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Buffaloes in the NBA: Dinwiddie, White earning larger roles; King debuts

Plus an appearance from George King!

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the four (and a half) former Colorado Buffaloes playing the in the NBA. So let’s update on them to distract from whatever else is going on at CU.

Spencer Dinwiddie

Dinwiddie finally broke through with the Brooklyn Nets in 2017 and was a finalist for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award. Part of why he succeeded was because he was seeing more minutes than ever, and that was because injuries to incumbent starters D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin forced him into a starting role and heavy usage. Lin is gone, but coach Kenny Atkinson has preferred Dinwiddie as a 6th man behind a starting lineup of Russell, Caris LeVert (now injured, but replaced by Allen Crabbe), Joe Harris, Jared Dudley and Jarrett Allen. Dinwiddie struggled in the beginning of the season with inefficient shooting, but now he’s hot and leading one of the better benches in the NBA.

The Nets are surprisingly contending for the playoffs, and although much of that was tied to LeVert emerging as a two-way star, Dinwiddie’s impact cannot be overlooked. In 27.5 minutes per game (fourth most on the Nets), he’s averaging 14.6 points and 4.6 assists. He’s also shooting nearly 37.9% from three and has a sparkling 115 offensive rating. If the Nets are going to remain competitive without LeVert, they need more of the Dinwiddie that had 25 points and 8 assists against the Wizards, their only win in the past five games.

Also, watch for the Nets to explore their options with Russell. If they decide to trade the soon-to-be free agent, Dinwiddie would be in line for a significantly larger role.

Derrick White

After the departures of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson, the San Antonio Spurs’ backcourt was wide open for White to earn playing time in his second season. Then the Spurs suffered injuries to Dejounte Murray and first round pick Lonnie Walker IV, which opened the door for White to start at point guard. But only two days after earning the starting spot, White too suffered a heel injury that would force him to miss the first nine games of the season. He’s back now and has started five games since.

The Spurs are led by DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge operating in the mid-range, so Gregg Popovich just needs his point guard to initiate the offense and space the floor as a shooter. White has gotten off to a cold start shooting just 23% from three, but he’s still a dynamic playmaker who should warm up in due time. The Spurs lost four of White’s five starts, then started Rudy Gay over him in their Sunday win over Golden State, but it’s hard to blame the CU alum for their team-wide struggles. If White moves back into the starting lineup (or at least has a significant bench role), he has a long history of improving at every step of his career, so watch for him to get better as the season progresses.

(Did you know Dinwiddie is just 15 months older than White? And Dinwiddie is just 8 months older than George King?? I didn’t until know just now and it’s kinda weirding me out since Spencer stayed three years at CU and is in his fifth year in the NBA.)

Alec Burks

Another season, another year guessing Burks’s role night-to-night. The 2011 first rounder is a known quality at this point in his career: he’s a playmaking slasher who just wants to run, but his sketchy outside shooting and inconsistent defense make him better suited as a bench piece. When healthy, he’s a versatile spark plug who can provide some defensive switchability, something he showed when he had a minor break out in the 2017 playoffs against Houston. The issue isn’t with Burks, but with the Jazz. They’re up to their knees in quality wings. Utah starts two guards in Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell and two traditional bigs in Derrick Favors and Rody Gobert, and there’s no good reason to take away minutes from born killer Joe Ingles.

The only bench wing who sees heavy time alongside the starters is Jae Crowder, and he profiles as a stretch-4 who spells Favors. Mitchell, Ingles and Rubio all play over 30 minutes per game, so Burks has to compete for scraps with Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale and 2018 first rounder Grayson Allen. That’s why he’s only played in just 12 games and is averaging 15 minutes per game despite putting up great per-minute stats. With the Jazz offense scuffling amidst Mitchell’s slump, Burks could potentially earn more time and finally break through.

George King

King’s non-stop improvement saw him blossom as a superb role player with the Buffaloes last year, and after he excelled in pre-draft exhibitions, he heard his name called with the 59th pick in the NBA Draft. Behind Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges — all established veterans, blue chip talents, or T.J. Warren — King will spend the vast majority of the season in the G League with the Northern AZ Suns. He’s on a two-way contract, meaning he can be called up at any time, but for now he’s focused on developing in a larger role in a low-stress environment. King projects as a long-limbed role player who’s best best strengths are three-point shooting, versatile defense, and rebounding. He’s never going to be a dynamic scorer, but that’s fine; he just needs to focus on polishing his skills and gaining defensive experienced before he fights for a role in the NBA. Phoenix sees P.J. Tucker potential in King, and though he’s not quite as thicc, King has a similar work ethic as the former Suns fan favorite.

King is off to a good start in the G League. On Friday night, the 24-year-old rookie hit a game-winning three at the buzzer to lead Northern AZ over the Agua Caliente Clippers. (The Hot Water Clippers. I love minor league team names more than anything.) King’s contested corner three — his first game-winning buzzer-beater in his entire career — gave him a team-high 23 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting. He also had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and provided his usual value on defense. In six games, King is now averaging 16.2 points, 6.5 rebounds 3.0 assists, and he’s shooting 46.7% on 5 three-pointers per game.

(Chris Boucher is currently averaging 28 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks for the Raptors 905. Long live the G League.)

Andre Roberson

Roberson tore his patellar tendon in January 2018 and won’t be re-evaluated until mid-December. If he’s back to his old self, the Thunder will add arguably the third best defensive forward in the NBA (after Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and maybe Jimmy Butler) to their league’s second best defense. In Roberson’s stead, OKC has started Terrance Ferguson and split the rest of the minutes between sharp shooter Alex Abrines and rookie Hamidou Diallo. Roberson’s replacements have been a mixed bag — Ferguson and Diallo are both elite athletes but still developing, and Abrines isn’t much more than a spot-up shooter — but it’s encouraging to see the Thunder survive without the former Buff. (Maybe losing Carmelo Anthony has helped them more than losing Dre has hurt them.)

Once Roberson comes back, the Thunder will start him alongside Russell Westbrook (currently injured), Paul George, Jerami Grant (greatly improved) and Steven Adams. It’s to be seen if having three shakey shooters (plus Russ) will have enough spacing, but zamn, that might be the best defensive lineup in the NBA, especially if Russ does something beside poach rebounds.