The addition of Spencer Dinwiddie at last year’s trade deadline proved to be something of a revelation for the Mavericks. After two postseason losses to a potent Clippers team prompted refrains of “Luka needs help,” Dinwiddie’s added ball handling and playmaking off the bench proved just the kind of boost this roster needed.
Now, entering his first full year with the team, there’s reason to be optimistic about Dinwiddie’s play. He’ll be a full season removed from an ACL injury that stunted his play, and with Brunson going to the Knicks, a sizable chunk of playmaking minutes are up for grabs. If Dinwiddie can make the most of this opportunity, it would go a long way toward easing the fears brought on by losing a player as important as Jalen Brunson was to Dallas’ surprise run to the Western Conference Finals.
Which Spencer Dinwiddie is Dallas getting this year? When he was acquired, along with Washington Wizards teammate Davis Bertans, in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, it was as a tarnished, if not entirely toxic, asset.
Even as Dinwiddie was breaking through as a fringe All-Star guard with the Brooklyn Nets (he was a top-10 vote-getter for the Eastern Conference’s backcourt selections), he was never accused of being a particularly efficient player. Nevertheless, he earned himself a big contract when he moved to the Wizards even coming off of that ACL tear. However, his fit as a primary ball handler next to Bradley Beal was never right in Washington. Upon arriving in Dallas, though, all of a sudden, Dinwiddie showed he was still a difference maker on the court. Along with hitting two huge game-winners in back-to-back games, he posted some of the best numbers of his career playing in Dallas. His .568 2P%, .404 3P%, and .584 eFG% were all his best ever.
Now, the question is - is that version of Spencer Dinwiddie we saw for 23 games and an impressive postseason run - what we can expect moving forward? There’s reasons to believe so. Playing alongside Luka Doncic, the league-leader in quality shot creation, getting a full off-season under his belt, and being a year removed from ACL surgery are all positive. However, the statistical pull to revert to the mean is strong, and asking Dinwiddie to take on the additional playmaking duties evacuated by Jalen Brunson is what led to his disappointing Wizards tenure in the first place.
Best Case Scenario
In a perfect world, Dinwiddie silences all doubts about who the Mavericks’ second ballhandler will be this season. After spending the majority of his time last season in Dallas as a super sub off the bench for Dallas’ second unit, early speculation is that Dinwiddie will start the season alongside Doncic in the Dallas backcourt. It could be an ideal combination with Dinwiddie able to contribute as a playmaker and ball handler without being called upon to run the offense single-handedly as he oftentimes was in both Brooklyn and Washington. Dinwiddie also gave Dallas a new dimension on offense with his ability to dribble and cut through the lane. His .449 free throw rate was the best among all Dallas guards and better than any regular rotation player outside of Dwight Powell’s .529.
If he can give Dallas another option on offense while keeping his efficiency numbers high, it would go a long way to easing many fans’ biggest source of apprehension entering this season.
Worst Case Scenario
The obvious pitfall Dallas and Dinwiddie will be trying to avoid is seeing Spencer revert to the player he was in Washington. Or even Brooklyn, for that matter. The overarching fear is that the Dinwiddie we saw for large parts of last season were a mirage. For Dinwiddie, it will hinge on his consistency. For every strong stretch of games he’d produce, it felt like they would always be punctuated with some stinker performances. Sometimes in big moments like 5-point scoring night in a 1-point loss to Utah in Game 4 of Dallas’ first round series.
There’s just not enough playmaking on this roster when Dinwiddie’s not operating at peak efficiency. Dallas will be scraping the bottom of the barrel already by getting what they can out of guys like Frank Ntilikina and Josh Green. If Dinwiddie doesn’t play like a guy who can win Dallas a game or two when the inevitable happens and Luka Doncic misses a handful of games this season, the deficiencies around Dallas’ playmaking are going to be glaring.
It already feels like a lot to ask a guy to simply continue playing as the best version of himself, but that’s really what the roster calls for. If Dinwiddie can sustain the gains he made as a shooter while moving into a larger starting role, that’s a win. His shifty handle and ability to draw fouls is something few on this roster can offer.
Dinwiddie has shown what he’s capable of. If he can segue seamlessly from the bench to the starting five without stumbling, Dallas might look like they’ve dodged a bullet. Already, the choice to enter the season with an open roster spot and no bench leader is eyebrow raising, but a locked-in starting lineup will reduce the number of fingers the Dallas front office will need to plug holes in the roster as they become apparent.