If you're looking forward to what's next for Spencer Dinwiddie, that's OK. So is Spencer Dinwiddie.
"I was happy, clearly, but I wasn't doing what I wanted to do or feel like I could do or everything I was capable," said the Nets guard of his breakout 2017-18 season. "It felt more like a half step than a whole step. You know, we still lost games, I still could have been more efficient offensively with my own shooting, and we didn't make the playoffs. All those things. So in my head as a player there's all these milestones still to reach that I feel like we're capable, one individually and then two, as a unit to do."
The "half step" line was a hit with coach Kenny Atkinson -- "I love it," said Atkinson -- who sees the 25-year-old as capable of more as well.
"I keep telling him, ‘Don’t defer. Dominate.’ That’s my mantra to him," said Atkinson. "As a point guard, you need a certain command and a certain confidence. He’s still working on that, but he’s grown leaps and bounds from the first day he was here. He’s really starting to be a more confident player and it’s showing. But with his size and speed, he can dominate. That’s the mindset he has to have, whether it’s dominating a play call when we’re coming down the court and running away and being demonstrative and getting everybody in their right places, or even defensively, we’d love to see a more confident, dominant personality."
The fifth-year guard raised expectations and raised his profile with his play a year ago, so much so that he ended up a finalist for the NBA's Most Improved Player award. After playing 46 games for Detroit his first two seasons and starting the 2016-17 season in the G League, he stepped forward when opportunity presented itself with the Nets last year after injuries to D'Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin.
He ended up playing 80 games -- starting 58 -- and leading the Nets in assists with 6.6 per game. His 4.1 assist to turnover ratio was second in the league. He also scored at a career-high rate of 12.6 points per game.
It all escalated in January, beginning with Dinwiddie's game-winner against Minnesota on Jan. 3. By the end of the month he was leading the NBA with seven baskets to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. And then there was his 31-point, eight-assist outing in an overtime loss to Toronto in which he scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and OT. He received an invite to participate in NBA All-Star Weekend and won the skills competition.
"I guess in terms of feeling more like your inner feelings are solidified or verified because of how you played on a stage where a lot of people saw, sure there's some of that," said Dinwiddie. "But if your core belief is that you could be a starter in this league and lead a team to a championship and all those things you dream of as a kid, last year I didn't accomplish that."
After Russell returned to the court in January, he and Dinwiddie started together for nine games before Dinwiddie slid back into a reserve role in the middle of March. As the Nets get ready for a new season with a deep group of guards, it's wait-and-see to learn how the rotation will settle.
Atkinson said he's open to playing Dinwiddie and Russell together again, with the 6-foot-6 Dinwiddie capable of guarding both positions. So far, Dinwiddie said, he's mostly been teamed up in scrimmages with a group that includes Joe Harris, Treveon Graham, Ed Davis, and Jared Dudley, among others.
"My job is to help the team win games to the best of my ability," said Dinwiddie. "Obviously we had injuries. My role changed and I tried to do that. And it changed multiple times throughout the year. This year I don't know exactly what my role is going to be specifically. I don't know how it will evolve throughout the year. But as long as I keep the focus where it needs to be, I think it will all fall into place. If I were to come out here and say, 'oh, I think I'm going to get 20 and 10' or something like that, then the focus is not where it needs to be. That's where I just try to keep it."