- The Washington Times
Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Bradley Beal slipped up. As the Washington Wizards guard was speaking the other day, Beal uttered “Russ” instead of “Wes,” mixing up former teammate Russell Westbrook for new coach Wes Unseld Jr. 

He caught himself as soon as it happened. “I mean, Wes,” he said.

Westbrook is now gone, which leaves Beal, once again, having to adjust to a new backcourt partner. Upon trading Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards brought in Spencer Dinwiddie to be their starting point guard — giving him a three-year, $54 million contract as part of a five-team sign-and-trade. His arrival marks the fourth straight year Beal and the Wizards will have a new starting point guard on opening night: John Wall in 2018, Ish Smith in 2019, Westbrook in 2020 and now Dinwiddie.

Compared to Wall and Westbrook — two All-Star point guards — Dinwiddie brings a fundamentally different style to Washington. Wall and Westbrook thrived on racing out in transition, using their game-changing speed to get downhill and attack the rim. Dinwiddie, however, is more measured: the former Brooklyn Nets guard has a quick first step, but plays at a slower pace.

With Washington’s first preseason game Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, the Wizards have spent training camp getting used to Dinwiddie leading the offense.

“You can’t speed him up,” Beal said. “He plays at his pace. … He’s very patient. He doesn’t get sped up. Him having that type of IQ is great for us because he can play fast. He can do both, he can do either.”

Beal said that Dinwiddie is not as “ball dominant” as Wall or Westbrook, superstars who command the offense and get teammates into proper position. Dinwiddie has those traits, as well, Beal added, but the three-time All-Star noted that Dinwiddie’s ability to regularly play off the ball. “He’s very versatile,” Beal said. “I love it.”

Perhaps Dinwiddie’s learned to become comfortable without the ball in his hands because of the circumstances. A second-round pick in 2014, Dinwiddie had to fight for minutes in the NBA by doing whatever asked — and that wasn’t always to play point guard. Even as Dinwiddie’s profile started to grow, and he was seeing more minutes, the point guard often had to share the floor with other dominant ball handlers.

In Brooklyn, Dinwiddie became accustomed to playing with D’Angelo Russell and later, Kyrie Irving — score-first point guards who need the ball. According to Basketball-Reference, Dinwiddie played 753.1 minutes together with Russell in 67 contests during the 2018-19 season, good for 11.2 minutes per night. With Irving the following year, that number was 304.8 minutes in 20 games — an average of 15.24. For reference, Dinwiddie logged 28.1 and 31.2 minutes per game in those seasons. 

That said, the Wizards still want Dinwiddie, who’s coming off a season-ending knee injury, to be one of their primary playmakers. Unseld has talked about wanting to play Beal more off-ball this season, with the goal aiming to reduce the amount of energy Beal uses on the offensive end so he can improve defensively. 

Dinwiddie, too, can score when asked. He was a 20-point per game scorer in 2019-20. 

During training camp, Unseld said it didn’t take long for players to adjust to Dinwiddie. He also praised the way the 28-year-old quickly picked up on players’ strengths, and how he’s started to incorporate those into the flow of the offense. 

“He’s a very cerebral player,” Unseld said. “He understands time (and) score, the situation. He knows how to get guys open. He knows how to orchestrate guys who have got a game going. He’ll move guys around within the flow of the offense … I give him a lot of credit. He has a really good feel.

“He’s pretty bright in terms of what guys like to do.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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