The Nets’ franchise-changing star hasn’t been needed for more than two weeks. The guard expected to bring Brooklyn to the next level has watched his teammates take off without him.
Kyrie Irving has been sidelined with a shoulder injury for eight games. The Nets are 6-2 without the six-time All-Star. They went 4-7 with him leading the team in scoring (28.5) and assists (7.2).
If Irving’s return isn’t imminent, it is looming. When it comes, change is inevitable.
But the success without Irving hasn’t changed how current star Spencer Dinwiddie looks at his role alongside the former first-overall pick.
“As great of a talent as he is, it’s more so like we need to figure out how to work around what he prefers to do, versus the other way around,” Dinwiddie said following Friday’s win over the Celtics. “[I’m] figuring out my role as it starts to shift around, when everyone gets healthy.”
Right now, Dinwiddie looks perfect in the role formerly reserved for Irving. Coach Kenny Atkinson thinks the 26-year-old is “playing as good as anybody in the NBA right now.”
Dinwiddie just scored 32 points (6-of-8 3-pointers) and tied a season-high with 11 assists — marking his second-ever back-to-back double-doubles — while adding five rebounds, two steals and two blocks against Boston.
Coming off the bench the first 11 games of the season, Dinwiddie averaged 17.1 points and 4.6 assists in 26.3 minutes. Since Irving’s injury and Dinwiddie’s addition to the starting lineup, he has averaged 24.5 points, 7.8 assists and 32.5 minutes.
“When [Irving and Caris LeVert] come back, I still want him to be in that same mentality, the same mode,” Atkinson said. “Now, he is an incredible team player. I just don’t want him deferring. He has to be the same aggressive Spencer, within the context of those guys coming back.
“I don’t want him to take a step back. I think that’s his next step, when Kyrie does came back and Caris does come back to continue that aggressiveness. It’s not your turn, my turn. It’s playing together with those guys. Spencer can play really well off the ball. He can play on the ball. Those guys figuring out what that looks like, that puzzle with three ball-handlers on the floor, I think we were getting there before Kyrie and Caris got hurt, I think the chemistry was starting to come. Spencer and Caris have always played well together. It’s just them getting used to playing with Kyrie.”
Atkinson has repeatedly mentioned that Dinwiddie’s confidence previously never approached his ability.
The 6-foot-5 guard was a second-round pick. He averaged less than 14 minutes each of his first two seasons. He’s come off the bench in 183 NBA games. He’s started 89.
But a small stretch in his sixth season appears to be altering Dinwiddie’s own perception.
“I think that was Spencer’s thing from the beginning, he didn’t know how good he was,” Atkinson said. “And now he’s starting to realize.”
Coming off one of the best wins of the season, the Nets (10-9) can pick up their sixth win in seven games Sunday against the Heat (13-5) at Barclays Center.
“This is in the Boston realm. This is a top-four Eastern Conference playoff team,” Atkinson said. “I can’t wait to see how we play against them. … That’s the next step to build on beating an elite team, can you do it again? How consistently can we do it? I think we do have a nice chemistry going. Spencer is playing at an elite level. That helps.”
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