The following statements are each true:
- Spencer Dinwiddie was terrific during the regular season and was integral to the late-season success of Dallas.
- Spencer Dinwiddie struggled so far in the postseason and looked closer to the player he was in Washington than the one Mavericks fans fell in love with after the Porzingis trade.
So, what changed? In short, Dinwiddie has stopped attacking the paint against the Jazz with the same ferocity he had during the regular season. Some people will look at his shooting splits from the perimeter during that time but even Dinwiddie’s staunchest supporters will admit that those numbers were unsustainable. Dinwiddie can shoot but is not necessarily a shooter. The key to his game is hitting just enough shots from the perimeter to force defenders to close out on him. Those situations are where Dinwiddie thrives.
To contextualize Dinwiddie’s game, let’s look at it from a football perspective. There are certain quarterbacks that can throw receivers open. Players like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady are able to anticipate when a player SHOULD be open and put the ball in a place where their receiver can make the play. Then there are players like Michael Vick and Brett Favre who held on to the ball, wait for their receivers to create separation, and have the arm strength to get the ball through a tiny window. Dinwiddie is comparable the latter. If multiple sets of eyes are on him, he hesitates and ends up dancing with the ball waiting for a lane to open up. He then settles for step-back jumpers and later becomes hesitant to pull the trigger if he struggles early.
Where Dinwiddie thrives is amid chaos. When the ball is whipping around and the ball movement forces the defense into rotation, Dinwiddie can attack closeouts and make quick decisions. He’s fast enough to take it to the hole and force a foul while being a good enough passer to find the open man when defenders leave their assignment in hopes of walling off the paint.
It’s up to Kidd to put Dinwiddie in positions to succeed. Dinwiddie is a capable ball-handler but should not be counted on as the primary ball-handler. While he has the skill set to do it but it’s not the ideal role for him. In situations where Luka is in the game, he can incorporate more dribble hand-offs on the perimeter. Get defenders in motion and incorporate enough off-ball actions to keep help defenders busy. When Luka is on the bench, incorporate some pick and rolls with Kleber at the 5. When Kleber is hitting his outside shots, defenders have to be mindful of the pick and pop. If the defense switches and the smaller man stays with Kleber, Dinwiddie can beat the bigger defender off the dribble and essentially play 4-on-3 basketball. With Dwight Powell, defenses can play drop, eliminate passing lanes by staying glued to our shooters and force Dinwiddie into some tough floaters. Luka is perfectly suited to kill drop coverages. Dinwiddie is not.
In summary, some small tweaks by the coaching staff could go a long way towards getting Dinwiddie back on track. Getting DeAndre Ayton in foul trouble is crucial to the Mavs’ chance of advancing to the Western Conference Finals. In baseball terms, we have to force the Suns to go to their bullpen early and often. If Kidd can scheme ways to get Dinwiddie downhill, the Suns' front-line depth will be tested and it could end up being the difference in the series.