When Denzel Valentine sprained his ankle in the preseason opener, it seemed as if the Bulls’ only real option at backup point guard would be lost for a couple weeks but it opened the door for Spencer Dinwiddie.
Dinwiddie’s smooth and under control drives to the basket—never too fast, certainly not a blur—makes you wonder if he can assert himself in that way when the games count.
But he’s certainly opened eyes and seemingly earned the opportunity to play with the regulars when Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg starts ramping up the minutes in the last five preseason games.
He’s jumped ahead of Jerian Grant and Isaiah Canaan on Hoiberg’s internal depth chart of dependable reserves, although he was probably the most unlikely on the list to be thought of earning minutes.
“He's got great instincts out there on the basketball floor,” Hoiberg said. “He's got good size, he can make plays over the top. He had a couple of good finishes last night. The best thing about it was, I thought he had good decision-making. We want that consistency, especially with that backup guard spot.”
Dinwiddie led the Bulls in scoring in their 115-108 loss to the Indiana Pacers Thursday with 19 points with six rebounds. Initially acquired in a trade with Detroit for Cameron Bairstow, and then released when the Bulls needed the extra cap space to sign Dwyane Wade, it didn’t appear there would be any roster space for Dinwiddie, much less an opportunity to make a way into the playing rotation.
“It's okay man. In the scope of things, I'd probably cut myself too,” Dinwiddie said with a smile but had all the seriousness of a veteran who knew what he was saying.
But he was re-signed shortly after being released and played in summer league, so the former second-round pick was looking at any opportunity as an opportunity to stick and make his mark in the league.
After tearing his ACL in college his junior year at Colorado, Dinwiddie went from hearing the comparisons to former Colorado guard Chauncey Billups—stemming from their cool charisma, intelligence and playing style—to being a second-round pick by the Pistons in 2014 and being an afterthought in the NBA landscape.
“It was a very tough surgery, well documented. Lottery pick before, second rounder after,” Dinwiddie said. “Physically I feel better. It's been two and a half years now, so I've been in the weight room, grinding hard all summer. That's a real big focus because I gotta keep my legs as strong as I possible, just to keep myself from getting hurt.”
He wasn’t an afterthought to the Bulls, who got to see him up close and personal in a rare chance Dinwiddie was able to show himself in the 2014-15 season. After the Pistons lost Brandon Jennings to an Achilles’ injury but before they acquired point guard Reggie Jackson at the trade deadline, the Bulls and Pistons met up in Auburn Hills in the first game after the All-Star break.
In his first start of the season, Dinwiddie scored 12 points and added nine assists in 30 minutes in a surprising win for the Pistons. He followed it up a month later with a 10-point, 10-assist game in a rematch, piquing the Bulls’ interest, considering they saw him at his best and the rest of the league only saw inconsistent play.
“Inconsistent opportunity will breed inconsistent play,” Dinwiddie said. “That's pretty much all there was to it. I didn't get to play much and then when I did, it was a mixed bag. I was a little hesitant and something when stuff falls, everything seems to flow. Given consistent minutes I believe I can be a player in this league, like a lot of people do. But I feel like I've proven that to some extent and look forward to continuing to prove that.”
And although it’s been just two games—but longer considering the time Dinwiddie has been around the Advocate Center, it’s been more time than that—he’s attached himself to Rondo, too intelligent and witty guys bonding over a new environment.
“He's brilliant,” Dinwiddie said. “You hear about basketball IQ and his ability to pass and his reputation is far ranging but being around him you realize he's more brilliant than his reputation would say. Just being able to pick his brain and talk to him has been a pleasure.”
And seemingly, Bulls fans will likely find that their newest backup point guard is just as dependable as he is witty.