The Mavericks are in the middle of an electric season that has featured the rise of second year star Luka Doncic from Rookie of the Year feel-good-story to borderline MVP candidate, the introduction of a second franchise pillar in Kristaps Porzingis and the first taste of life without franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki in over two decades. Fans are more invested than they’ve been in years — both a good thing and a bad thing– and it seems like a near certainty that playoff basketball will be on the American Airlines Center schedule in mid-April for the first time four years.
The previous three years haven’t been easy for Mavericks fans, players or coaches to swallow as a 37% winning clip over that time has taken much more than a tall glass of water to aide in digesting. The rise back to winning ways is obviously thanks to the faces of the franchise like Doncic, Porzingis and even coach Rick Carlisle, but there is one contributor whose steady growth and outstanding attitude is becoming impossible not to notice and appreciate: fourth-year wing Dorian Finney-Smith.
The 26-year-old Virginia native has risen up the ranks to become one of the most important Mavericks this season. After signing a new three-year contract with Dallas last summer, he’s averaging career highs virtually across the board. The most telling career high might be that Rick Carlisle keeps Finney-Smith in the game more than any player without Doncic or Porzingis on the back of their jersey with 29.9 minutes per game this season. It certainly is an inspiring rise from undrafted out of college to 30 minutes a night for a playoff team.
After three years at the University of Florida (and one at Virginia Tech), Finney-Smith’s NBA future was a day-to-day proposition. He shared that the Celtics were interested in drafting him with the 57th pick in the 2016 draft, but his agent advised him to turn that down so that he’d be able to pick from any number of teams willing to give him a chance in the Summer League. After surveying the landscape and makeup of rosters around the league, DFS opted to sign with Dallas since they seemed to have a lot of roster spots open at a time. Unfortunately for Finney-Smith, the Mavs would go on to sign a few other players over the course of the summer to directly compete with him for those few open roster spots.
“I was a little discouraged because they had just signed (Jonathan) Gibson and Nico (Brussino) was already on the team, so I thought my chances of making the team were slim, but I just kept working and they ended up keeping me everyday.”
It’s funny to hear now that guys like Gibson and Brussino, who played a combined 71 games for Dallas, were seen as a threat to someone like Dorian who has now appeared in 238 games with the Mavericks after three and a half seasons.
Dorian’s battle to make a lasting impression impression is not forgotten by Rick Carlisle. While it’s doubtful Carlisle and Donnie Nelson knew they were looking at a future key starter for them when they met with him during the draft process in the spring/early summer of 2016, they knew they were looking at a player with a potential to make a sizable impact on a team.
“We thought he was a guy who could be a very good 3&D guy in this league,” Carlisle said before a game earlier this season. “We noticed in his draft workout that he had a feel for the game that was unique for a guy that played 4 years in college. His shooting needed work and he didn’t shoot a lot threes in college, but he’s worked extremely hard on that. He’s been a guy that has fought his way to where he is now. He takes nothing for granted. That’s just who he is.”
Carlisle couldn’t be more right on Dorian’s appreciation for his status as an NBA player. Virtually every time I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to Finney-Smith over the past season and a half of covering games, he always finds a way to note how lucky he is to be here.
“I was struggling to make the team and now I’m here with my foot in the door. I’m just blessed to be in this situation.”
Another thing that is abundantly clear when talking to Finney-Smith: he isn’t a player with a big ego desperate to prove that he can be THE guy on a team. He knows he got here playing a certain way and he is happy to serve that role for the Mavericks if it helps them win.
“I do what I do. I never try to do too much. We know who the main guys are. They’re going to attract so much attention, I just need to be ready to shoot whenever they pass it out.”
Finney-Smith has been more up to the task than ever when it comes to shooting the ball this season. He came into this season a career 30% shooter from three but has been able to turn that around into a career high 38% from beyond the arc this season. Digging deeper, he’s 39% on catch-and-shoot deep balls with the corners being his specialty: 42% on left corner threes and 46% from the right corner.
Further pushing into the excelling at your role, Finney-Smith is probably the player on the Mavericks who makes the most out of the little amount if time the ball is in his hands. He is averaging just 1.86 seconds per touch on offense this season (compared to other Mavs like Tim Hardaway Jr. at 2.67, Seth Curry at 3.11 and Luka Doncic at 5.56) and is very happy to keep the ball moving on offense if a quality shot isn’t there for him.
Finney-Smith’s improved three point shooting hasn’t disappeared late in the game this season either. Several times this year, teammates have found him for an open three and he hasn’t disappointed. He certainly appreciates the trust from not only his teammates, but also from his coach to even have him in the game in those scenarios.
“I remember a lot of times with me not playing down the stretch… I feel good that my teammates trust me now and they pass me the ball in those types of situations,” Finney-Smith said after a game where he hit a clutch shot earlier this season. “I’m just happy I earned that trust. I worked hard this summer, so I’m glad I’m seeing some results.”
Jalen Brunson committed a charge late in regulation. Then he made two of the biggest plays of the game, a late find to Finney-Smith for 3 and then making a floater. All on three straight possessions. (Young guys getting better!) pic.twitter.com/ZlCya1S4Kt
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) February 4, 2020
In the first season of a major bargain of a deal for the Mavericks, Finney-Smith has cemented himself as a part of the present and future of the franchise. He’s a terrific glue guy on the court who’s committed to excelling at his specific role on both ends of the court without any sort of demand for more. He is one the nicest guys on the team and is always willing to share a word with the media or a fan if they ask. I dare you to try not to root for the guy anytime he’s on the floor, you won’t be able to do it. He’ll be testing your ability to dislike him for a while too. He will be a fixture in NBA rotations for years to come.
“My rookie year I was just trying to show I belong. Now I know I can play with these guys. I’m starting to really trust the work I’ve put in.”
You often see some athletes who appear arrogant and just think they’re entitled to whatever they might want. Dorian Finney-Smith could not be further from the opposite. The Mavericks are beyond lucky to have him in their locker room and on the court.
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