Let’s take a look at Spencer Dinwiddie’s new role, DeAndre Jordan’s defensive — or lack thereof — intensity, and other storylines from the Brooklyn Nets’ season opener.
The Brooklyn Nets are who we thought they were. Their pummeling of the Boston Celtics and (1st half) beatdown of the Washington Wizards in the preseason were not a mirage. They’re are capable of blowing the doors off of teams, ending contests in the first half, and creating garbage time less than two hours into the night.
The Golden State Warriors never stood a chance, thanks in part to a — shield your eyes — seven-for-30 combined shooting performance from Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre. Brooklyn’s defense was disruptive for most of the night, that’s for sure. But there was definitely a lid on the rim for Golden State too. Their looks were not as bad as the data may suggest. Still, whenever you hold a team to 37 percent from the floor, it’s safe to say the defense played well.
The 26-point victory for Brooklyn also revealed some clues about what is sure to be one of the more scrutinized players, at least early on, for the squad: Spencer Dinwiddie. There are plenty of questions surrounding his role, and many of them are valid.
Where does Dinwiddie, by far the most offensively burdened player of the 2020 season, fit in this season? Should he even be starting at all? Some valuable data in answering these questions was thrown our way Tuesday night. And the early returns are more positive than you might expect, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Brooklyn Has Something in Dinwiddie the Starter
There wasn’t much to Spencer Dinwiddie’s line on opening night. He posted the infamous triple-single: nine points, five rebounds, and four assists, on two-of-six shooting with three turnovers. A fear that many Nets fans held going into the season was that the seventh-year guard would be overshadowed in the starting lineup, or that he wouldn’t fit in at all. That Dinwiddie needed to be orchestrating, playing Pick and Roll basketball to be effective. A glance at the box score may support that narrative.
Thankfully for Brooklyn and their coaching staff, the film doesn’t.
Before I discuss his offensive performance, Dinwiddie’s contributions on the other end must be noted. That was less of a focus in the worries about his fit, but he impressed nonetheless. I noted this in the Guards Preview, but Dinwiddie is the rare type of athlete Brooklyn isn’t flush with this season.
He’s 6-foot-five, has long arms, and fantastic quick-twitch muscles — just look at his first step blowing by defenders. He put those tools to use when guarding Steph Curry on Tuesday. It looks like Dinwiddie may be the best on-ball guard defender on the roster. Combine that with a smart, springy Kyrie Irving, who was quite active in help, and Brooklyn has a path to an above-average defensive backcourt this year. Still, a ways to go; the start, though, was nothing but encouraging.
In the preseason, Dinwiddie mentioned Draymond Green’s name when considering his potential role this year. Generally, we need to stop evoking Draymond when discussing “glue” guys, as Dinwiddie was doing, considering the three-time champion is a future Hall of Famer who revolutionized the position.
But as the game unfolded, Dinwiddie’s thought process became clearer. I was big on his potential running the floor in transition entering the season. He’s a strong ball-handler who can push the floor with Brooklyn’s absurd talent and create opportunities in the early shot clock. He creates downhill, north-to-south pressure on the defense. It’s another dimension of offense the Nets can go to. It’s not a stretch to say these passes are reminiscent of Draymond Green running the break:
Here, he creates two open Joe Harris threes, and his push gets Irving a one-on-one situation with a whole lotta space to operate. Dinwiddie can be a tone-setter for the offense, as strange as that sounds alongside Kyrie and KD. He can excel in these semi-transition situations, looking up the floor and finding advantageous situations, like, say, Harris in the corner or Kyrie on the wing. Dinwiddie can create many opportunities for this team, just by virtue of pushing the basketball, regardless of if it shows up in the box score. Even his turnovers came with similar, unselfish intentions:
A lob to DeAndre Jordan, when he’s guarded by a 6-foot-2 player … is good offense. Finding Kyrie in the corner with a defender running at him is, guess what— good offense. The execution will come as everybody gets more comfortable playing together, but Dinwiddie seems eager to push the ball and look for teammates. Including the preseason, he’s looked a little too unselfish at times, but again, these things smooth out over time.
