Deconstructed: Spencer Dinwiddie has a deal for you


Spencer Dinwiddie has taken every opportunity to sell teams and the NBA on his potential. Now he’s reaping the profits.

Making your way in the NBA is about selling — convincing a team to take a chance on you with that G League opening, draft pick or roster slot, earning minutes and opportunities, playing your way into respect from a defense, and, eventually, making room for yourself in the larger artifice of the league.

Spencer Dinwiddie hasn’t always been negotiating from a position of power but he’s made sale after sale and now he’s ready to become something bigger than basketball.

Baron Davis and the 3-point mirage

As a basketball player, Baron Davis was a carnival barker. Every part of his game — the speed, the strength, the chutzpah, the mile-wide smile — was hollering for your attention. In his healthy prime, he was a great-but-not-quite-elite point guard masquerading as the tip of a dramatic iceberg. Davis sold himself with the dunks, the no-looks and behind-the-backs, the handles and the shake. But his outside shooting was the ultimate gamble of salesmanship.

Davis led the NBA in 3-point attempts during the 2003-04 season, with 582. He connected on just 32.1 percent, well below the league average of 34.7. He finished his career with 4,159 attempts — 30th in NBA history — and made just 32.0 percent. No one in the top-50 in career attempts made a lower percentage.

The relationship between perception and reality is negotiable. On some level, being willing to miss a lot of 3-pointers makes you a 3-point shooter and, in the fractions of a second a defense has to make decisions about the direction and intensity of rotations, they are almost certainly better at distinguishing between shooters and non-shooters than they are between good shooters and bad ones.

Dinwiddie seems to have intuited this fact. It took two seasons on the league’s fringe before he established himself, clearly, as an NBA player. During that breakout, the 2016-17 season with Brooklyn, he made 37.6 percent of his 2.7 3-point attempts per 36 minutes. He’s more than doubled that rate over the past three seasons, averaging 7.0 attempts per 36 minutes and making a Baron-esque 32.3 percent.

Dinwiddie is a respectable catch-and-shoot threat, and defenses rightly treat him as such. His overall percentage has plummeted because he’s become a primary offensive creator who now takes pull-up 3s roughly twice as often as spot-up attempts. What he represents as an outside shooter is not quite solid, but it’s not a mirage either. Dinwiddie became a regular rotation player, in large part, because he made a bunch of 3s, shots that he was willing to take even though he had made less than 20 percent from beyond the arc in his first two seasons. He sold himself as a shooter. What the Nets bought was not quite that, but I’m fairly certain they’ve been satisfied with their purchase.

Ron Harper and the everyman

Across his four seasons with the Nets, Dinwiddie has been nothing if not malleable. In 2017-18, he started nearly three-quarters of Brooklyn’s games. The next season, with D’Angelo Russell starting and breaking out, Dinwiddie started just four all season long. His assist rate has bounced between the low-20s and the mid-30s, depending on what his team has needed in terms of creation. In 2016-17, he spent about 55 percent of his possessions defending point guards. This year, that mark is down 33 percent as he’s flexed his versatility, even spending just over 20 percent of his possessions matched up with power forwards and centers.

He has shown that he can be a primary, secondary or tertiary handler. He can be a spot-up threat, playing off the ball, or he can make things happen in the middle of the floor with the ball in his hands. He can score or he can create for others. On defense, he is not a stopper but certainly an impediment capable of placing himself between scoring opportunities and a variety of opposing players.

In short, he is exactly the kind of player winning teams seek to spackle in the holes between their stars and their role players.

For the second Chicago Bulls’ three-peat, that player was Ron Harper. Built similarly to Dinwiddie, Harper began his career as a primary scoring threat for the Cavaliers and Clippers, averaging double-digit scoring for the first eight years of his career, hitting 20+ in three separate seasons. He played primarily on the wing but still managed to average 4.9 assists per game in those first eight seasons before he came to Chicago.

