It doesn’t take long to go down the list of Mavericks fan favorites before you get to Dorian Finney-Smith. The third year wing has come a long way since he was brought on as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida in the summer of 2016.
Even though he only played 27 seconds in his first NBA game back when the Mavs opened the 2016-2017 season with a close loss to the Indiana Pacers, Dorian-Finney Smith quickly found himself thrust into a role for a Mavericks team that struggled out of the starting gate and never recovered. Besides a DNP-CD in the team’s third game of the season, Dorian Finney-Smith would play every other game for the team in what turned out to be a 33-49 season.
In his sophomore campaign, a knee injury kept him out from mid-November until mid-March and limited him to just 21 games overall for the season. Scouring over his game log from the 2017-2018 season, it looks like the injury might have initially happened in late October when he missed six games before coming back for three more and then eventually being shut down for an extended period.
“It was really a tough injury,” Finney-Smith recalls. “I tried to come back a little too early and messed it up a little more while trying to fight through it.”
He would eventually make it back to the lineup towards the end of the season and had plenty of minutes waiting for him with the Mavericks really buried in the standings and purely seeing what they had on hand for the future. In the five April games to close out the season, Finney-Smith averaged close to 12 points and 6 rebounds in about 34 minutes per game. It was important for him to finish what had been a rough second season on a high note.
“It was nice to just get my rhythm back.” he says of his positive stretch to end last season. “Obviously we weren’t making the playoffs, but I wanted to play. It really didn’t matter how many games were left – I wanted to play.”
The effort it took for Finney-Smith to get back before the season was over was not lost on his coach Rick Carlisle.
“He’s a great worker,” Carlisle said before a game recently. “He’s been through some adversities with the knee injury last year that took a while to work through. He really, really worked hard — it took months. Ever since he’s been back, he has really worked to maintain it, keep it strong and stay ahead of it.”
Fast forward to this season, Dorian-Finney Smith has played in every single game for Dallas and has been on the court about as much as anyone for the Mavericks. Per Basketball Reference, DFS has logged the fourth most minutes of any Mavs player this season. If you take out guys who have been traded recently like DeAndre Jordan and Harrison Barnes, only Luka Doncic has played more minutes for Dallas this season than Dorian Finney-Smith.
Current Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan, Finney-Smith’s former college coach at Florida, is very proud of what he has seen his former player develop into as a professional.
“Dorian’s been great,” Donovan said before one of the Thunder’s visits to the AAC earlier this season. “He’s gone from a guy who got some minutes as a rookie to a guy they rely on.”
Donovan says he always thought Finney-Smith would be a pro, but knows that Dorian had the odds stacked against him as an undrafted player and took advantage of the opportunities in front of him.
“I think so many times in situations of players that are on the cusp of making the team, sometimes it doesn’t have to do with the talent but the timing, the opportunity and the situation. I think he’s walked into a really good situation, to be quite honest with you. There have been some situations here that have presented the opportunity for him to play.”
Dorian Finney-Smith came to the Mavericks at a time where they were in a transition from a playoff team to a rebuild and he has done what it takes to make himself someone the front office wants to keep around with his versatile set of skills. With the recent roster changes, he suddenly finds himself as a for-sure starter each night and perhaps even more of a floor leader than he realizes. He knows that leadership in the Mavericks locker room can fall on anyone.
“I feel like it’s an open locker room. Anybody can talk to anybody. It’s not like the old guys blow off the young guys,” Finney-Smith said with a smile. “I just try to help whoever I can, especially on defense. So I just try to be a little more vocal on that end.”
Along with Maxi Kleber, Finney-Smith is an undrafted free agent who has turned out to be a gem for the Mavericks over the last two-and-a-half seasons. Even though he’s a free agent at the end of the season, he has made himself a fixture of the Mavs present and future with his high-energy play and outstanding conduct as a teammate.
As a reporter, there are a handful of Mavericks who always make me smile when I see how humble and grateful they seem to be for their opportunity to play professional basketball. Dorian is certainly one of them. Anytime I have asked him a question this season, he figures out a way to get back to saying he is blessed to be in this position.
On Friday night, Finney-Smith made his way back to the locker room after he finished his pregame workout out on the court. Being as friendly as he is, he always has at least one reporter try to make small talk or get a quote from him before he goes off to do whatever he does before getting dressed for the game. This time someone mentioned to him that he’s now all alone on his side of the locker room. The way the lockers used to be set up on one side of the Mavs locker room went like this:
Dwight Powell – Dirk Nowitzki – Harrison Barnes – Dennis Smith Jr. – Dorian Finney-Smith – DeAndre Jordan
As you can tell by reading through the names that surrounded him, things are quite different for the third year forward who certainly was close to Smith Jr. but also seemed to have a big brother/little brother relationship that often saw Jordan making a joke or two at Finney-Smith’s expense in front of the media. Dorian would always take it with a smile like a champ.
Kristaps Porzingis now resides in Jordan’s former locker and he is rarely in the locker room considering he is not playing this season. Dorian scooted one locker to his left so that Tim Hardaway Jr. could have the locker next to Porzingis. On the other side of Finney-Smith is a vacant locker after the Mavericks left a roster spot open after waiving Zach Randolph after the Harrison Barnes trade this week. After hearing the aforementioned “alone” comment by a reporter, Dorian seemed to take a moment to look up and down the row of lockers and realize that he had lost a good amount of teammates over the last two weeks. He shook his head but then did the sign of the cross and pointed towards the sky. Again signaling that he realizes he is blessed to be where he is.
As a player and as a person, it’s impossible not to like Dorian Finney-Smith. The Mavericks need to do what it takes to keep him around for as long as possible.
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