He seems to have bought into his role, which is always great news. When he gets more comfortable, the points will come. Dinwiddie missed a layup after a beautiful euro-step in transition; he got to the line on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter after pushing the ball. There are clear opportunities for him to impact the game, never mind when KD, Kyrie, or both are load managing. Not to jump the gun, but it looks like head coach Steve Nash may have pushed the right button.
Then, There was DeAndre Jordan’s Defensive “Effort”
DeAndre Jordan’s defense will be under the microscope all season long, and for good reason: Jarrett Allen is his backup. Last night was a mixed bag. He was better than expected meeting Steph Curry at the level of the ball screen, only letting him walk into one easy three. The defensive scheme was to funnel drivers towards the big man, often away from the middle, and it held up. Drop coverage will goad players into taking valuable shots for the defense. Jordan will not pretend to care about an Eric Paschall 18-footer, but at least he’s making an effort at the three-point line.
The worst part of DeAndre Jordan’s defensive game was his flat feet. Watch a Milwaukee Bucks game, and see Brook Lopez roam the paint in drop coverage. He’s slow, but he’s not stiff. Lopez is always in a good defensive position and has an explosive stance. The same cannot be said for Jordan. On one play, his man screened for Curry, who cut across his face for a layup. DeAndre was in a good position, but the extra second it took him to start moving was all Steph needed. The flat feet also prevent him from making multiple efforts. Jordan can meet a ball-handler, in help, but doesn’t recover in time when that ball-handler dumps a pass off to his man. That’s what worries me in the long run about the third member of Brooklyn’s 2019 “clean sweep.” As the big in the drop, there are athletes coming at you downhill, constantly. If you’re not in an athletic position, you’re not contesting their shots.
DeAndre Jordan has always had a sense for the big help block, but being the last line of defense? We’ll see as the season goes on.
- To wrap on Spencer Dinwiddie: His starting means Caris LeVert off the bench. He looked hungry in that role on Tuesday night, and it exposed the difference between the two players. Caris loves to poke and prod defenses — put his defender in jail — and shoot from any of the three levels. He needs to pass more than he did last night, but that will come. The reverse is true for Spencer. Dinwiddie will take three dribbles to do what Caris does in 15 dribbles. They both have their functions, but I think it’s clear which style you prefer with Kyrie and KD.
- Brooklyn mainly switched one-through-four. Keep an eye on how often they run that switching scheme in the early season.
- Jarrett Allen can move those puppies on the perimeter. There was a similar play to when Steph cut across Jordan’s face and got by for a layup, but it was Paschall coming off the screen. Allen met him at 17 feet, rode on his hip all the way to the paint, and blocked his shot off the glass. Allen just brings a different talent on defense than Jordan, especially with skinnier, longer teams like the Warriors.
- The second unit is essentially the 2020 starters, with Jeff Green and Landry Shamet sprinkled in. Phew.
- Shamet only shot one-for-four, but he looks comfortable. The second unit was running some crisp sets; he must have gotten a lot of run in training camp with Green, Allen, and LeVert.
- I touched on it earlier, but Kyrie was active in help defense. I have a lot of faith in him at least treading water on that end come playoff time. As a smart, quick athlete? He should be good.
- Taurean Prince continued his impressive perimeter defense guarding smaller wings. Brooklyn has a stable of long dudes, man. Deflections are incoming.
Possession of the Night
Look at that spacing. One of the things I wanted to remind Nets fans of entering the season is that Kyrie Irving is an elite shooter. He’s probably a top-30 shooter in the league, who is consistently above 40% on his catch and shoot attempt. Look at the Durant-Irving-Harris perimeter spacing, that lane is wide open. The last help defender is torn between rotations, and for good reason. Allen also makes a good pass off the roll, a skill that’s been an important part of his development.
This possession is everything that excites me about the Brooklyn Nets’ offense. Their stars are also top-tier floor spacers. Their rotation pieces are already very familiar with each other. That ball goes back and forth from Dinwiddie and Allen twice, until the big man ultimately finds a looming Joe Harris waiting in the corner. Good luck stopping this team.