Spencer Dinwiddie

Development of Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie shows the importance of G League scouting for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Development of Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie shows the importance of G League scouting for the Bulls

On Wednesday night the Bulls fell 96-93 to the Brooklyn Nets in a game dominated by point guard play. In the matchup, Kris Dunn—acquired by the Bulls in the ‘17 NBA Draft night trade of Jimmy Butler—had 24 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and only one turnover. But he was outplayed by Spencer Dinwiddie—he of the new three-year, $34 million contract—who turned in 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the win.

Dinwiddie’s emergence can be attributed to his perseverance over several G League stints—including a stint with the Bulls G League affiliate— that saw him get a little bit better each year.

And the fact that the Nets didn’t blink at signing him to his new deal hints at the idea that he is a player who is very dedicated to putting in the work to seriously improve his game. The Bulls are hoping Dunn is the same way—and he has shown every indication of that this season—but they definitely missed out on Dinwiddie considering that he played for their G League affiliate Windy City Bulls in their inaugural season.

And that is why Dinwiddie is a perfect example of just how important G League scouting—especially of your affiliate—is so vital.

The standard line from many fans of a team when a player like Dinwiddie starts to turn into the best-case version of themselves on another squad is: “There was no way to see this coming.”

Or you will see a simple, congratulatory response like head coach Jim Boylen delivered on Tuesday night, “We’re happy for Dinwiddie.” And the Bulls should be happy, as no matter how big or small of a role played in his development, they definitely contributed to his formation to some extent. But the fact that he wasn’t on a two-way contract with the Bulls means that they would’ve had to act fast in giving him a look, lest another NBA team call him up, and that is exactly what happened when the Nets decided to sign Dinwiddie on December 8, 2016.

At the time Dinwiddie got his first opportunity with the Nets, the Bulls point guard rotation was Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant. So yeah, no exactly a “who’s who” of NBA point guards.

Chicago had Dinwiddie for the 2016-17 preseason, where despite not putting up big numbers in limited minutes, he played solidly. Over five preseason games he shot 58 percent from the field and showed a willingness to defend, posting solid steal and block rates. His numbers didn’t jump off the page but at 6-foot 6 it was safe to assume he could become a serviceable NBA player in some regard with some refinement on his jump shot.

Dinwiddie’s time on the Windy City Bulls was a brief nine-game stretch but in that time he played like a player who was ready to have a breakout season.

Over those nine games he averaged 19 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting. The biggest error on the Bulls end of things was not taking those numbers seriously. NBA-quality players put up great numbers in the G League because of their (obvious) higher physicality and/or skill level. And if you compare his numbers with the Windy City Bulls to his statistics during his other G League stints, it is obvious that he was an improving player with room to grow:

G League stats:

2014-15: 12 PPG, 5 APG, 3 RPG, 2 FTA per game

2015-16: 14 PPG, 6 APG, 3 RPG, 4 FTA per game

2016-17: 19 PPG, 8 APG, 3 RPG, 6 FTA per game

Dinwiddie’s development in the counting stats showed a player getting more comfortable with his shot and role on a team. But the free throw attempts are just as important--if not more--because they show a player who is becoming more aggressive, and in Dinwiddie’s case, becoming confident in their game.

And so fittingly, there was Dinwiddie, nailing 50 percent of his eight 3-point attempts and getting the game-winning steal and free throws to seal the win over the Bulls.


This all to say, the hope is that the Bulls front office is looking at the Windy City Bulls as a legitimate talent-pool, and not just a way to train coaches and/or additional staff. This is not the lone case of talent developing up in Hoffman Estates.

Chicago-native Alfonzo McKinnie plays about 15 minutes per game for the Warriors. He averaged 9 RPG for the Windy City Bulls in the 2016-17 season and showed signs of being able to extend his range, shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line after shooting 35 percent from 3-point range in college. He played in all 50 games for the Windy City Bulls in his lone season.

Jake Layman is playing about 15 MPG for the Trail Blazers and is shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line. He played on the 2016-17 Windy City Bulls team and scored 17 PPG over an eight game stretch with the team.

Neither McKinnie or Layman are going to develop into superstars. They may never carry a scoring load for their respective teams or even get to start more than a couple times in a season, but that isn’t that the point.

The (Chicago) Bulls are have historically built through the draft, with few free agent success stories sprinkled in. And in terms of recent history, the Bulls took a great first step in the right direction in their (latest) rebuild by getting a great return in the Jimmy Butler trade.

The next steps are going to be identifying and acquiring—whether it be through developing someone currently on the roster, the draft or free agency—a superstar and finding good role players to fit around those central figures. And the G League has emerged as perhaps the best (and most cost effective way) of doing finding latter.

And in the case of Dinwiddie, he is going to be a lot more than a good role player. So while it didn’t cost the Bulls anything to lose him, it still represents an opportunity missed on a guard who has yet to hit his prime.

But life goes on, and there will be other solid talents finding their way in the NBA G League, possibly on the Windy City Bulls. Hopefully, the (Chicago) Bulls spot them first.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Spencer Dinwiddie emerging as dependable option behind Rajon Rondo

Spencer Dinwiddie emerging as dependable option behind Rajon Rondo

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.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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.