Kyrie Irving didn’t realize how much he leaned on Spencer Dinwiddie until he ran the Nets offense without him.
In his first game without Dinwiddie, who is out indefinitely after suffering a partial ACL tear in his right knee, Irving got off to a cold start, shooting 1-of-10 in the first quarter. He finished with 25 points, coming up big down the stretch of Wednesday’s 145-141 win over the Hawks, but missing Dinwiddie gave Irving something to think about
“A lot of the ballhandling duties, a lot of things that I was relying on to have Spence out there in the lineup, we don’t necessarily have for a while,” he said after Thursday practice. “It’s just little things like that we’re going to miss in Spence. Now, we have to get another group of guys together in terms of finding that synergy to be able to carry on throughout the rest of the games.”
Dinwiddie is like a Swiss army knife. He’s a point guard who happens to start at the two, can space the floor and shoot threes, blow by any defender, guard any perimeter player and also create a shot for his teammates.
That kind of player doesn’t come a dime a dozen.
Dinwiddie, however, is less of a dime and more of a quarter trending toward a half-dollar. The challenge is replacing him with dimes, nickels and pennies that don’t add up to his true value.
So far, Nash has opted to replace Dinwiddie with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (TLC), who played with the starters for the first time this season, including practices or training camp. That spot looks interchangeable, though, as the Nets could go with Landry Shamet or Taurean Prince, depending on who has the hot hand.
Nash doesn’t anticipate any wholesale changes to the Nets’ offensive or defensive philosophy, but he does think he needs to “create more structure.”
“Another player out there that can handle scenarios and situations with his playmaking or point guard skills is really valuable, depending on the matchups and the lineups,” he said.
In Wednesday’s win over the Hawks, Nash subbed out Durant for Caris LeVert at the 4:52 mark of the first quarter. He then came back with Durant in for Irving two minutes later to close the quarter.
“Yeah it’s only going to help us,” Durant said postgame, “especially with Spence going down and him being another ballhandler for us and somebody we’re gonna miss a lot handling that rock, especially when it’s time for me and Kyrie to score.”
NBA teams are also coming off of the shortest offseason in league history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Full team practices are few and far between, as more teams are opting for walkthroughs and film sessions due to the condensed nature of the shortened 72-game season.
The Nets have had relative success early this season because of how tight-knit a group they are, but Dinwiddie was critical to that.
“Everyone likes to say this phrase ‘Next Man Up Mentality,’ but it’s hard to do that when we started off kind of the last few months together,” Irving said. “And we’ve played together a certain type of style, and then we have one of our pieces go down. It’s the tale of the business. Guys get hurt all the time, and then we have to figure out some things that work for the group that we put out there.”
It’s unclear at this point whether Dinwiddie will return this season, but he is optimistic. He has dealt with worse as he suffered a non-contact full ACL tear with a complete tear of both his meniscus and MCL in his left knee in college. After surgery, doctors told him he wouldn’t play at a high level again and recommended he return to school and get his degree.
He beat the odds before and believes he can do so again.
“Next question: Will I miss the road to a @brooklynnets 2021 championship?” Dinwiddie wrote in a post on Instagram. “My response: As we’ve seen before. Crazier things have happened.”
There is also the Disabled Player Exception the Nets can use to sign or trade for a player worth up to a $5.7 million salary. The Nets can only apply for that exception if Dinwiddie is deemed out for the season.
The Nets first have to worry about what’s going on in their own backyard, and on this playground, dimes, nickels and pennies must be welded into a puzzle piece or pieces that fit the Nets’ championship aspirations. The shape of this particular piece will be difficult to reproduce.