Last year was a struggle. Before landing in Las Vegas for Summer League in 2017, Dorian Finney-Smith faced a number of questions about his shooting mechanics. Something was off and his shooting numbers reflected it. Later, an injury early in the regular season robbed him of the ability to show any improvement from the summer. So now, as he appears in Summer League for a third time, the same questions remain.
On the morning of the Fourth of July at the Dallas Mavericks’ practice facility, Finney-Smith was all smiles. Practice had ended and he was knocking down three-pointers in a shooting game with teammates Dennis Smith Jr. and Jalen Brunson. It was a casual setting, but his shot looked good and the ball was finding nylon more often than not. At least optically, it’s a dramatic change from last summer.
“I mean, I don’t know how to calculate it but I feel like I’ve been shooting the ball pretty good lately,” Finney-Smith said. “I’ve been in the gym. I missed most of the year so I was just trying to get my form shooting good. I feel like I’m ready to go.”
If it sounds like Finney-Smith is out to prove something, it’s likely because he is.
In the six games the Mavericks played in Las Vegas last year, Finney-Smith made just 12 of his 53 shots. That’s good for a percentage of 22.6. His three-point shooting was even worse, checking in at an abysmal 19.2 percent, going five for 26. It was tough to watch but there was reasoning behind it.
Finney-Smith’s shooting woes were caused, in part, because he was trying to change his shot mechanics. Summer League was his first opportunity to get comfortable with the shot correction in live-game action.
“I felt like I just had a glitch in my shot,” Finney-Smith said at the time. “I’ve been hearing it my whole life that I needed to remove the ball from behind my head when I shoot it but I just never really had the time to change it.”
Whether not not it worked has yet to be seen. An efficient 14-point performance in the second game of the regular season showed promise but that was quickly curtailed by a knee injury that cost Finney-Smith 61 games. He saw heavy minutes to close the season with the team tanking, but his shot wasn’t reliable. The injury and rehabilitation took a toll on him.
“I couldn’t jump,” Finney-Smith said. “My rhythm was just a little off but I’ve been playing all summer. As soon as the season ended, I didn’t really take a break because I didn’t play. But I didn’t want to overdo it because of my knee, but I feel like I’m shooting the ball good.”
While there are certainly reasons for his struggles, the fact that they’re still being brought up is worrisome — and eerily familiar as Summer League gets underway. Jamahl Mosley, who is once again coaching the Mavs in Vegas, isn’t worried about Finney-Smith’s shot, echoing his sentiments from last year.
“I think that’s a mindset that he’s going to continue to grow with and continue to have and be confident with and comfortable with,” Mosley said. “He has it. He’s another guy that’s not shy when it comes to confidence level. He just has to kind of see the ball go in. I’m very comfortable with him taking the same shots that he’s been making in practice.”
And maybe that’s all it takes. Maybe he really does just need to make a few shots to get himself going. He knows he’s going to play a bigger role on offense with Mavs’ extra passes. He’ll also have to create more off a few dribbles.
None of that really matters now, though. What’s said and done in practice has to translate to games. Summer League will be a test for Finney-Smith. He says he’s ready.
“Just try to go out here and be one of the highest competitive players out there,” Finney-Smith said. “When y’all look at the court, y’all will say, ‘He’s playing hard.’ That’s all I got to ask for.”
It wouldn’t hurt to ask for some made buckets too.