CHICAGO – Due to circumstances outside of his control, Spencer Dinwiddie’s role with the Brooklyn Nets has grown considerably this year. The standout guard has started 39 games — the second-most of his career — while appearing in all 54 and setting a career-best mark in Usage Rate (29.6 percent, nearly five percentage points higher than his previous high-water mark). As a result, Dinwiddie has put forth the best year of his career, averaging 21 points, 6.6 assists, and three rebounds in 31.3 minutes a night.
For Dinwiddie, all of this stems from one thing: Opportunity. The former second-round pick in 2014 bounced around prior to joining the Nets, suiting up for the Detroit Pistons and its G League affiliate for two years before taking the floor as a member of the Windy City Bulls for nine games in 2016 prior to settling down in Brooklyn.
He’s responded to this by getting better every year, and now, he’s a cornerstone for a franchise that has legitimate championship aspirations. We spoke to Dinwiddie at Panini’s lounge at All-Star Weekend in Chicago about getting an opportunity in Brooklyn, how he’s grown as a player, his unique contract that has gained a whole lot of attention in recent months, and much more.
[A quick note before we dive in — we spoke to Dinwiddie this prior to it being announced that Kyrie Irving will miss an indefinite period of time due to shoulder surgery.]
You bounced around, were in Detroit for a minute, played here for a bit. Get to Brooklyn and it seems like you’ve really found a home there. What is it about Brooklyn that has led to you thriving in that city and with that team?
Opportunity. At the end of the day, talent, work ethic, all that stuff, it can only take you so far. You need all those things to be able to succeed in this league, but you also need an opportunity. I think of it like that old adage. If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody’s around, does it make a sound? My response to that is always, it doesn’t matter. If a tree falls and nobody’s around, it can’t hurt nobody, the sound does not matter. It didn’t disturb anything, it didn’t disturb nobody, so it’s kind of the same way in the league with opportunity.
When did it dawn on you that Brooklyn was a place where you could plant yourself, you can be settled there for however long you wanna be?
With everything that was happening injury-wise and consistently getting opportunities and being able to progress, probably like midway through my first really good season, which was my second season in Brooklyn. That was when I was like, “Okay, I think I’ma be entrenched in the league. I don’t know where my path takes me from here, but I think I’ll at least be in the NBA.”
One thing that has been obvious about your time in Brooklyn is that every year, you seem to be getting better. Where are the areas where you feel like you feel like you have grown the most as a basketball player in your four years there?
Oh man, I would say probably just my willingness to take three-point shots, especially tough ones in the situations that you kinda have to take selfless threes. Low clock, things like that. I was really gun shy early in my career because I didn’t wanna get sat down on the bench, I wouldn’t take those, and sometimes it helps your team win. Even if you miss, just getting it up on the rim and giving yourself an opportunity for an offensive rebound, things like that, and understanding it’s not about you, it’s about the team. That’s definitely been a big area.
Brooklyn is revered for its player development, how it’s able to put so much time into growing guys and having them become the best version of themselves. Can you speak to what is so special about how Brooklyn places an emphasis on making guys better?
I just think their attention to detail and if you look down the coaching staff, all of them at one point in time was a player development and trainer-type guy. So, coming from that background, whether it be Kenny Atkinson or Adam Harrington or Jacque Vaughn, somebody like that. It really helps you continue to improve because that’s their expertise.
Last year’s team, I was there for Games 3 and 4 against the Sixers, the thing that stuck out to me was how tight-knit that group was.
Obviously the offseason, D’Angelo leaves, Kevin and Kyrie and DeAndre come in, a few other pieces come in. As a leader on the team, what responsibility do you have to make sure that transition’s a smooth one from such a tight-knit group to bringing in guys who know what it takes to get you to a championship?
Well, it’s an evolving process. It wasn’t just D’Lo for Kyrie and KD. We lost Jared Dudley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Ed Davis. These are all key pieces, Allen Crabbe, pieces that really played major roles for us last season. It’s replacing a lot of everything, in a sense. Now, we still maintained the culture that Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson established and kept some of the core — Joe Harris, Caris, myself, Jarrett Allen. It’s an evolving process, but we love the talent that we have, we also love the championship experience that they bring.
