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The post-trade revival of Dorian Finney-Smith

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The Mavericks’ undrafted rookie has found his way since Justin Anderson was shipped to Philadelphia.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dorian Finney-Smith spent the weeks leading up to the trade deadline looking lost.

This was almost certainly inevitable. It tends to happen to rookies at some point, especially those of the undrafted variety, those who can’t deliver a consistent impact on a crowded frontcourt roster. That’s why Finney-Smith’s continued presence in the rotation (he’s appeared in all but one game this season) has been a surprise.

The Dallas Mavericks really like Finney-Smith, despite his pre-All-Star struggles. He has the skill set you’re looking for in a serviceable rotation wing player. He doesn’t try to do too much, understands his role and is solid at it. That’s what you want in a guy playing for Rick Carlisle.

I was curious how the Mavericks would utilize Finney-Smith after the trade. It’s largely been lost in the shuffle of the Nerlens Noel acquisition, but since the Mavericks returned from the All-Star break, Doe-Doe has looked a lot less like a flightless bird. Early indications are that he’s going to get more minutes the rest of the way, and his performance over the last two weeks warrants that.

Finney Smith’s roller coaster

Finney-Smith’s worst stretch of basketball came at a time where the Mavericks were terrible and struggling to swim back to the surface. From December 19 to January 15, Finney-Smith averaged a minus-4.4 net rating while shooting 33 percent from the floor and 21 percent from deep. That stretch included eight starts for DFS, but surprisingly, the Mavericks went 4-4 in that stretch. It was a weird time for the rookie, and the Mavs, for that matter.

But something clicked for Finney-Smith during the seven games after January 15. He hit 52 percent of his shots and had a net rating of plus-10 (boosted by that absurd plus-38 he garnered in the Mavs’ 49-point thrashing of the Lakers on January 22). His play was on a roller coaster-type curve up until the All-Star break, culminating with that big-time performance against New Orleans, and it’s been on a steady, rising curve since.

A case study in Finney-Smith’s ability to impact a game

It was obvious that something had changed for Finney-Smith in the February 25 game against New Orleans, the team’s first after the All-Star break. The big story of the night was obviously Noel’s Mavericks debut, but it might have been Finney-Smith’s best game of the season.

He played 24 minutes and went 5-of-6 from the floor in Dallas’ 96-83 win over the Pelicans. But more importantly, it was the times he came in to the game that made the difference for Dallas.

First quarter, 1:58 remaining, Dallas down 26-18

Dallas had finally started to knock down shots, but couldn’t stop the twin towers that were Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Dallas’ best bet was to risk letting the other guys (Jrue Holiday, Dante Cunningham, Tim Frazier) beat them and hope they didn’t all have a good shooting night.

Other than two Davis buckets at the end of the first, the Pelicans opened the second frame ice cold. Dallas went on a 15-4 run that lasted five minutes, 22 seconds. And what sparked that run? You guessed it. Finney-Smith made back-to-back three-pointers to begin the second quarter, including a catch-and-shoot three-pointer with 8:18 left that looked like a design for Jason Terry (good screen near the post by Harrison Barnes, by the way.

New Orleans shot 6-of-15 and turned it over twice in the first half with Finney-Smith on the floor. The Pelicans scored on just one of their first eight possessions in the second quarter, three of which ended in turnovers.

Third quarter, 2:48 remaining, Dallas down 59-58

Here are the first 14 Pelicans possessions that followed Finney-Smith’s late third-quarter entry: miss, turnover, make, miss, turnover, turnover, miss, make, turnover, turnover, make, miss, miss, and this absurd block on Boogie.

This is such a good play. Cousins knows DFS is cheating away from Holiday. Either Cousins is going to kick it to him for an open three if Finney-Smith comes any closer, or he’s going to get the one-on-one matchup he wants with Salah Mejri.

But by the time Cousins gets deeper into the post, it’s too late. Holiday comes too far inside the line, making a pass too risky. All the Mavs collapse around Cousins, Finney-Smith times the jump perfectly and they’re going the other way.

New Orleans went 8-of-20 in the final 12 minutes Finney-Smith was on the floor. He posted a net rating of plus-22 for the night.

This was probably his best game from an impact standpoint. He’s made a difference in the shot-making category, but this was the first time his two-way impact determined the trajectory of a game.

A 3-and-D who’s making threes and playing defense

The Mavericks hoped they were getting two qualities in Finney-Smith when they signed him: three-point shooting and defense. We’ve already seen a glimpse of his long-range attack and a bit of what he can do with his length and athleticism at the other end.

This play in particular at Atlanta isn’t the sort of thing that gets fans out of their seats, but it’s still a very good sequence that illustrates some of the defensive strides he’s made lately.

Finney-Smith starts out guarding Tim Hardaway Jr., but switches off on Paul Millsap. This is a tough call because that leaves Dirk Nowitzki to either trail toward Hardaway Jr. or Ersan Ilyasova. Fortunately, Malcolm Delaney goes to Millsap, seeing a potential mismatch, and Finney-Smith times it perfectly and swipes the ball away. Despite struggling offensively that night, Finney-Smith made some timely defensive plays.

One thing Finney-Smith has gotten better at over the course of the season is staying in front of his man. Take this instance against Holiday. He fights through the Davis screen, and Noel does a great job avoiding the potential lob. Unfortunately, his decision to do that puts him out of position to grab a rebound, and the fortuitous bounce goes right to Holiday for the put back.

But Finney-Smith does a great job staying in front of Holiday to force a tough shot without fouling. Dallas just needed to do a much better job of crashing the glass here.

Since February 25, Finney-Smith has had a positive net rating in five games, including a plus-20 against New Orleans and a plus-13 against Phoenix. When he’s gotten on the floor, he’s been able to produce in a myriad of ways. Whether or not he has the ball in his hands, Finney-Smith can do things like this.

Finney-Smith has the potential to grow into an important role player for the Mavericks. The key will be his continued development going into his second year, whether he can continue his growth or falls into the swamp that Anderson drowned in. It’s going to come down to hitting open shots and making plays without the ball.

Slowly, but surely, Finney-Smith is showing signs that he has the tools to be a valuable role player. Consistency is the next phase of the game.