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Dorian Finney-Smith proved his worth before his shot left him again

It was a tale of two seasons for Finney-Smith.

Dallas Mavericks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Dorian Finney-Smith’s season was, in many ways, a mirror of the Dallas Mavericks’ 82-game effort. He was good at home while logging poor numbers on the road. Combined, though, he played well and his effort was competitive. Then the All-Star break came and went and things fell apart—much as they did for the Mavericks. As such, Finney-Smith’s a tale is that of two drastically different players: one a bourgeoning 3-and-D player and the other a streaky prospect still trying to find his way in the league after three seasons. The player Dallas chooses to see will determine his future with the franchise.

Looking back

For the third year in a row, Finney-Smith’s season began in the desert. It’s not often that a player under contract appears at Summer League three times, but Finney-Smith was a special case. He missed the majority of his second season with an injury and was only with the Mavericks’ Summer League team as part of his reclamation to the game. He only played in two games in Las Vegas before Dallas sent him home.

Still though, as the season approached, there were still questions about his development, the most glaring being his shot. In his first two season, Finney-Smith averaged a paltry 29.5 percent on 3-pointers. From inside the arc, he couldn’t even muster an average near 50 percent despite taking the majority of those shots within three feet of the rim. This season, it appeared as if he turned things around.

Finney-Smith burst out of the gates with a slew of good performances. In his first 15 games, he was averaging nine points and 4.1 rebounds in 26.4 minutes and recorded six starts. His shot was falling too. He was shooting 51.6 percent overall and 44.4 percent from behind the arc.

What’s more, the tenacity with which Finney-Smith played became a model for the team as a whole. The printout picture of a pit bull that Finney-Smith kept in his locker, symbolizing his mentality on the court—given to him by assistant coach Larry Shiat—migrated to the Mavericks’ big board where it and he became a means of motivation.

By the end of the calendar year, Finney-Smith’s shooting cooled off some. His averages dipped to 45.7 percent overall and 35.8 percent from deep. They were still respectable, though, and his coach sung his praises. Head coach Rick Carlisle repeatedly referred to the undrafted Finney-Smith as top-15 pick if the 2016 NBA Draft was redone.

Then it all fell apart.

After the All-Star break and the departure of close friend Dennis Smith Jr., Finney-Smith’s numbers plummeted. His overall average fell to 37.4 percent and his 3-point shooting dropped to 23.8 percent. And while he couldn’t buy a bucket, he remained a steady member of the rotation until the waning weeks of the season thanks, in part, to his defense and rebounding.

If there’s a reason for his shooting slump, no one is talking about it. Mavericks staffers relayed that he still shot the ball well in practice. It just wasn’t translating to games for some reason. How much his end-of-season shooting woes factor into Dallas’ summer plans is anyone’s guess at this point.

Contract status

Finney-Smith is a restricted free agent as of July 1. Thanks to the Mavericks intentionally limiting his minutes at the end of the season, he didn’t hit the threshold to be considered a starter—2000 minutes. For Finney-Smith, it could mean a smaller pay day if the Mavericks choose to only extend a qualifying offer to him. For Dallas, it gives the team more financial flexibility as his cap hold will not increase in free agency.

Looking ahead

It’s too early to speculate what the future holds for Finney-Smith in Dallas. The Mavericks have priorities elsewhere in free agency, namely signing Kristaps Porzingis to a multi-year contract. That said, there’s reason to bring back Finney-Smith. Shooting inconsistencies aside, he has become a reliable rotation player who is able to fill whatever role is asked of him. In any given game, he’ll find himself matchup against the opponents’ best player for stretches at a time and rarely does he allow them to get easy buckets.

What might make re-signing him difficult is the money he will command. He’s no longer eligible for rookie scale deals and a qualifying offer will likely get turned down quickly. If the Mavericks want to keep Finney-Smith—and it’s something they should strongly consider—they’re going to have to pay him.