“He looks like a shell of himself, and his teammates don’t want him there.”
Those are the words written by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer in January about Spencer Dinwiddie’s situation with the Washington Wizards. Either the grass really is greener in Dallas, or wizards need to clean up their locker room.
Dinwiddie produced a signature performance Sunday night with 24 points from the bench in a comeback win over the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Dallas Mavericks want him in a trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Washington, but they also needed Dinwiddie to complete a 19-point fourth-quarter resurgence against the league’s best defense.
Dinwiddie is showing promise in his first four games with his new team, but what does his future look like with the Dallas Mavericks?
Dinwiddie shot 10-14 from the field, including a 2-4 mark from the three-point line, and led both teams with a +17 boxscore plus-minus. Playing all 12 minutes of the final quarter, he led the team with 10 points in the period.
The apparent importance of his game aside, Dinwiddie’s leadership on the field speaks volumes about a night the Mavs could have easily mentally packed. Dallas cut their 19-point deficit to four points before Doncic stepped back down the field in the fourth quarter. Without Dinwiddie, a resounding defeat was at stake.
After the Porzingis trade, Mavs general manager Nico Harrison spoke with Dalton Trigg of DallasBasketball.com, explaining why he traded for Dinwiddie and Bertans.
“When a team isn’t playing up to their abilities, then you start to see the players aren’t playing up to their abilities either,” Harrison said.
“It’s like hey, who’s a guy you maybe like more than his team right now because they’re not winning. And then can you put them on our team with J-Kidd and the players that we have around them, and does that help them get back to the level that we expect them to play?
The Mavs rolling those dice have paid off so far, but Harrison also explained how the move has provided Dallas with more than just on-court flexibility.
“Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it,” Harrison said when asked if Dinwiddie and Bertans’ contracts could potentially be easier to negotiate later than Porzingis’ $30 million-plus deal.
“We said it gives us depth and flexibility, and the flexibility comes in different ways. Not just with your roster, but with potential moves down the road.”
But what if Dinwiddie ends up not being included in a future package for the Mavs’ coveted second star? While retaining Jalen Brunson through free agency remains a top priority for Dallas, it’s plausible the Mavs could re-sign Brunson and then potentially return him with other assets for a star-level player next season. Sooner or later, you have to believe that Dallas will be on a star-level player’s list of favorite destinations given how amazing Luka Doncic already is.
It’s easy to assume one would be a “prisoner of the moment” with such a thought, but look at Brunson’s story against longer, more athletic backcourts. In the last playoffs, the 6-1 guard couldn’t escape the long reach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
While Brunson’s shooting percentages were effective, his lack of shot attempts hinted at the idea that he can’t create an attack at a consistent pace against elite defenses. Brunson has earned the chance to prove everyone wrong this post-season, given the quality of his play. But until that happens, there will always be doubts.
Dinwiddie, however, can create lines and is capable of keeping his dribbling alive against the best defense in the NBA, as he showed us on Sunday. Meanwhile, Brunson failed to create space on the perimeter against a heavyweight Kevon Looney. Without completely blaming Brunson for a few flaws, recent history speaks for itself.
To Brunson’s credit, he improved his ball handling and creativity with his mid-range game. Again, though, in terms of showing easier looks against longer defences, Brunson’s game leans toward tough finishes over defenders.
“In this team, everyone knows his role and knows what he’s good at,” Dinwiddie said in the post-game statement after Sunday’s game. “Obviously because we’re winning it’s all upbeat and happy so I take the praise, but it’s a lot more credit to (Jason Kidd), Luka (Doncic) and (Jalen Brunson) for helping me out. “
For now, the role of the seven-year-old guard with Dallas is to be the main secondary creator from the bench. However, in light of Dinwiddie’s confidence and veteran savvy, rosters could change in the short term, especially given the quality of the three-man roster of Doncic, Brunson and Dinwiddie in samples from small size so far. We’ll see how it all pans out in the final 20 games of the season.