Brooklyn Nets: Defenses throwing Spencer Dinwiddie a change of space

Brooklyn Nets Spencer Dinwiddie (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Spencer Dinwiddie (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets sixth man extraordinaire Spencer Dinwiddie has fallen off to simply ordinary over his last 8 games as defenses have made a subtle adjustment.

Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets elevated himself into the Sixth Man of the Year discussion with his play through most of the first half of the season. His elite-level driving ability and his ability to exploit switches propelled him to the top of the charts among bench scorers.

But with so much of modern offense predicated by spacing and stretching defenses to the breaking point, there has been a subtle change defenses have made against Dinwiddie in recent weeks that has reduced his effectiveness.

Call it the old change of space.

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Defenses have been meeting Dinwiddie higher on the floor over the last several games and it was most noticeable Friday night against the Toronto Raptors.

Rather than having a defender pick him up just above the 3-point line, Dinwiddie’s defenders have been aggressively engaging sooner, sometimes when Dinwiddie is 30-35 feet from the rim.

That has done a couple of things that have made defending Dinwiddie more effective.

The first is that it changes the spacing of the pick-and-roll. When Jarrett Allen or Ed Davis come out to screen Dinwiddie’s defender, that pick is being set well above the 3-point break.

That, in turn, changes the roll pattern for the screener. When Allen and Dinwiddie have been running the pick-and-roll of late, Allen’s opening to receive the ball hasn’t been inside the dotted line in the paint, but rather near — and sometimes above — the free-throw line.

Allen is not as effective from that area of the floor because his ball-handling skills haven’t evolved to the point where he can beat defenders with the dribble.

The other effect of this switch is that by forcing Dinwiddie and the screen higher on the floor, the weakside defenders down low have more time — and space — to help on Dinwiddie should he beat his defender off the dribble.

As Dinwiddie was missing all six of his shots inside the arc on Friday against the Raptors, there were two things that stood out on the video:

  1. Dinwiddie was rushing the screen at times. On three pick-and-roll sequences, Allen wasn’t able to get set before Dinwiddie took off. As a result, his defender — Danny Green on two of the players and Norman Powell on the other — were easily able to get over the screen with no switch required.
  2. When Dinwiddie was able to force a switch, he was running into a weakside helper — Pascal Siakam or Serge Ibaka — on every drive. This was a result of two things: Toronto is an outstanding defensive team and their scheme against Dinwiddie was giving the weakside helper time to get there.

Dinwiddie has been scuffling over his last eight games, shooting just 34.7 percent overall. His 3-point shot has slumped at the same time to 29.6 percent on 3.4 attempts per game.

The plus has been that Dinwiddie is still able to get himself to the line, averaging 4.8 attempts over this eight-game stretch and shooting 84.2 percent.

But he’s averaging 11.3 points and 4.0 assists per game over the last eight games, markedly down from his season averages of 16.9 and 5.0 respectively.

The Nets are 4-4 over that span.

Coach Kenny Atkinson told the press (h/t Brian Lewis of the New York Post) after Friday’s loss that Dinwiddie was slumping.

"“Spencer can play better, quite honestly. We need him to play better. I think he’s in a little bit of a slump right now and he needs to get out of it for us to be a good team.”"

Dinwiddie wasn’t interested in hearing about any so-called slump.

"“I guess we’ll figure it out. I’m going to ask coach. I just try to go out there and do whatever it takes to help the team win games. [Friday] my focus was to guard Kawhi Leonard, because that’s what they had me doing.“When they tell you, ‘Hey, when you go in there you’ve got to guard arguably the best player of the floor,’ you lock in on that.“Obviously with the way we’re playing — generally scoring the ball pretty well — why wouldn’t [scoring] be less of a focus? .. It’s not like I sat out there and shot 20 times. I had five, six, seven shots. It’s not like a ton of looks.”"

Valid points.

For a player with Dinwiddie’s speed and burst to the rim, the first reaction to offensive struggles is a natural instinct to go faster.

That is exacerbating the issues, however, as by being impatient with the screen on the pick-and-roll is giving Dinwiddie less space with which to work, not more (that, and he’s run Allen and Davis into some bad offensive fouls by starting his move before they have actually set the pick).

Dinwiddie might be helped by looking at plays that were successful, where he can see how patient he was in allowing the play to develop before picking his lane and exploding.

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As the defenses attempt to change the space, Dinwiddie would be wise to offer back a change of pace.