The time has come for NBA teams to campaign for their players to win various post season awards. The Mavericks have begun pushing for Dorian Finney-Smith to make an NBA All-Defensive team.
Dallas is fifth in the NBA in defensive rating, which is the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions, at 107.5. They are second in pure opponents points per game at 103.3. Those team numbers certainly support placing a player on the All-Defensive team. Maxi Kleber would likely receive some support as being the Maverick most deserving of an All-Defensive team but he has played around half as many minutes as Finney-Smith.
Finney-Smith has played the most minutes of any player on the Mavericks at 1906. He leads the team in steals with 70 and is third in blocks with 29. Unfortunately neither of these numbers is all that impressive in a league-wide context. His 70 steals are tied for 19th in the league and his 29 blocks are tied for 81st in the league. Steals and blocks can be an indicator of defensive excellence but they are not always required for elite defense.
Finney-Smith is 44th in the NBA in deflections per game, basically tied with among others, Luka Doncic. This is a solid number, reflective of a long defender who plays hard but does not take unnecessary chances. Finney-Smith also has a slightly negative defensive field goal percentage which means he causes his opponents to shoot worse than league average despite often guarding the best player on the opposing team regardless of position.
The most important thing regarding the All-Defensive team is to remember that there are only 10 spots total and only four for forwards. There is no third team. That means that Finney-Smith’s performance cannot be viewed in a vacuum but rather must be viewed in a league wide context.
The next most important thing to remember is that it is harder to make an All-Defensive team if a player has never made one. All-Defensive teams are largely based on reputation still and while Finney-Smith has a good defensive reputation, he is not quite up to the level it may need to be to win this award. In this case, three former players on the teams (Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard) are not eligible due to either injury or lack of playing time. This opens up three spots without anyone getting snubbed.
Rudy Gobert and Bam Adebayo should be the first and second team center. Adebayo is perhaps the most versatile defender in the league so he could be shoe horned on to the first team as a forward but he plays the vast majority (98 percent per basketballreference.com) of his minutes at center and thus should be picked there. Adebayo has only played 34 games but he is back now and if he plays the remainder of the season he will deserve that second team center spot. He was put on the second team as a forward last season but that was a mistake.
Some might argue that Adebayo deserves the first team spot over Gobert given his versatility and more modern game. Gobert remains the leading shot blocker in the NBA and a defense unto himself during this regular season. The Jazz have fallen to ninth in defensive rating, but without Gobert they would be much closer to the bottom of the league.
For forwards, it gets trickier. Giannis Antetokounmpo remains an MVP candidate and an elite defender, but do the Milwaukee Bucks really deserve two members of the All-Defensive team despite having only the 12th best defensive rating? Jrue Holiday and Antetokounmpo are both considered elite defenders and both made the All-Defensive first team last season. If both do so again along with Gobert, that means 60 percent of the defensive first team will come from teams outside of the top 8 in the league in defensive rating.
All of that being said, Antetokounmpo will be on the first team and deservedly so. He combines to average 2.4 “stocks” which are combined steals and blocks. He holds his opponents 3.3 percent below their expected field goal percentage and he remains both an elite rim protector and incredibly switchable. He is the only forward from last season’s team that is should be selected this year. Adebayo is not a forward as mentioned earlier.
The first team guards should be Dejounte Murray who is leading the league in steals and is just a pest and Matisse Thybulle who is fifth in steals while also having the size to bother bigger players. Jrue Holiday and Marcus Smart will likely take up the second team guards, preventing any wing defenders such as Jimmy Butler or Mikal Bridges from making the team as a guard.
Robert Williams should make one of the All-Defensive teams. He spends around 40 percent of his time as a forward alongside Al Horford and thus he will likely make it as a forward. He is tied for league lead in blocks per game with Gobert. He is also averaging nearly a steal per game and funneling drivers to him has led the Celtics to go on an absolutely insane defensive run, lapping the league in defensive rating over the last couple of months. That has to be rewarded. This leaves Butler, Bridges, Finney-Smith, Jaren Jackson Jr and Evan Mobley to fight over two spots.
Jackson is getting one of those spots. He is averaging 2.2 blocks and 1.0 steals. He is at his best as a small ball center but he spends a large enough portion of his time as a power forward to fit as a forward on an All-Defensive team. Evan Mobley is a fantastic defender but as mentioned above, it is hard to get on this team the first year a player deserves to be. Tim Duncan was the last rookie to make the All-Defensive team and David Robinson was the last rookie before him. The last rookie that didn’t play for the San Antonio Spurs to make an All-Defensive team was Michael Jordan. Mobley is special but he likely has to wait a year.
Jimmy Butler has been part of the elite Miami Heat defense with 1.8 steals per game but he has actually allowed a slightly higher than expected field goal percentage. He has also only played 1373 minutes to Finney-Smith’s 1906. Given that the Maverick’s defense is ranked better than the Heat’s, the disparity in minutes played and the fact that Butler plays with Adebayo, the Mavericks can reasonably argue that Finney-Smith is more deserving of All-Defensive team honors. The Heat can likely only have one of Butler and Adebayo on the All-Defensive team and Adabeyo is the more special defensive talent.
That leaves it to Bridges and Finney-Smith. They are largely the same type of defenders, analytically and positionally sound without gambling for steals or blocks. They have exactly the same number of steals (70) and Finney-Smith has four more blocks. Finney-Smith has a slightly better opponents field goal percentage. The Suns’ overall team defense is slightly better than the Mavericks and they also do not have another All-Defensive team player, though Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton are more highly regarded defensively than any other Maverick.
Bridges actually receive votes as a guard last season, despite clearly being a forward. Bridges has actually received some undeserved defensive player of the year buzz. Defensively, Bridges and Finney-Smith have had extremely similar results with Finney-Smith having a slight edge this season.
Admittedly, Finney-Smith on the All-Defensive team seemed like a stretch. After reviewing all of the candidates he has a very solid case. He is among the most versatile defenders in the NBA, having defended everyone from Antetokounmpo to Ja Morant as seen in the video below. If he does not make it, he should at least be among the highest vote getters to not make a team. As has been mentioned repeatedly, it usually take a second All-Defensive team worthy season to earn the first selection. Finney-Smith may not make it this year, but if the Mavericks and Finney-Smith can continue to defend at this level, he may earn a spot next season.