Spencer Dinwiddie's rise from G League player to potential All-Star
He took advantage of an opportunity in 2016, and he's doing it again on a bigger stage
SAN ANTONIO – Fifty-eight seconds of footage tweeted by NBA TV on Dec. 16 flashed across smartphones.
Uncontested layup, then a one-handed poster jam over Tobias Harris. Spencer Dinwiddie next uses the crossover to set up a Eurostep into a reverse layup, before finally draining a 3 to stamp the exclamation point on a night in which he led the Brooklyn Nets with 24 points and six assists in a 109-89 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 16, 2019
But those highlights in some ways encapsulate the grind toiled by Dinwiddie to get here — from G League up-and-comer to potential All-Star in the NBA — traversing a road littered by a catastrophic college knee injury and a pair of teams giving up on him, not to mention those trying times working to convince decision-makers he belongs in the league, while simultaneously pondering whether to chase a hoops career overseas.
“I just think in this life, you’re always gonna have people telling you what you can’t do,” Dinwiddie told NBA.com. “This is not an easy business at all. Obviously, the perks are on the world’s stage, and everybody knows the money and all these other things, which are great and all. But all of your failures are also on the world’s stage; everybody constantly telling you you’re not good enough.
“People don’t go to Walmart and tell you you’re the worst cashier in the world. You might have to deal with a couple of disgruntled people. But it’s not like millions of people are telling you that you suck. You have to be just a little crazy, too. So, if you don’t have that certain mentality or mental toughness, this league, this entertainment industry as a whole can break you. You see it happen all the time. I’ve just been fortunate to have a great foundation and for it not to happen to me.”
That dogged approach helped Dinwiddie rise from playing in the G League to earning a three-year extension in Brooklyn worth $34 million.
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The life in the G League
The 26-year-old played for San Antonio’s G League affiliate, the Austin Spurs, and can relate to the grind, including the hectic traveling and back-and-forth routine.
“One time, I flew and met [the Austin Spurs] in OKC,” Forbes says. “Before the game that same day, they said they needed me in Mexico [City, Mexico]. This is when we played Phoenix in Mexico. After that, I flew back and played in Austin like the very next day. It was crazy.”
That’s not even taking into account all the driving involved on the come-up from the G League to the NBA.
“If there was traffic, it was over man,” Forbes said. “I could listen to three albums on my way there. That wasn’t enjoyable. I’d go [to Austin], and before the game, [the San Antonio Spurs] would call me right back. So, I would drive to Austin for nothing. Then, somebody like Manu [Ginobili] wouldn’t be playing or something or someone else went down. And they’d be like, ‘We’re just going to need you to come right back.’ So, I’d drive all the way back after getting there to try to make it back here.”
Lakers guard Troy Daniels, who spent time with Houston’s G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, stressed that flexing an optimistic viewpoint is the way to succeed on the climb towards the NBA.
“Just know that [there’s] a light at the end of the tunnel,” Daniels said. “You’ve got to set yourself goals and try to obtain the goals that you set. Roll with the punches. My first 10 games it was hard for me. Just to adapt to flying commercial [with] red eyes, sitting in the middle seat.
“Everybody was trying to get the exit row. Even the hotels, Holiday Inns and stuff like that. But I think as I started playing more, I started having love for the game again, started playing really well, and started having fun. Obviously, it’s a grind, but when you realize it’s still basketball [and] you’re still having fun, it’s easier to put everything else to the side.”
That’s how Dinwiddie successfully navigated his own winding journey.
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Dinwiddie’s path from G League to Brooklyn
After suffering a career-threatening ACL injury as a junior at Colorado in 2014, Dinwiddie declared for the NBA Draft, where Detroit selected him 38th overall. He made his NBA debut on Oct. 29, 2014 before earning the starting nod Feb. 20 against the Chicago Bulls in a game he finished with 12 points and nine assists.
In the midst of all that, Detroit sent Dinwiddie to Grand Rapid for G League assignment on several occasions over his first two seasons as a professional.
But on June 17, 2016, the Pistons traded Dinwiddie to the Bulls, which would waive him twice; the last time following the 2016 preseason.
His shot came with the G League’s Windy City Bulls nine days after Chicago waived him.
“I experienced the G League in two forms: one as an assignment player, and then one of actually being in the G League after I got cut by the Bulls,” Dinwiddie said. “Obviously, both situations are different. You actually sort of still get treated like an NBA player when you’re on assignment. When you’re in G League on contract, you’re down there for real. So, it’s tough.”
Initially, Dinwiddie didn’t want to be a part of the Bulls organization anymore after being waived, but he’d go on to average 19.4 points, 8.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds in nine games with their G League team.
“Spencer just felt like he had his opportunity with the Bulls, and that didn’t work, so why go and be with the G League affiliate?” said Chicago Bulls assistant coach Nate Loenser, who served as head coach of the Windy City Bulls from their inaugural season in 2016 to 2018. “I told him that in my mind, he was an NBA player, and just for whatever reason, this was going to be a path that he had to take.
I told him that in my mind, he was an NBA player, and just for whatever reason, this was going to be a path that he had to take.
Nate Loenser, Spencer Dinwiddie’s former G League coach
“I told him, ‘This is your opportunity to really lead a team. I know that you can come in and score 30 points a game and do all that. But my biggest thing is: can you run a team? Can you really take the keys to this thing and really strive on all the things you need to stick in the NBA?’”
Dinwiddie took the keys, and in December of 2016, drove out of the G League for good when Brooklyn signed him to a three-year veteran minimum deal.
Years later, he’s fired up the ignition to keep Brooklyn humming along in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s injury. The six-time All-Star has been out of the lineup for 16 games with a right shoulder impingement.
Now, Dinwiddie may be forging his own All-Star path. He heads into Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks averaging career highs in points (22.1) and usage rate (29.9) over his first 16 starts of the season.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 26, 2019
Since becoming the starting point guard, Dinwiddie leads Brooklyn in points (25.3), assists (7.2), free throws made (6.1) and free throws attempted (7.2). He earned Player of the Week honors a few weeks back and has scored 20 or more in 15 of his last 17 games.
“You have to focus on your craft,” Dinwiddie said. “A lot of times in this game, at this level, there are a lot of people that can play. The top 100 guys overseas could play in the NBA, right? But a lot of times, it’s about that opportunity, about that fit.”
“If I don’t get that opportunity here, none of this stuff happens. So, everything has to intersect and collide together, but you also have to keep the work ethic, keep the focus, keep the faith, keep your confidence, all those things. But then that opportunity has to present itself as well.”
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