The 2 top scoring options for the Brooklyn Nets play the same position as anchors of the 1st and 2nd units. But they’re coming together as well, finally.
In 2017-18, D’Angelo Russell was the top scorer for the Brooklyn Nets, averaging 15.5 points in the 48 games he played. Spencer Dinwiddie, meanwhile, led the team in assists at 6.6 per game and averaged 12.6 points per game off the bench.
Both are point guards with the necessary size and athleticism to play off the ball. They were two great tastes, however, who seldom tasted great together.
The tandem shared the floor in 41 games last season for 353 minutes total. Their net rating per 100 possessions, however, showed Brooklyn being outscored by 9.6 points.
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Even as the pair had an assist percentage of 65.6 together, their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.97-to-1 was exceptionally weak for two guys who make a living running an offense.
NBA.com’s Player Impact Estimate pegged the Russell-Dinwiddie tandem at 44.2, one of the weakest ratings of two-player pairs that logged at least 100 minutes together.
You’d like to think players of the caliber of Dinwiddie and Russell could produce more punch than the journeyman duo of Acy and Okafor.
Dinwiddie went into a shooting funk late last season, something that coach Kenny Atkinson recently attributed to Atkinson’s decision to move Russell back into the starting lineup last season and put Dinwiddie on the bench, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
"“Maybe it was part my fault for not defining his role better.”"
But Dinwiddie has accepted that reserve role and thrived in it this season. With Caris LeVert‘s 18.4 points per game on the shelf with a foot injury, it is again Russell (17.8 points per game) and Dinwiddie (15.9) leading the charge. Russell has a slight edge, 5.5 per game to 5.0, in assists.
The numbers early in the season when combining the two were even worse than a season ago, but recently, the tandem is starting to develop some chemistry and, dare we say, even a sense of synergy out there.
Sunday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers might have been a turning point in the pairing of Russell and Dinwiddie. Russell played 34 minutes and Dinwiddie logged 29 — with 15 minutes at the same time.
Russell scored 38 points, a season-high, and Dinwiddie matched his career-high with 31 points. They played at a net of minus-3 together, but considering they were paired during Philadelphia’s late 22-7 burst to steal the win, that’s an encouraging sign.
By my fuzzy math, that translates to a plus-10 prior to the end-of-game period.
In those 15 minutes, the Nets were 15-of-26 overall and 4-for-10 from 3-point range. With the 76ers defensive focus on Russell — who was hitting everything awhile — Dinwiddie had room to create and drive.
When the 76ers opted to blitz Russell with double teams off the pick-and-roll, they were also having to account for Dinwiddie, who scored five points off that defensive scheme when Philadelphia failed to keep track of where Dinwiddie was.
A big part of the ability of the two to co-exist more readily is Dinwiddie’s mind-set. He’s the leader of the bench mob and knows it. He accepts it. He doesn’t see Russell as the competition for the role he really wants. Instead, Dinwiddie is playing the role he has to the hilt.
Dinwiddie says preparation played a big role.
"“Any time your role changes drastically during the season, you have to adjust. I knew what it was coming into [this] season, so it’s easy when you’ve got all summer and all that other stuff to know what your role is going to be.“There wasn’t an adjustment, I already knew what time it was."
Atkinson said it’s been a very noticeable change.
"“He’s accepted it, he’s embraced it, he’s never complained about not starting. There’s never been a question..”"
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was convinced, calling Dinwiddie a legitimate candidate for Sixth Man of the Year honors.
He’s on pace to be just the third reserve player since 1983-84 to average at least 15 points and five assists per game, a group that includes only Jrue Holiday of the 2015-16 New Orleans Pelicans and Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers last season.
And if he and Russell can combine for some magic in crunch time, that will make the Brooklyn Nets that much more dangerous. And potentially help the Nets hold on to those late-game leads.