Wanna ask about specifically Kyrie and DeAndre, being on the floor with them, what sticks out about going to war with these dudes every night?
Just the basketball IQ more than anything. Obviously the talent level is also high, they’re both All-NBA type players. But their basketball IQ is through the roof. DJ anchors our defense, Kyrie’s an amazing three-level scorer and both of them continue to lead our team.
As a fan, I know those nights when … every night has them, but when Kyrie’s really locked in and he’s got the ball on the string, what’s that like as the guy next to him? Does that make you feel like you have to raise your game?
Oh, for sure. It’s inspiring, because you want to win a championship, so you understand that no one player — and that’s through history. Wilt can’t win by himself, so you know, you wanna be able to play at the highest level possible to be part of that support group that gets to a championship level.
Can I get some intel on KD? Have you seen how he’s looking?
He looks great. He’s going through the rehab process, obviously there’s been a few clips leaked on social media. We’re looking forward to his return next year.
Middle of this year, you’re at 21 points a game, career-high in scoring. Why have you been able to do this?
Again, my road to opportunity usually comes through injury, that’s just kind of the way it works. When Kyrie went down, it was all about how can I best help the team win games. That’s the role I’ve been thrust into.
Then again, guys get thrust into that all the time. Do you feel like you’re able to get into more of a rhythm, is it a matter of your team needs you in this situation?
It’s just a different rhythm. The different roles you play have different rhythms, different flows. I had to step into a pretty ball-dominant role, because it wasn’t just Kyrie out. Caris was also out as well. So you end up absorbing the lion’s share of those ball-handling possessions, and it’s your job to do the best you can.
I want you to take me through this contract a bit. Where’d the idea to do something a little bit different come from?
I already had a passion for blockchain technology, really since 2017. Obviously, I signed my contract in 2018, and you know, things kinda just come together. The contract situation and what I see going forward is a product of things making sense in my mind. It’s nothing super special, I guess, it’s just something that I thought of and trying to push forward, and I hope it can help the NBA and the fans and players, which are the three pieces in this ecosystem.
Where’d the interest in all this stem from?
Obviously player empowerment, also like I said, blockchain technology made this possible in terms of an efficient manner, fractionalized shares of things, etc. And also, fantasy sports, in a sense, the larger NBA ecosystem and engaging fans and bringing people together.
And how’d you get turned onto this world of tech and different kinds of … is it essentially a cryptocurrency thing?
So it uses blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrency. But I’m not creating my own, like, separate currency. The transaction would occur in U.S. dollars, but yeah, at the end of the day, people thought I was trying to create a new Bitcoin or something, that’s not the case.
What do you have going on here with Panini?
Just coming in, kicking it at the lounge a little bit, and just having some fun.
Question I’ve always wanted to ask an athlete — there’s all the things you think of, wanna win a championship, wanna hit the shot to win a game, all that. Was getting your own trading card, to say there’s a Spencer Dinwiddie card, one of those things?
For sure, there’s a milestone to that. There’s something within having your own Panini card that’s so special. The first time is always the most memorable, usually at the draft, in some form or fashion around draft time, when you get that first large signing bonus and you see your card and all that stuff, it’s pretty special.
Last question, saw something going around where you said if you could play anyone 1-on-1, you’d play Jimmy Butler. You said that earlier today?
I said that earlier today. I was pretty much just looking for the most inflammatory person I could choose.
Well, Jimmy got asked about that and he said something to the extent of, “That’s not gonna happen.” Like you said, it’s Jimmy.
You guys play on the 29th. Are you gonna tell your teammates, “Get out of the way, I wanna…” you know.
[Laughs.] Nah, nah, it’s definitely nothing personal against Jimmy. They put me on the spot, and I was thinking about the most fun person to poke fun at. That’s why I did that, I played with Jimmy here in Chicago for a cup of coffee, there’s definitely nothing bad at all.
Oh no, but at the same time, we all love 1-on-1 and that’d be a good one.
Oh for sure. I mean, I’ll clear it out against anybody, I don’t really care who you are.