In a season of many lows, Dorian Finney-Smith was a surprising high. Undrafted out of the University of Florida, Finney-Smith had an uphill climb seeing any playing time last year. But as injuries mounted and incumbents struggled, the 6’8’’ forward found playing time in the sixth game of the season after playing a combined four minutes and seventeen seconds in the first five games.
Going into the November 6 game versus the Milwaukee Bucks, it wouldn’t have been crazy to think a young small forward would leave his imprint all over the game as the key to his team’s victory. That the young small forward was Finney-Smith rather than Giannis Antentekoumpo is a testament to how forcefully the rookie Maverick burst onto the scene.
The box score perfectly captures Finney-Smith’s identity: he was a plus-20 in 31 minutes, scoring five points while shooting 17 percent. But it was his defense, energy and hustle that propelled the Mavericks to their first win of the season. And that was Finney-Smith in a nutshell.
Defense, energy and hustle.
Last season Finney-Smith played in 81 games. He averaged four points and three rebounds in 20 minutes per night. He effectively usurped Justin Anderson’s backup forward spot and never let it go. The Mavs aren’t expecting huge things from their second year forward, but just as he did his rookie year, Finney-Smith has the chance to make a splash this season.
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Biggest question: Can he shoot?
Finney-Smith turned heads for many reasons last year, and his lack of shooting was one of them. He struggled all year, shooting 37 percent from two and 29 from deep. His shooting numbers by distance from the basket are tough to look at. From three to 10 feet from the goal, he shot 28 percent. In the midrange, 10-16 feet, he shot a putrid 13 percent. And from 16 feet to the three-point line, Finney-Smith was true 30 percent of the time. Essentially, he was a non-factor on the offensive end, outside of slashing and offensive rebounding.
If Finney-Smith wants to stick in this league, he will have to improve in this area. Players who specialize in defense only are becoming archaic as teams completely remove them from their defensive game plan. Even now, some teams have the luxury on offense of removing the lockdown defender from the play entirely by sending his man to the corner away from the action.
It was a bit disheartening to see Finney-Smith struggle so much shooting the basketball in summer league. Players usually make significant improvement from year one to year two, and if this summer is any indication, the sophomore has a long way to go. But if Finney-Smith can develop a jump shot, he will be quite a find by the Mavericks. He has all the tools to be a stifling defender, now he just needs an offensive repertoire for balance.
If Finney-Smith can match his offensive productivity with his defensive productivity, this could be a dream season for the young forward. There are multiple ways to do this, but the obvious is stretching the floor. Ideally, Finney-Smith would shoot around 35 percent from three—just accurate enough to keep defenses honest. He can also devote himself to offensive rebounding and slashing to put pressure on defenses.
Another way to use Finney-Smith would be as a pick-and-roll man. This gets him moving toward the basket with mismatches to exploit. Finney-Smith would have chances to get to the free-throw line where he shot a respectable 75 percent last year.
Following the same path as his predecessor, Anderson, would be bad news for the promising prospect. He doesn’t have Simba’s athletic pedigree, but he is a much more cerebral player, so not seeing any improvement would be a major disappointment.
Anderson never seemed to gain traction in Carlisle’s offense, so Finney-Smith not finding comfort or a role would be like déjà vu. He won’t be asked to do much, so it will be up to him to produce when his number is called.
The Mavericks need Finney-Smith to take the next step. The wing depth behind Harrison Barnes is severely lacking and, like last year, Finney-Smith might be the guy by default. But Carlisle won’t give it to him, and if Anderson and ex-Maverick Nico Brussino are any indication, Finney-Smith needs a positive second year to solidify his spot in Dallas.