One question outweighed all the rest for the Brooklyn Nets after trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving: Where will the offense come from? The idea of replacing two of the greatest isolation scorers in the history of the game, as well as the team’s top two playmakers, was daunting for the new-look Nets.
Mikal Bridges has led the scoring charge through 12 games, emerging as one of basketball’s breakout players since arriving in Brooklyn. But it has been spencer dinwiddie, the second-time Nets point guard, who has been tasked with orchestrating a revamped offense as the team’s lead ball handler.
Dinwiddie answered that call in dramatic fashion in Friday’s thrilling 124-123 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The veteran scored 29 points, 22 of which came in the second half and overtime while dishing out 11 assists with just one turnover.
After the game, Jacque Vaughn was vocal about Dinwiddie’s lead role as Brooklyn’s floor general.
“For us to be able to manage the game, a lot of that goes on the back of Spencer,” he said. “That ability to get guys in the right spots for us to take advantage of matchups. And then he creates shots for himself and others.”
Dinwiddie has been the team’s main source of scoring outside of Bridges, averaging 21.4 points on 45.7 percent shooting over his last seven games. However, it’s been the 29-year-old’s playmaking during that span that has fueled Brooklyn’s offense with Dinwiddie averaging 8.1 assists per game, the 10th-most in the league.
That playmaking is a byproduct of his ability to consistently get downhill, a skill few others on the Nets roster possess.
“The coaches just want me to get in the paint and let the game dictate what the read is,” Dinwiddie said Friday. “Overall the mentality is just to get in the lane and break down the defense. Whether that’s with pace, whether it’s elephant hunting, whether it’s pick and roll, whatever it is, just generating our offense that way.”
That downhill mentality was on full display in overtime against Minnesota.
The Nets leaned into Dinwiddie in isolation for the entire period, identifying Kyle Anderson, who has earned the nickname ‘Slow Mo’ for his methodical style of play, as the Wolves defender they wanted to target. The strategy was effective, with Dinwiddie driving and finishing for his second straight possession to start the period.
That ability to drive on Anderson forced the defense to collapse later on, leading to back-to-back kickout threes for Bridges and Dorian Finney-Smith that proved to be the difference in the win.
Bridges finished with a game-high 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 from three. Despite his fifth 30-point performance in seven games, the new-look Nets’ leading scorer took a backseat with Dinwiddie dominating the ball down the stretch.
Bridges took no issue with Brooklyn’s strategy following the win.
“Spencer was going crazy, just giving [him] that confidence to let him have the ball in his hands and create,” he said postgame. “He scored a couple of times in overtime and then dimed us. So letting him create and figure it out. Just him being aggressive, he’s so damn skilled, I’m grateful for him.”
34 PTS | 6 REB | 54.2 FG%
That's the sixth 30+ point game for @mikal_bridges as a Net 🔥 pic.twitter.com/DHDbkBEOtm
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 11, 2023
While Dinwiddie led the Nets to victory playing an iso-dominant brand of basketball, it’s tough to envision Brooklyn winning many games with their top scorer not touching the ball for the majority of crunch time. Vaughn called just one play for Bridges throughout the final four minutes of regulation and overtime Friday.
The decision was puzzling for many given the 26-year-old is averaging 26 points per game on 51/49/90 shooting splits during his time in Brooklyn. And while the Nets came away with the win, Dinwiddie made sure to emphasize the team’s need to maximize Bridges’ opportunities amid his offensive breakout.
“I don’t think that anybody knew that Mikal was this amazing offensively,” he said postgame. “It’s our job to make sure that he can get to his spots and get his shots and continue to stack up these 30s. We’ve gotta feed that and encourage that as much as possible.”
Dinwiddie reminded everyone what he is capable of with the ball in his hands in clutch moments Friday. Vaughn’s comments seem to indicate a high level of confidence in the point guard’s closing abilities. Where Bridges factors into that equation will be a main storyline with 15 games to go before the playoffs.