Zach Lowe has an award for everything. Monday, he released his ninth annual Luke Walton Awards, named after the former Los Angeles Lakers role player turned journeyman head coach. As you may guess, the awards honor the role players who find a *ahem* role with a team and thrive in it. This year, the list includes a familiar name.
Dorian Finney-Smith came to the Dallas Mavericks as an undrafted question mark. As Lowe notes, they had to fight to land him at the time. The dastardly Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans also had interest in his services. Dallas gave him the best deal.
In the four years Finney-Smith has been in Dallas, he’s become an invaluable member of the rotation. That wasn’t always the case, though. Early in his first year, he barely saw the floor until one fateful game. Lowe picks it up from here:
Finney-Smith beat out Gibson with effort and defense. The Mavs saw inklings of a 3-and-D wing. Even so, Finney-Smith wasn’t in their plans that season; he played only four minutes over their first five games — all losses. They next faced Milwaukee. Short several players and down double digits, Carlisle threw in Finney-Smith and asked him to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Finney-Smith played 32 minutes, Dallas won, and Antetokounmpo scored just 11 points.
“I’ve been playing ever since,” Finney-Smith said.
I remember that game. I wrote about it and his early run with the organization. Since that time, he’s made marked improvements in all facets of his game, none more important than his three-point shooting.
His outside shot was perhaps the most worrisome aspect of his game. Finney-Smith struggled with it for years and I’ve spilled countless amounts of digital ink writing about it in Summer League and the regular season. This year, though, he finally turned it around. Again, from Lowe:
A shot redesign can take years. A knee injury that sucked away most of the 2017-18 season complicated the process. Finney-Smith’s progress accelerated after the Mavs hired Peter Patton, a shooting coach, in the summer of 2018. The Mavs track every shot in practice, and Finney-Smith’s numbers were rising. It wasn’t carrying into games; Finney-Smith never hit better than 31% from deep before this season.
Coaches showed him the practice data. “Trust it,” Carlisle would say. Seeing the practice numbers almost made in-game struggles hurt more. “It was so frustrating to not get results in games,” Finney-Smith said.
Those came this season. Finney-Smith has hit 37% on 3s and 44% from the corners. When defenders rush at him, Finney-Smith shows a smooth catch-and-go game.
The Mavericks have complete confidence in Finney-Smith. He’s worked hard and deserves credit for sticking with it. Hopefully, next season—whenever that is—he’ll continue to improve. For now, it’s nice to see him get the recognition he deserves from one of the NBA’s premier columnists.
Just for fun, another name familiar to Mavs fans makes the cut as well. Doug McDermott, now with the Indiana Pacers, also gets an award. The journeyman, traded more times than I can count, credits the Mavericks with turning his career around. Lowe, again:
He thrived sniping in Dallas. “I owe everything to Rick,” McDermott said. The Mavs wanted to re-sign him, but needed space for DeAndre Jordan. When McDermott called Carlisle about Indiana’s three-year, $22 million deal, Carlisle urged him to take it, both recalled.
Imagining McDermott’s shooting alongside Luka Doncic will forever be one of the great “what-ifs” of Doncic’s earlier careers. Of course, Jordan would ruin that too. Thanks for nothing, DeAndre.
Read about all the recipients of the ninth annual Luke Walton Awards here.