Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie stepping up with Ben Simmons out

Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie stepping up with Ben Simmons out

For much of the season, Spencer Dinwiddie’s role with the Nets was undefined.

The veteran began the 2023-24 campaign as Brooklyn’s starting shooting guard, ceding the point guard position he primarily played last spring to a healthy Ben Simmons.

When Cam Thomas kicked off the season with successive offensive outbursts, the 22-year-old quickly emerged as the Nets’ top backcourt scoring option, further clouding Dinwiddie’s situation.

But in the three weeks since Simmons re-injured his surgically-repaired back, there’s been no question where Dinwiddie fits. Dinwiddie stepped right back in as Brooklyn’s ball-distributing point guard — a role he continues to thrive in.

Dinwiddie recorded a game-high 11 assists to go with 14 points in Saturday night’s win over the Heat, giving him his second consecutive double-double. Saturday marked his eighth straight start at point guard in place of Simmons and his fourth time in five games tallying at least seven assists.

“We had talked about Spencer finding his niche with the group, and we’re still not whole yet, so they’re still going to have to get to a different place once we are whole,” coach Jacque Vaughn said after Saturday’s game.

“Right now, he’s taken advantage of really commanding the basketball, getting us in our spots, calling the right plays, seeing who’s touched the ball, who hasn’t touched the ball, a lot of things that you need to do, responsibility-wise, as a point guard.”

Dinwiddie is no stranger to being the floor general. He excelled as a passer after returning to Brooklyn in the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Dallas last February, averaging 9.1 assists in 26 games. Simmons only appeared in four of those games before a nerve impingement in the right side of his back ended his season after 42 games.

Dinwiddie led the NBA with 146 assists last March, averaging 9.7 per game for the month. He was even better in April, averaging 12.0 over four regular-season games.

“It’s a natural position for him to be able to go in there and create plays from the point guard spot,” Nets forward Cam Johnson said Saturday. “He does a good job of it. He does a good job no matter where he’s put.”

The Nets offense looks much different with Dinwiddie at point guard compared to Simmons. With the tempo-pushing Simmons, the Nets are among the NBA’s best transition teams, scoring at least 20 fast-break points in each of his six starts.

With Dinwiddie, the Nets run less frequently and operate more out of their halfcourt offense. Four of Dinwiddie’s assists Saturday led to buckets at the basket for center Nic Claxton, including two alley-oops. On four of his other assists, Dinwiddie found teammates for three-pointers.

“Assists are a thing that happen when your teammates make shots, so [I’m] very thankful for them,” Dinwiddie said.

Now in his seventh season with the Nets, Dinwiddie moved into fifth place on the team’s all-time assists list last week. His 1,784 assists with Brooklyn entering Sunday trailed only the totals compiled by Jason Kidd, Kenny Anderson, Deron Williams and Darwin Cook.

Dinwiddie is one of three Nets ever to record at least 1,500 assists and make at least 500 three-pointers, along with Kidd and Vince Carter.

“It just means I’m old,” said Dinwiddie, who, at 30, is the oldest player on the Nets’ roster by a few weeks.

Simmons, who is now dealing with a nerve impingement in the left side of his lower back, only recently resumed light individual court work, meaning Dinwiddie should remain the Nets’ point guard for at least the foreseeable future.

The Nets have also been without Thomas, their leading scorer, since Nov. 8 due to a sprained ankle, though he’s expected to be integrated back into team activities this week.

“I can’t replace Ben,” Dinwiddie said Saturday.

“I try to fit into whatever role happens. Tonight we were making shots, so just trying to find people. It’s pretty much that simple. When those guys come back, we’ll see what happens.”

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