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2015 Pistons preview: Key season for Spencer Dinwiddie

Spencer Dinwiddie had an excuse last season, recovering from an ACL injury. But this year, like KCP, he needs to put it all together.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

There's so much to like about Spencer Dinwiddie.

He was first round talent, you might have heard. He left Colorado with a sterling 60 percent true shooting percentage. He quelled concerns about his passing and point guardyness with a 35 percent assist percentage last year as a rookie.

But that shooting. For some reason, Dinwiddie just couldn't find his shot as a rookie.

Detroit has little use for a player who only shoots 30 percent from the field and 18 percent from three. Dinwiddie has shown he can shoot in college. He's shown potential as a pro. It'd be a shame for him to not be able to stick with the Pistons for a lack of ability to put the ball in the hoop.

2014-15 Year in Review

It all starts right here.

Right here.

Every time Dinwiddie would line up for a shot at the left elbow, I'd scream. Literally. I'd yell at my screen, stop taking that shot. He'd step into it, shoot, and it'd roll off the edge.

Just like this.

He did that 27 times, more times than he even took shots at other spots. His 32 attempts were double what he took at any other spot other than at the rim. For some reason, he kept going back to it all season even though it wasn't falling.

I have absolutely no idea why. Maybe he liked the elbow in college. Maybe it was falling for him in Grand Rapids, where he shot 35.5 percent. But it wasn't working for him in Detroit. And it was ruining him.

When Brandon Jennings went down with a ruptured Achilles, Dinwiddie was handed a gift. No one wants to get their chance that way, especially a guy like Dinwiddie who had gone through something similar the previous year. But he was the presumptive backup, getting his chance at the rotation as a rookie coming out of the second round.

The Pistons dropped four straight and backup point guard got plenty of blame. Especially considering the team had won 12 of their last 15 before then. Van Gundy brought on John Lucas III to shore up the depth. But with the Pistons holding on to playoff hopes, the veteran quickly ate away at Dinwiddie's minutes.

Dinwiddie got another chance for an expanded role coming out of the All Star break. Stan Van Gundy drastically shook the team up, trading for Reggie Jackson and Tayshaun Prince while sending out 40 percent of the team's starters. Jackson wasn't able to dress in the first game after the deadline against the Bulls, so Dinwiddie got the start.

And boy did he make the most of it.

Dinwiddie finished with 12 points, 9 assists, and 3 steals in the Pistons win, but most importantly played his best game of the season to that point. He looked like a real NBA player while matched up against Derrick Rose.

That performance earned him some extra leash down the stretch. The following week, the Pistons were trailing 14 against the Washington Wizards late in the third when Dinwiddie checked in. He went straight to work by nailing a three point shot. By midway through the fourth quarter, the comeback bid was already complete as he scored 12 quick points to tie the game. The Pistons weren't able to finish the Wizards off, as they eventually lost by 5 points. But it was a nice confidence boost for a young player who needed it.

There wasn't much else in the way of highlights for Dinwiddie as it was a rough season overall. After being drafted as a combo guard out of Colorado, he at least proved himself as a point guard by flashing strong passing ability. But his serious scoring struggles lasted throughout the season and he too often looked hesitant running the offense.

Dinwiddie had several stints in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive where he showed his efficient scoring that he flashed in college hadn't completely abandoned him. He averaged 12 points and 5 assists over 6 games with the Drive, and managed a reasonable 53 percent true shooting percentage. He also shot 43.5 percent from three.

2015-16 Projected Production

With Brandon Jennings still working his way back from his Achilles injury, Dinwiddie had several chances to earn Van Gundy's confidence to serve as the backup until Jennings is fully ready. But he was lackluster during the Summer League and, like last season, Van Gundy brought in a veteran for reinforcement.

Almost immediately after Summer League ended, Van Gundy traded Quincy Miller for Steve Blake. The move wasn't a huge show of confidence from the coach to the second year player.

Until Jennings is back and healthy, it'll be another young versus old for the backup point guard competition. Blake is 35 years old and doesn't play defense, but he has a long track record as a reliable option to run the offense and make his three pointers.

If Dinwiddie can do those two things at least relatively consistently, he should stand to get some early minutes. He has a lot going for him. He led his draft class in assist percentage despite being the seventh point guard drafted. He was probably the team's best defensive point guard, sporting the best defensive rating - though he did have this bad habit of fouling on the shot. He committed 21 shooting fouls on the year in 455 while D.J. Augustin, for example, committed the same number in 1,287 minutes.

But if he can't shoot or get the ball up the floor quickly, it may be Grand Rapids for Dinwiddie. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Coming back from a serious injury and straight into NBA games is a tough thing to ask for out of a rookie, especially without the luxury of the preseason. Building his aggressiveness against lower competition and getting some consistent success under his belt could position Dinwiddie for a breakout third season.

Don't count on it being necessary though. Surely Van Gundy is rooting for his youngster to beat out Blake early in the season and will be given chances to be successful - though he probably wasn't hoping that it'd be through an injury to Blake. Jennings is looking at December to be back to full speed, which could give Dinwiddie more than a month in the backup job.

It's certainly not abnormal for rookie point guards to struggle. And it's not abnormal for them to find their footing in their second season. A group of last year's second year point guards in Dennis Schroder, Shane Larkin, and Ray McCallum all took big strides over their rookie seasons. The biggest change for all three? Their scoring efficiency.
Dinwiddie's in a better spot than last year with the benefit of training camp and preseason ball where every day Van Gundy will drill him to push the ball up the court quickly. Once Jackson returns he'll lead a second unit filled with talented offensive players, giving him the opportunity to pick his spots as a scorer. He won't be perfect, but he'll be good enough (though he might not have showed it in the preseason opener).

Jennings will eventually take over the backup point guard spot, regulating Dinwiddie back to the bench. But he'll get enough of a chance to give Van Gundy confidence in him to enter the final year of his rookie contract as a presumptive rotation member.

Long term, I think Dinwiddie has as much potential as any point guard in last year's draft. Each of the players taken ahead of him showed mixed results, some better than others. But with his size, age, and ability, there's no reason to think Dinwiddie can't end up at the top of the pack despite being the seventh point guard picked.

Name Minutes Points/100 possessions True shooting % Assists/100 poss Turnovers/100 poss
Dante Exum 1,817 11.5 45.7% 5.8 3.4
Marcus Smart 1,808 14.5 49.1% 5.8 2.5
Elfrid Payton 2,489 15.0 45.6% 11.0 4.2
Zach LaVine 1,902 20.8 51.5% 7.4 5.2
Tyler Ennis 411 15.0 41.1% 9.0 5.2
Shabazz Napier 1,012 13.6 51.7% 6.8 4.2
Spencer Dinwiddie 455 16.5 39.4% 11.8 3.8

All of these guys struggled with their scoring efficiency. Making the transition to NBA point guard is difficult. Most of them have their virtues. Exum with his youth, Smart with his tenacity, Payton with his versatility, LaVine with his athleticism, Ennis with his poise, Napier with his experience.

But Dinwiddie has the clearest path to eventually becoming an efficient scorer - through three pointers and free throws. No one else in the class can match his ceiling here. Pair that with the passing ability he flashed last season and his terrific size, he truly does look like a first round talent.

Still, even first round talents run out of time. This is the season where he has to start showing it.


61 games, 12 minutes per game, 5 points per game on 56 percent true shooting, 2.6 assists, 1 rebound