D'Angelo Russell & Spencer Dinwiddie Thriving With and Without Each Other
Pair leading Nets in scoring since LeVert injury and combined for 69 points Sunday
Near the top of the list of Nets-world observer preoccupations throughout 2018 -- from the tail end of one season to the fresh beginning of another -- has been the pairing of D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie in the Brooklyn backcourt.
Born out of the way Dinwiddie asserted himself with outstanding play during Russell's injury-forced absence for two months last season, the subject moved to the back burner a bit after Caris LeVert broke out in a big way to start the 2018-19 season in a starting role alongside Russell. But once LeVert went down with his foot dislocation in Minnesota on Nov. 12, the 'shipping of Russell and Dinwiddie came on back in a big way.
The day after Sunday night's episode of "D'Lo + Spencer: Unleashed" in which the pair combined for 69 points against the Philadelphia 76ers, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson offered up that the present arrangement, with Dinwiddie leading all NBA players in assists while coming off the bench and ranking second in points, suits him just fine.
"He’s in a good place," said Atkinson of Dinwiddie. "It’s funny, he ends up playing – he’s gotta be one of our top minute guys, I’d have to say he’s in the top three – so I think it’s a credit to him. His ego isn’t so big where he says ‘hey man I should be starting.” He never came up to me and said that. He’s accepted his role. Or he’s embraced it I’d say, more than accepted it. Embraced it. The guy’s playing great basketball and D’Angelo’s in a good place, playing really good basketball.
"How much we use them together is just going to be a game-to-game thing and figure that out. I do think when you look at it they are together at the end of the game a lot, they’re out there, we’ve got both of those guys handling the ball. Like I said last night, I see great symmetry there, they’re talking and they’re figuring out what we want to run and it’s really good.”
Dinwiddie is actually fourth in playing time when you keep the presently sidelined LeVert factored in, but the rotations and combinations have been tweaked in LeVert's absence. Both players' time on the court is up just slightly, about two minutes per game. Russell has been re-entering games to start the second quarter, rather than being held out a few extra minutes at that point. Over the last seven games without LeVert, Dinwiddie and Russell have played together an average of 11.7 minutes per game, compared to 8.0 in 13 games prior.
Over the last seven games, Russell and Dinwiddie are averaging an identical team-leading 19.7 points per game, with Dinwiddie averaging 6.7 assists and Russell 6.3.
"You see us getting more comfortable the more that we play together," said Dinwiddie. "I can't sit here and promise that we're going to combine for 70 points every game, that would probably be a little bit ambitious. But just being cohesive, it's something that, what I said two weeks ago, it's going to come with time. Right after the Caris injury I said it's something that we hadn't really practiced. The more time that we get going and doing it, the better it's going to be."
While a nightly repeat of Sunday's performances may be unrealistic, it was a sight to see. Start with Russell's 38 points, his high in 69 games as a Net and two shy of his career-high of 40 set in 2017. He made his first four shots and had 11 points by the end of the first quarter.
Russell finished up shooting 57 percent (16-for-28) with eight assists and eight rebounds.
"I think aggressive early is huge for him," said Atkinson. "I think when he’s feeling the game out…he was kind of from the get-go putting his head down and driving it [against the Sixers]. His pace was superb. But it’s that consistency we talk about, consistent focus, consistent physical preparation, all that. You see the difference. He was special last night, and a lot of it stems from his early attacking attitude."
In the fourth quarter, Russell scored nine straight Nets points, with a 3-pointer extending Brooklyn's lead to 10 points before the Sixers started sending double-teams at him on pick-and-rolls.
"I thought we still got what we wanted out of it," said Russell. "Definitely blitzed me, took the ball out of my hands, but forced the ball to be in Spencer's hands, or Joe Harris, or Rondae's hands, becoming a play-maker out of the trap. I think we still got what we wanted."
Dinwiddie's drive to the rim and 3-pointer pushed the Nets' lead to 15 points before the Sixers stormed back, and his jumper from above the foul line with 26.8 seconds to go would have been the winner had it not been answered by Jimmy Butler's 3-pointer for Philadelphia.
He finished up with 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting (73 percent), including 4-for-5 from 3-point range, with five assists.
Even when not on the court with Russell, Dinwiddie is often paired with Shabazz Napier, so he's typically sharing the court with another ball-handler -- much as Russell did with LeVert -- in a fluid role moving on and off the ball sometimes from possession to possession.
"I play a lot of two this year which is cool because our offense is really interchangeable," said Dinwiddie. "Whatever role they have me in is what I try to do and excel. Pretty much my job is when I get in the game just drive, so you know that's what I'll be doing."