise at the point guard position.

Owning the moment

When he initially signed with the Nets in December of 2016, Dinwiddie agreed to a three-year, non-guaranteed contract.

Per, under the terms of his deal, Dinwiddie received a $50,000 guarantee in July of 2017, then $250,000 when he made the team in October. The team recently announced that he will be guaranteed the full veteran’s minimum of $1.52 million for the remainder of this campaign. Next year, he has a similar deal, getting $250,000 when he makes the team. If his contract is picked up again, he will receive $1.66 million next season.

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets

Judging by what he’s done so far, his contract is arguably the biggest bargain in the entire NBA.

After Russell went down with his knee injury, Dinwiddie put the Nets on his back and established himself as a viable starter. Along the way, he has shown off an array of new moves on the offensive end of the court, an ability to blow by defenders with elite speed and athleticism and also seems to carry the clutch gene.

Starting 35-of-45 games for Brooklyn this season, he’s averaging 13.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 28.2 minutes per contest. Incredibly, he’s turned the ball over just 1.5 times per game, which is astounding for how much he has the ball in his hands.

Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks

In fact, he leads the entire NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.41. To provide context, the next starting point guard on the league leader list is Darren Collison (4.02), followed by Ish Smith (3.68). Therefore, there’s a wide margin.

Based on his team-friendly contract, Dinwiddie has become a logical trade target for a contending team looking to make a splash before the trade deadline. But, Brooklyn might want to hold onto him and build around a duo consisting of him and Russell in the backcourt.

On Sunday, despite Russell’s presence, it was Dinwiddie who delivered yet another heroic, game-winning shot for his club. Take a look at the acrobatic shot that he somehow managed to hit:

That moment was a little extra-sweet, too.

If you paid close attention, you would have noticed that it came against the Pistons, who drafted him and never gave him a shot.

Impressively, he now is tied with C.J. McCollum for the NBA lead in shots made to tie or take the lead in the final minute, going 6-for-16 on the season.

The fact that he’s taken 16 such shots speaks volumes about the confidence that Brooklyn has in him.

He’s made a habit at converting clutch shots.

You can teach fundamentals, but you can’t teach the ability to be clutch. You’re born with that.

After the game, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson praised his guard.

"That was a heck of a shot," Atkinson said. "I'm happy for Spencer, because he was here, obviously, but I'm happier for the team. I wasn't sure we had the poise and understanding to get a win like this.”

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns

Overall, Atkinson has been very pleased with the development of his 24-year-old guard.

“I think he’s in a good place. I think he’s getting better,” Atkinson told reporters last week, per Bryan Fonseca of “This is a tough league. We’ve been leaning on him a lot. I think sometimes what we do have to realize is that (for) Spencer, this is the first time he’s been in this position.”

“This isn’t John Wall in his fifth year in the league playing 30 minutes a game,” Atkinson continued. “This is his first go at playing these kind of minutes. We’ve got guys that are in new roles and it’s a challenge. The biggest challenge for young players in this league is consistency. That’s why the great players in this league, that’s what they do, they do it night in and night out. Spencer is doing it on a majority of nights, there’s been a couple of down games but we still think he’s playing great and has had a really good season so far.”

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets

It appears as though Dinwiddie is just getting started. Although Russell’s injury hurt Brooklyn’s chances at winning more games this year, it allowed them to fully realize that they don’t have just one guard with star potential.

They have two.

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