Two of our favorite sons, Spencer Dinwiddie and Derrick White, will see their first ever (major) playoff action today. They are key players as each could be the difference in a potential first round upset.
Dinwiddie begins play at 12:30 p.m. (MT) as his Brooklyn Nets (6-seed) take on the Philadelphia 76ers (3). As you may have read, Sixers megastar Joel Embiid may be limited or even held out during the series, meaning the upstart Nets have an outside shot at an upset. People may have predicted the Nets would make the playoffs, but no one thought they would have any chance whatsoever of winning a series. Dinwiddie could be that upset chance.
The Sixers have built a great defense around Embiid, but it falls off when he sits. And even with the giant Cameroonian, they struggle to contain guards who excel in the pick and roll. The reason for that is twofold: (1) they drop back their center in the paint in a conservative scheme, so if the screener sets a solid pick, the ball handler will have a clean pull-up look, and (2) they don’t have any defender who excels at PNR coverage, besides Zhaire Smith who has played 111 minutes in his NBA career. Guards who can pull off the dribble and hit those shots are nearly unguardable for the 76ers.
Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell have killed the Sixers this season. Dinwiddie had a 39 point game against them in a 3-point win and the two combined for 69 points in a 2-point loss. Both of those games were Embiid and without Tobias Harris, a forward who is brilliant offensively but struggles defending in space. Dinwiddie has regressed from his hot start to the season — which he did last year as well — but if he and D’Lo have fresh legs, they can shred the Philly defense worse than they did early in the season. Both show up in the clutch and will have time to rest between games, so it may be likely that they ball out.
The Nets probably won’t win, especially if Embiid suits up. But Dinwiddie and Russell will make it interesting, and if they do come through in the clutch, they could pull off the upset of the year.
It pains me to say, but the 2-seeded Denver Nuggets losing to the 7-seeded San Antonio Spurs would not be considered an upset in the same way as Nets over 76ers. That would be because the Nuggets have scuffled since the All-Star break and the Spurs happen to be coached by Gregg Popovich, likely the best to ever do it. The series, which starts 8:30 p.m. (MT) might swing on the battle between Nikola Jokic and LaMarcus Aldridge, but Pop’s scheming may do the trick, including his usage of Derrick White.
White’s stats aren’t phenomenal, or really even notable. He’s averaging around 10 points and 4 assists in 25 minutes per game, which sounds mediocre, particularly for a point guard starting in the playoffs. But White is crucial partly because of his low-usage, efficient offense, and mostly because his defense is already elite. At 6’4 with a 6’8 wingspan, White is huge at point guard. He’s also sneaky athletic, has a superb basketball IQ and is disruptive against the pick and roll. He’s likely going to receive All-Defense consideration, and though he won’t make it this year, I would put good money on him eventually being recognized.
White will be tasked with defending Jamal Murray, who has admittedly slumped, but has been frequently touted as the swing player of the playoffs. The Nuggets live and die with Jokic, but if they are to advance in the playoffs, they will need someone else to step up offensively. Murray has long been the presumed second star to Jokic and is most likely to be the one to step up alongside the flip flop wearing flip shot enthusiast. But that’s not going to happen if White is on him all series.
Jamal Murray isn’t an above-average athlete, nor is he an above-average playmaker. He’s a streaky shooter whose jump shot falls when he’s confident. It’s no surprise then that he plays his best ball when he’s talking shit and slinging imaginary arrows into the crowd. Depending on how the Spurs dictate their pick and roll coverage, White will be on Murray’s hip the entire time he’s on the floor. With his length and quick feet, he’s not going to give Murray any room to sling those arrows; instead he’s going to make Murray beat him off the dribble, which he can’t. If White is focused, which he always is during big games, it could be a long series for Murray.
The Nuggets don’t have many options outside of Jokic and Murray. Gary Harris should be that, but he’s been out of rhythm for much of the year. Will Barton has been the same, only more disastrous. Paul Millsap is more defense and offensive IQ than he is a scorer at this point in his career. Denver’s offense has fallen off dramatically since the All-Star break and they’re struggling for answers. Unless Jokic carries them with something crazy like 35 points and 8 assists per game — which he can certainly do — they may be in trouble.
White grew up a Nuggets fan, so he knows the team’s history is built on irrelevance. He can add to that history as he looks to shut down the Nuggets’ second most important player.
Andre Roberson is also technically in the playoffs with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he’s out indefinitely with a knee injury he suffered in January 2018. It has been a difficult recovery process as he has dealt with multiple set backs. He’s likely out for the year and we’ll have to wait until next season to see him full strength again.