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For Dorian Finney-Smith, it’s now or never

Entering his third season, Finney-Smith has the perfect opportunity to prove his worth in the rotation.

Beijing Ducks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Dorian Finney-Smith, the third-year wing who at times has been a pleasant surprise for the Dallas Mavericks, is in the most important moment of his young career. By next summer he will be testing the waters of restricted free agency for the first time, and still has plenty to prove to get that second contract.

His arrival and tenure in the league has been all roller coaster, packed with the kind of unexpected moments that only an undrafted player can bring. A combination of work ethic and finding a team that desperately needed his skill set, Finney-Smith quickly carved out a role with the Mavericks. But his play up to this point has stagnated. And for a relative unknown, that won’t do him any favors next summer.

So here we are. For an organization looking to (slowly) get younger, while trying to (quickly) bounce back in to being relevant, Finney-Smith has much to prove, and the opportunity to prove it.

Biggest Question

You might have plenty of questions right now, but the first one out of your mouth should be: Has DFS figured out his shot?

To this point, Finney-Smith has shown himself to be a versatile perimeter defender, with ability to guard as many as three positions. It’s earned him playing time since the beginning, and is the reason he’s starting for the Mavs while Harrison Barnes recovers from injury.

But his outside shooting has been suspect. In his 102 games in Dallas, DFS has taken just over 250 threes...and hit 76 (good for 29.5 percent). The summer after his rookie season, Dorian made his jumpshot his focus, tearing it down and rebuilding from the ground up. The returns in that summer league were, well, bad. But he knew it was a process and was working toward improving in his second season, before injuries brought everything to a screeching halt — appearing in only 21 games.

Still, Finney-Smith seems more confident than ever, and excited to be back to full health, telling Dwain Price at that sitting out for as long as he did last season made him appreciate the game more. For what it’s worth, the new look DFS had a solid showing in the Mavs first preseason game — contributing on both ends of the floor, peppering the stat sheet, hitting one smooth three pointer.

Hopefully that’s just the start of a solid offensive season for DFS. The Mavs have massive depth questions at the wing positions, and Finney-Smith is one of the only 3&D options in Dallas. Up to this point, the front half of that label has been missing from his game.

Best Case Scenario

Even though DFS already has 48 starts under his belt, when news broke of Harrison Barnes’ hamstring injury (that might sideline him for some time) it was hard not to feel like Finney-Smith was being thrown into the deep end. Maybe that speaks more to the expectations and talent upgrade that the Mavs have in the starting lineup this season. But MFFLs weren’t wrong if they felt a little panic at the thought of the unproven depth at small forward in Barnes’ absence.

The gift for DFS in all this is a huge platform to prove his worth. In his first two seasons he averaged just around 20 minutes per game, and I don’t much change. Expect Carlisle to throw out all kinds of unique lineups until the team is back to full health, where anyone from Luka Doncic, Wesley Matthews, Ryan Broekhoff, and Devin Harris all seeing time at the three. Still, DFS’ skill set is unique from the rest of the options. In reaching the ceiling of his expectations, Finney-Smith will leverage his length, athleticism and defensive instincts and pair that with a consistent shooting stroke.

He’s played in two preseason games and shot 1-of-3 from deep. A small sample. But aiming for a 33-to-36 percent range this season would give Carlisle the boost he needs from his (eventual) bench wing.

Worst Case Scenario

It’s pretty cut and dry: his shot continues to stagnate and disappear, and Ryan Broekhoff does enough as a defender and rebounder while featuring his smooth outside shot to slowly eat away at DFS’ minutes. Yes, Carlisle has given him the replacement starting spot for now. And his defense will always be solid enough to warrant playing time. But make no mistake, those two will eventually battle for playing time for stretches of the season.

We’re too early in the season to say whether or not his shot is “fixed”. Just like DFS and the Mavericks, fans will need to be patient. There have been flashes of the two-way ability he seems capable of. But it will no doubt be a process. Even as Rick Carlisle has opened himself to trusting younger players with more responsibility over the last couple seasons, there’s no question it can still be easy to get lost in the shuffle on the bench.

Lucky for DFS, he has a skill set few players on that bench have. If he can utilize that and be a low key contributor offensively, look out.