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Spencer Dinwiddie sat near the end of the Pistons bench, behind the three-headed monster of proven point guards who were on the roster at different points during the 2014-15 season: Reggie Jackson, D.J. Augustin and Brandon Jennings.
While Jennings’ 21-assist game in January 2015 is a distant memory for a player now out of basketball, Jackson and Augustin are currently starting point guards on rosters with playoff aspirations.
Dinwiddie, though, has been the best of the bunch this season.
Times have changed since that Stan Van Gundy-led lineup was last together.
The growth of Dinwiddie from his rookie campaign in 2014-15 to 2018-19 might be the most drastic of all NBA players. So drastic to the point where he could propel the Nets to one of the final postseason seeds in the Eastern Conference, ahead of his former teammates on the Pistons (Jackson) and Magic (Augustin).
Here is a look at the year-to-year development of Dinwiddie, a candidate for a reserve spot in the 2019 All-Star Game…
As a three-year standout at Colorado and second-round pick by Detroit, Dinwiddie entered the league with much to prove. The Pistons already had Augustin atop their depth chart to begin the season, and trading him for Jackson certainly did not help matters for Dinwiddie.
In limited opportunities, Dinwiddie just about played himself off the Motown roster. He shot 30.2 percent from the field, and started more games in the D-League (six) than he did in the NBA (one).
The silver lining, though, was Dinwiddie’s 3.1 assists per game and 0.4 defensive win shares, acceptable numbers given his 450-minute workload.
Dinwiddie needed a second chance to make a better first impression, but the Pistons never gave him such an opportunity. Again, his D-League playing time exceeded his NBA minutes, and Jackson’s career-high 18.8 points per game had shoved Dinwiddie even further down the depth chart of an eighth-place team.
The lanky, 6-foot-6 point guard elevated his field goal percentage by exactly five percent, but his 10 percent clip from beyond the perimeter and 1.8 assists per game spelled the end to his brief tenure in the blue and red. Detroit traded Dinwiddie to the Bulls on June 17 before Chicago waived him on July 7.
The Bulls signed Dinwiddie in July 2016 before waiving him again in October, giving him zero minutes of action in the Windy City and potentially putting his NBA career in jeopardy.
Then the Nets gave him a chance.
Dinwiddie inked a multi-year deal with Brooklyn in December 2016, taking a flier on a third-year player who had only provided passing and defensive skills in his stint with the Pistons. Unlike Detroit’s logjam at the point guard position, the Nets had a shallow backcourt depth chart anchored by Jeremy Lin.
Under head coach Kenny Atkinson, Dinwiddie thrived. He became a perimeter threat courtesy of a career-best 37.6 percent clip from beyond the arc. He became more efficient by raising his offensive rating from 97 points per 100 possessions to 116. He became a better overall player, as his 0.1 win shares in each of the previous two campaigns were topped by a 2.8 mark.
Whether it was the change in scenery or the elevated amount of playing time, Dinwiddie returned to the NBA radar in 2016-17. His passing (3.1 assists per game) and defense (career-high 0.4 blocks per game) remained solid, while the other aspects of his game flourished.
The blockbuster acquisition of D’Angelo Russell had little impact on Dinwiddie’s next year, as injuries to Russell and Lin paved the way to a full season of action (80 games played). Although his shooting took a bit of a dip, Dinwiddie notched career-bests in assists per game (6.6) and steals per game (0.9).
Perhaps the highlight of the year came during the All-Star break, when Dinwiddie took home the Taco Bell Skills Challenge trophy. His impressive blend of agility, ball-handling and passing opened the door to national exposure amidst a respectable, age-24 season…
The cohesiveness with Atkinson and the chance to play major minutes proved to be beneficial for the wiry, emerging point guard.
Undoubtedly the largest step in Dinwiddie’s progress has been this campaign. He leads the league in games played (45), and, despite coming off the bench, is tallying 16.7 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting over 28.4 minutes (four starts).
The Nets are doing well, too, winning six of their last 10 contests and gaining a decent hold of the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with a 22-23 record. Atkinson’s offense presently ranks 14th in the NBA with 110.9 points per 100 possessions, and the team recently beat the Celtics, 109-102, on Monday.
Dinwiddie has been more assertive, as evidenced by a career-high 24.9 usage rate. His two-point field goal percentage is at a premier level (52.5 percent). Heck, he even created his own brand of shoes, one of the first NBA players to do so…
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Game 12: @cubuffs / @1mrbigshot. There’s no other way to return to one of my homes. Had 3 great years here and wouldn’t trade my time in Boulder for any other experience. Also had to pay homage to the best alumni in our schools history. My quest to be 2.0 and take that mantle continues every night. #AudienceOfOne #K8IROS #kotd Artwork: @k_o.brand_kickasso
For his recent contributions, the Nets signed Dinwiddie to an extension…
Spencer Dinwiddie will get $34M over a three-year extension with Nets, league source tells ESPN. There will be a player option on third year, sources said.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 13, 2018
Spencer Dinwiddie is no longer the outcast of the 32-win Pistons. He is now one of the centerpieces on arguably the most improved roster in basketball.
Reggie Jackson and D.J. Augustin are also finding their niche in the NBA, but their former, bench-warming teammate, Dinwiddie, might be the only one to lead his team to the playoffs.