With the Bulls, Harper was primarily the second-unit ball-handler, doing his best to cover for either Jordan or Pippen when either was out of the game. He could hold his own against elite wing scorers and was a piece who could be moved wherever the matchup demanded. Harper was never as essential as Pippen or Jordan, Rodman or Kukoc, but there is no way that machine would have run as smoothly without him as a cog.

Once Dinwiddie cleared the initial hurdle, besting the gatekeeping structures between himself and an NBA career that wasn’t in perpetual danger of being snuffed out, every accomplishment has been adding to his promotional deck. You can almost see the PowerPoint presentation. A short video clip of Harper making plays, hugging Jordan and Pippen in the champagne-soaked championship revelry. Fading to black. Fade in with overlapping silhouettes of Dinwiddie and Harper. Star wipe. Then, bullet points — multi-position defender, spot-up shooter, pick-and-roll creator, floor general, an investment in doing whatever it takes. Smash cut. Larry O’Brien trophy.

At some point, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant should be on the floor together, healthy and potent. It’s a scenario in which Spencer Dinwiddie is fully realized — the ultimate complement. If things somehow full apart before that can come to fruition — setbacks in health or chemistry, the floor falling out in some unforeseen way — the Nets will still be able to sell high because Dinwiddie has been out there for so long selling his game.

Andre Iguodala and the investment vehicle

Dinwiddie’s latest evolution is, quite literally, selling himself.

In early September, he announced his plans to turn his new contract into a first-of-its-kind investment vehicle. Per Business Insider:

"Dinwiddie is looking to tokenize his contract and take an upfront payment, The Athletic first reported on September 12 on last year. The digital token would allow Dinwiddie to trade future income for a smaller payment and invest the sum immediately. Investors would be paid principal and interest, while facing the risk that an injury or league ejection could endanger the guard’s ability to pay back his bondholders."

After some initial hesitation from the league, it appears that Dinwiddie’s plans, slightly tweaked, will be put into action. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz has a thorough breakdown of exactly how the whole thing would work but the most interesting part, in understanding what’s really at stake is this:

"In the big picture, Dinwiddie’s token would be a proof of concept for a larger objective: He wants to create a new asset class — athletes — that would allow fans and anyone else to invest in players the way you would the stock market, a treasury bond, a real estate fund or cryptocurrency. Those assets could then be traded on a platform that he is in the process of creating."

This idea of players as investment vehicles, financial assets accessible to anyone with money and belief could redefine the fundamental economics of sports. I suspect it’s been treated quietly, cautiously because most media members, like me, don’t fully grasp the mechanisms let alone the potential ramifications.

For an earlier generation of NBA players, the story of sudden wealth was, “too much, too fast.” Schadenfreude junkies were treated to stories like that of Antoine Walker who made $110 million in career earnings and ultimately filed for bankruptcy. Even the success stories were generally about prudence and pragmatism as opposed to creativity and vision.

That is not the norm anymore and Andre Iguodala is at the forefront. He is not the first player to trade an old model of investing in franchised business and simple real-estate developments for venture capital and tech start-ups. However, he’s been intentional about it as anyone, laying the groundwork for the next phase of his professional life and leaving behind a financial focus on basketball long before he actually retires.

Iguodala helped start The Player’s Technology Summit, and he’s been an early investor in rising tech companies like Jumia, Zoom and PagerDuty. The evolution is accelerating and the steps Iguodala and others have taken over the past half-decade has cleared a path for new innovators like Dinwiddie to sprint.

Five years ago, Spencer Dinwiddie was working on selling NBA teams on the idea that he belonged on the NBA. Since then, he’s done nothing but close — on himself as a player, a rotation player, a starter and a piece for a contender. Now he’s ready to sell himself, and his fellow players, as assets, bypassing teams and bringing the value right to you.

Next. Reflecting on Kobe Bryant's craftsmanship a week after his death. dark

Deconstructed is an irregular column series that takes a player apart, examining the base elements that make them what they are. Check out the entire project at A Unified Theory of Basketball.