The Brooklyn Nets earned hard-fought road wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets in their last two games. Both victories came down to the wire, with Minnesota and Denver mounting late-game comebacks.
Those clutch moments turned into the spencer dinwiddie show. In the final three minutes against Minnesota (including overtime) and Denver, the veteran attempted 10 of Brooklyn’s 18 shots. The next closest Net was Mikal Bridges with three. Additionally, a Dinwiddie pass led to five of the eight shots he did not attempt as he dominated Brooklyn’s ball-handling responsibilities in crunch-time.
Nets' shot distribution in final 3 minutes at Minnesota (including OT) and Denver:
Worth noting that 5 of the 8 shots Dinwiddie did not take were off a pass by him.
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) March 14, 2023
Jacque Vaughn laid out the reasoning behind his late-game trust in Dinwiddie following Sunday’s last-second win over the Nuggets.
“I keep going back to: It is a luxury as a coach when you can have a player on the floor who manages the basketball game,” Vaughn said. “That management being, whether it’s play calls, whether it’s getting guys into position, whether it’s what matchups we’re going to take advantage of. He and I seem to have a great ping-pong relationship where I leave it to him sometimes or sometimes I voice my opinion. So it’s huge having him on the floor for us.”
Despite Bridges’ breakout in Brooklyn (25.7 points per game on 51/48/90 shooting splits), the 26-year-old was relegated to a predominately spot-up role in the final minutes, Dinwiddie’s experience as a playmaker attacking mismatches likely being the main reason why.
The veteran point guard detailed the Nets’ late-game offensive dynamic after the win in Denver.
“In the fourth [quarter] you usually get to matchup basketball where you pick out the people you want to attack,” Dinwiddie said. “Obviously our plays are designed to get Mikal going, as they should be, he’s been scoring at a phenomenal clip. And then matchup basketball is typically where I excel.”
Dinwiddie’s ability to collapse the defense off mismatches is the biggest factor in his crunch-time playmaking. The 29-year-old’s assist numbers have ballooned with his increased usage in Brooklyn. Over his last eight games, Dinwiddie ranks sixth in the league at 9.3 assists per game, most recently registering a career-high 16 against Denver.
The final minutes of Brooklyn’s win over the Timberwolves are a great example of the “matchup basketball” to which Dinwiddie referred.
The Nets identified Kyle Anderson, who has earned the nickname ‘Slow Mo’ for his methodical style of play, as well as Rudy Gobert as Wolves defenders they wanted to attack. They did so by having the players being guarded by Anderson or Gobert set a ball screen at the start of possession, forcing switches.
The strategy was effective with Dinwiddie scoring or assisting on all 10 of Brooklyn’s points in overtime.
While Dinwiddie has shown encouraging signs as a lead creator since rejoining Brooklyn, he is no stranger to off nights as a player who has never been regarded as a star in the NBA. This underscores the Nets’ need to diversify the late-game ball-handling responsibilities should they hope to compete in a seven-game playoff series.
Bridges is the clear candidate to receive more opportunities in those spots. To some degree, it is surprising he hasn’t already. Bridges initiated just one possession in the final minutes of each of the last two wins, the first ending in a difficult mid-range miss over Gobert.
Unlike Dinwiddie, Bridges does not have extensive experience as a late-game playmaker after being utilized in a complementary role alongside Devin Booker and Chris Paul with the Phoenix Suns.
His indecisiveness is clear on his other late-game opportunity as he is slow to make a decision on a double team. The ball eventually ends up back in Dinwiddie’s hands late in the shot clock, leading to a turnover.
Bridges should process coverages faster in these moments with added opportunities, especially with him flashing elite three-level scoring ability so far with the Nets. But for the time being, Dinwiddie is most comfortable creating when the game slows down, something Brooklyn’s coaching staff has leaned into during the last two wins.
If Vaughn’s comments are any indication, the Nets are pleased with their results early in the new-look era.
“Every night he’s producing for us,” the coach said of Dinwiddie following the Denver win.”He’s learning how to play with this group. He’s learning when to be aggressive, when to get to the rim, how to manage this group. He’s tuned-in to each individual, whether that’s in the huddle, whether that’s the last play of the game. He’s producing, he’s turned it on.”