Spencer Dinwiddie’s meteoric rise includes an hourglass. It contains a time limit.
No matter how well he plays — and he has been exceptional recently in leading the Nets to six wins in nine games, going from the bench to a starring role — Dinwiddie knows he can’t forget the plan.
He will most likely reprise his role as the Nets’ sixth man, back to a supporting piece, once Kyrie Irving (shoulder impingement) and Caris LeVert (thumb surgery) return from injury. Perhaps most importantly, he understands that. It won’t surprise him, even if coach Kenny Atkinson left open the possibility he could start Dinwiddie with Irving in the backcourt until LeVert is back.
“If you don’t roll with it, you will be out the league,” Dinwiddie said. “You don’t have a choice. I could be out here trippin’ and I’ll be gone. If you roll with it, we figure it out and I get to stay and sometimes, every so often, I’ll have like a big game.”
He’s having plenty of those lately, averaging 25 points on 43 percent shooting, 7.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds over the past nine games since Irving was sidelined. Over the past few weeks, the Nets’ play has picked up. They are defending better. The ball is moving. Wins have followed. None of it would be possible without Dinwiddie.
He obliterated the Celtics on Friday night, scoring 32 points and notching a career-high 11 assists. He scored 29 points against the Heat on Sunday, though he struggled in the fourth quarter, shooting 1 of 7 as the game got away. He was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
“Right now, Spencer is our best player on the court,” Joe Harris said. “We live and die with him making plays down the stretch.”
When it was suggested he’s playing like a superstar, and was asked if he talks to Atkinson about staying at this level once LeVert and Irving return, Dinwiddie sidestepped the question. He doesn’t look at it that way. He’s merely doing what is being asked of him.
“You work so hard that you’re able to do these things if injuries arise,” he said. “But you also understand your role if they don’t. … I try to help the team win. If that means defense, if that means offense, if it means scoring, if it means spotting up, whatever it is. Outside of catching lobs — that’s [DeAndre Jordan’s] job — I try to do it, man.”
Dinwiddie had similar responsibility two years ago, in a breakout season in which the team was going nowhere while in developmental mode and D’Angelo Russell was hurt. This is obviously different. There are expectations. Victories are needed, particularly after an underwhelming 4-7 start.
He’s now the focus of opposing team’s game plans, the player who needs to be stopped. He’s seeing more double-teams, getting blitzed by multiple defenders off pick-and-rolls.
“I think he’s made incredible strides there,” Atkinson said.
Soon, Dinwiddie will be back to where he was, leading the second unit, a key player on this team, but not the player. He accepts that.
“Whatever is asked, I’ll go out and do, and that’s from all parties and all sides,” he said. “Whether it’s Kenny, whether it’s Kyrie, whether it’s [Kevin Durant] and Caris, whatever it is. Whatever they ask me, I’ll try to do it for the betterment of the team.
“It would be nice to score 30 and stuff — who doesn’t want to do that? — but the league kind of works in a certain way.”