Three in the Key: Spencer Dinwiddie, Harrison Barnes, Tyus Jones

Three in the Key: Spencer Dinwiddie, Harrison Barnes, Tyus Jones

Basketball

Three in the Key: Spencer Dinwiddie, Harrison Barnes, Tyus Jones

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As part of a new series at HoopsHype, we’re breaking down three interesting topics we’ve seen happening around the NBA over this past week.

While the name of this column is derived from basketball’s three-second violation rule, our aim is going to be a bit different. The goal of this exercise is to observe a few subjects and then explain the key to why it’s happening and what makes it interesting.

Here are our three highlights from the last week of the NBA’s 2021-22 season:

Spencer Dinwiddie

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, I wrote about how during the 2020-21 season, the Wizards were a team that liked to play fast. I noted that they had the fastest pace (104.7) in the league and also averaged the shortest time (8.8 seconds) to shoot the ball after a defensive rebound.

When head coach Wes Unseld Jr. took over for Scott Brooks, he said the offensive principles would “stay the same” and that the team would continue to play with pace. But let’s not forget: the primary ball-handlers on the roster were Russell Westbrook (who is a human lightning rod) and Ish Smith (who is arguably the fastest player in the league).

But now their offense is initiated by Spencer Dinwiddie and rather than flying down the court at the high speeds Westbrook did, their game plan is far more balanced and set and orchestrated.

According to PBPStats, last season the average offensive possession for the Wizards was just 13.5 seconds. That was the league’s second-fastest but this season, that’s actually increased all the way up to 15.0 seconds (fifth-slowest) so far in 2021-22.

Meanwhile, after leading the NBA in transition scoring (24.9 ppg) last season, Washington is now averaging just 14.9 transition points per game. That is fewer than any other team in the Eastern Conference besides the Indiana Pacers, per Synergy. Washington is also averaging 0.97 points per possession in transition, which is the worst in the East and the second-worst in the league.

Instead, their offense is dependent on ball screens to get on the scoreboard, and one could argue it’s a much more dependable attack than the chaos of the open floor. When including passes, they averaged 29.9 points per game on pick and roll possessions in 2019-20. While that was the worst in the East, they’ve increased that to 38.7 ppg while also scoring 1.04 points per possession – which is second-best in the conference.

In fact, when including his own scores and the scores after his passes, Synergy data tell us Dinwiddie’s derived offense from pick and roll sets (1.17 PPP) trails only Stephen Curry for the most efficient in the NBA among high-volume contributors (min: 100 possessions).

So while they’re playing much slower, it’s a more focused strategy, and it’s working well so far as the team currently has seven wins – including one over the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks — to just three losses.

Harrison Barnes

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

You may not have noticed it if you weren’t staying up late to watch the Sacramento Kings, but NBA veteran Harrison Barnes is quietly having an absolutely stellar season.

The 29-year-old forward is averaging 22.2 points with 9.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, which are all career highs. He is connecting on 2.9 three-pointers while shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc, both of which are career-best marks as well.

This is his 10th year in the league and he has already set personal-best records in scoring (36 points on Oct. 20) and rebounding (15 boards on Oct. 22) in a single-game performance.

On the season, Barnes has scored 60 points when shooting off the catch in a set offense. That trails just Stephen Curry and teammate Buddy Hield for the best in the Western Conference. He is shooting 7-for-11 (63.6 percent) from the left corner and only one player has hit more shots from that part of the floor.

Breaking it down further, he has also managed to score 2.5 points per game on dribble handoffs, which currently leads the league. Barnes has established especially strong chemistry with Sacramento big men Richaun Holmes and Alex Len on these possessions and it’s been integral to his success.

While his catch-and-shoot game has been his calling card, he has been much better at shooting off the bounce and creating his own shot, too. Last season, per 100 possessions, he made 0.83 unassisted three-pointers but this year, that rate has nearly doubled (1.53) thus far.

He doesn’t exactly fit the same timeline as teammates De’Aaron Fox (23 years old), Davion Mitchell (23 years old) and Tyrese Haliburton (21 years old). So he may be someone that the Kings decide to trade at the deadline – based on how well he is playing, they would likely get a first-round pick back in exchange.

However, if the Kings are hoping to stay alive in a playoff race, Barnes would be essential in such a pursuit. After all, he currently ranks fifth-best in FiveThirtyEight’s catch-all metric Wins Above Replacement. Meanwhile, MVP candidate only Jimmy Butler has more offensive win shares than Barnes.

Tyus Jones

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

One of the most underrated players in the league right now is Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones.

While everyone is talking about the hot start that Ja Morant has enjoyed (and deservedly so because he has been beyond fantastic), we shouldn’t skip over what Jones has accomplished this season. Maybe his raw numbers – 7.1 points and 3.4 assists per game – don’t jump off the page. But those paying close attention know that he has been excellent during his minutes off the bench.

As a scorer, the guard is one of the league’s most efficient players. Jones is averaging 1.31 points per possession, per Synergy, the second-best among all players who have finished more than 40 offensive possessions. (For context: It’s worth mentioning that his midrange frequency has decreased from more than 49 percent of his shot attempts in each of his previous three campaigns down to below 30 percent in 2021-22.)

But the area where Jones is shining most as a playmaker, where he has done an absolutely outstanding job of making his teammates play better whenever he is on the floor.

His turnover percentage (1.7 percent) is the lowest and best among all NBA players. He has 31 assists and just one turnover on the season, which is comically impressive.

Meanwhile, his assist-to-usage rate (1.95) ranks as the best in the league, which suggests he has done a phenomenal job of maximizing his playmaking opportunities in the limited time that he has had the ball. Among those who have logged at least 110 minutes, per PBPStats, Jones has assisted on a league-best 5.94 three-pointers per 100 possessions.

Overall, his pure point rating (13.2) ranks second-best in the league, trailing only Chris Paul.

While the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year is typically given to the biggest volume scorer off the bench, if Jones keeps up his stellar play, voters would be insane to ignore his levels of both productivity and efficiency.

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