Back in November, the Mavericks took a 1-5 record to Milwaukee with games against the Clippers, Spurs, and Cavaliers looming on the horizon. Desperate to claw out a win, Rick Carlisle reached deep into his bag of tricks. What he came up with was a huge ask for an undrafted rookie in his first major NBA appearance: he charged Dorian Finney-Smith with containing Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Finney-Smith stuck to his task during the game, and with both teams tied at 74 and just seconds left in the fourth quarter, the ball came to Antetokounmpo. DFS flew out and forced the Greek Freak into a long contested two that clanked off the rim, sending the game to overtime. He kept up the pressure in OT, allowing the Mavs to run away with a 85-76 win.
When all was said and done, he’d held Antentokounmpo to just 11 points on 4-12 shooting, a feat that earned him the game ball.
Dorian Finney-Smith is a rare bird. Very few rookies are able to earn Carlisle’s confidence, but since that Milwaukee game DFS has become the Mavs’ stopper, lining up against the league’s best players and leapfrogging Justin Anderson and Nicolas “Young Pope” Brussino on the depth chart.
Carlisle says the reason DFS is getting the nod over the other young wings is that he’s got a good grip on defensive schemes in addition to the physical prowess necessary to guard NBA players one-on-one. In an ESPN radio interview, Carlisle said that Finney-Smith is “unique for a young guy... he’s got a mind that’s geared toward the technicality of defense. He loves the challenge.”
His line won’t blow you away — he’s averaging just five points, two rebounds, and one assist — but he’s impacting the game in ways the box score doesn’t capture. By defending the opposing team’s best player every night, DFS frees up Harrison Barnes for lighter defensive assignments that allow him to focus his energy on scoring.
Finney-Smith also has a knack for making plays during an inflection point in the game — like the diving steal he made against Washington that ignited the bench and helped propel the Mavs to a come back win.
Despite all this, Doe Doe’s best attribute might be his price tag. He’s earning just $543,471 this season, and his salary is only set to increase to $1.3 million by 2019-20. These will be deliciously cheap years even if he doesn’t develop his game much beyond where it is now. But if he can start knocking down more than 30 percent of his threes, Dallas will have really hit the jackpot.
This being the Mavs we’re talking about, it’s important to emphasize that right now, DFS is worth far more to the Mavericks than he is to other teams. There is no need to offer him in a trade because the best the Mavs could get would be a late first-round pick, and Finney-Smith is as good a player as you could hope to draft late in the first round anyway.
Swapping him for a more expensive and versatile veteran doesn’t make sense either because the Mavs are already near the top of the league in total salary and can’t afford to upgrade him this season.
What the Mavs should do is take every opportunity to help him develop his three-point shot and hone his defensive skills. He’s already stopped the Greek Freak, played an excellent half against John Wall, and split his time between Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson against the Warriors. If he continues to grow, I could see him becoming a Tony Allen-style defensive specialist with a three-point shot and a long-term piece to grow alongside Harrison Barnes and Company.
In an otherwise bleak year, the emergence of a young talent like Finney-Smith gives fans some comfort. And while they didn't draft him, the Mavs front office identified his talent and took a chance by offering him some guaranteed money, when other teams didn't. Hopefully, that's success they can build on as the team rebuilds.
Well a guy can dream anyways...