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If a rookie season is like an Intro to NBA class, consider Dorian Finney-Smith in the advanced placement section — and on the accelerated track.
“He just gains more wisdom as he gets his (tail) kicked,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle deadpanned recently.
Carlisle has even gone as far as to say Finney-Smith takes it personally when opponents score on him. He becomes upset when he makes a mistake, but not a volatile type of mood. He just takes pride in his defense. Before Monday’s game against Charlotte, Carlisle went a little deeper.
“He improves every game. Defensively, he’s way ahead of the curve for a rookie,” he said. “He’s one of the best defensive players for a first-year guy at the wing/post position that I’ve seen. He’s very mature.”
Carlisle credits Finney-Smith’s extensive college experience for the reason behind his sound and stable mental approach to the game. The rookie spent one year at Virginia Tech before transferring to Florida for his final three seasons, and he had to sit out one season between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
While his five-year stay at the D-I level might have been beneficial to his development, there’s no doubt it was a huge reason why the 23-year-old went undrafted this summer. Finney-Smith’s senior stat line — 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds — looked nice, sure, but his Gators team went just 21-15 and finished eighth in the SEC. You wonder how many scouts that might have turned off.
But as Finney-Smith has proved in his short tenure with the Mavericks, stats don’t really tell the whole story. He only averages 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, so why are Carlisle and Mavs owner Mark Cuban heaping so much praise on him?
“Guys just respect other guys who work hard,” said Cuban, who similarly admires Finney-Smith’s mental and emotional control. The owner is campaigning to get him into this year’s rookie/sophomore Rising Stars game.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had somebody since I’ve been here like that,” he said. “Everybody else gets emotional at one level or another. And you know he is, because he gets mad at himself, but Doe-Doe is just fine.”
All of these kind words were said about him on Monday, two days after he recorded a career-high 11 points in the Mavs’ 107-82 win against the Bulls. Later that night, the Mavs lost 109-101 to the Hornets, and Finney-Smith scored just one point on 0-of-5 shooting. It’s not necessarily going to be easy all the time, but the rookie understands that.
“It’s an up-and-down season for me,” he said. “Some games I’m making shots, and some games I can’t throw a rock in the ocean. I know what I bring to the table, and I just try not to forget to play defense, play hard. It keeps me on the court and it helps our team.”
It takes a special mentality for a guy not to be discouraged when he “can’t throw a rock in the ocean” and instead focus on the defensive end, where players rarely ever receive recognition. But that’s how Finney-Smith approaches the game. Defense comes first, and the scoring can come later.
“I just love the game. I love to compete,” he said. “You just put me out there, I’m gonna go hard against anybody. I don’t care who it is. I’m just gonna give it my all.”
Depending on how you look at it, going 0 of 5 from the field is really nothing compared to not being drafted. A competitor like Finney-Smith, who remembers the players by name that have drawn and-1 fouls against him, had every right to be upset on draft night.
Practice Report: Dorian Finney-Smith
Mavs F Dorian Finney-Smith on focusing in on the defensive end, rebounding, picking Wesley Matthews' brain and more.
Then again, for some players there’s a benefit to not being drafted, as opposed to being taken in the second round. Finney-Smith was able to choose to sign with Dallas, instead of being forced into a contract with whichever team selected him. Many second-rounders were either stashed overseas due to roster limits or waived during training camp, but the Mavericks said all summer that it would be an open competition for the last couple spots. The rookie made a great first impression during the Las Vegas Summer League camp, and earned a contract before the team left for Sin City. He then beat out five other players for the final roster spot in training camp and became a full-time starter by the Mavs’ seventh game.
Still, the chip on his shoulder must remain, right?
“I don’t think it would’ve changed with him, even if he’d been a first-round pick,” Carlisle said. “He’s just wired to be a competitor. I think that’s another compliment to him as a player.”
You think back throughout the Dirk Era to identify the rookies with the biggest immediate impact, and it’s hard to instantly come up with someone who fits that bill more than Finney-Smith. Players like Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels had solid first seasons, but both were more on the periphery at the beginning of the 2003-04 season.
When I asked him, Cuban mentioned one name: Devin Harris. He started 19 games right off the bat during his inaugural campaign in 2004-05, quarterbacking the offense as the Mavs got off to an 8-1 start.
“But Devin was drafted number five,” Cuban said. “Doe-Doe wasn’t drafted.”
Just because he’s made a big impact and absorbed heavy minutes doesn’t mean the initiation process isn’t over. Finney-Smith still wears the pink rookie backpack everywhere he goes. He recently bought his first car, which means he’d better become familiar with the route to Eatzi’s, a favorite takeout place of his veteran teammates. The day before he played 32 minutes in an overtime win against Milwaukee, Finney-Smith finally moved into his first apartment. Amazingly, his NBA.com profile page still does not have a photo.
On the floor, he’s still learning, too. It’s one thing to defend good SEC players, but it’s another to defend world-class players on a nightly basis. Wesley Matthews is the Mavs’ go-to perimeter defender, but Finney-Smith is always guarding the best interior player or second-best perimeter player. That’s a nice luxury to have as a coach, but it means the rookie has got to stay focused and avoid giving anything easy away.
“It’s hard because you can’t play physical. You can’t touch them,” he joked. “That, and being a rookie, you’re definitely not gonna get calls to go your way. I’m just learning guys who draw a lot of fouls, learning how to play them.”
When Finney-Smith is on the floor, the Mavericks allow just 101.1 points per 100 possessions, per NBA Stats. For reference, that would rank fourth in the NBA. When he’s out of the game, that number increases to 105.9, which would rank 20th.
It’s difficult to directly measure a player’s defensive impact because so much of defense is a team scheme and relies on all five players doing their jobs exactly right. But on-off splits do go some way in telling the story, and that number plays heavily into Finney-Smith’s favor. If there was a rookie All-Defensive Team, he’d be the first player on the list, for sure.
“It’s not even whether the guys make or miss, it’s the shots they don’t take,” Cuban said. “You get a lot of (pump fakes), and they see his length and he can get up close, and they won’t even take a shot.
“There should be a new stat: shots not taken.”
You won’t find many bigger fans of Dorian Finney-Smith than the coach and the owner. I don’t think you’ll hear him complain about that, either. If you’re gonna have two fans, that’s a good place to start. Soon, though, the unheralded, undrafted rookie with modest per-game stats and not even 2,000 Twitter followers might be receiving more attention. It’s early still, but it appears the Mavs might have found a diamond in the rough.
“He’s on a mission,” Cuban said. “He’s been through a lot, and he’s not gonna let this chance get by him. We got lucky.”
Highlights: Mavs vs. Kings
Check out all the top plays from Wednesday night's game against the Kings.
DALLAS — Despite seeing another of their top contributors go down with an injury during the first half of Monday’s 109-101 loss at home to Charlotte, the Dallas Mavericks are confident they can remain afloat until their health situation improves thanks to the recent play of point guard Deron Williams.
Already playing without 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain), 26-year-old guard Seth Curry (right knee sprain) and veteran J.J. Barea (left calf strain), the Mavericks (4-15) would then lose starting center Andrew Bogut late in the first quarter Monday night due to a right knee injury. The Mavs would then valiantly put up a fight and lead by as many as 11 before eventually collapsing in the fourth quarter as Bogut’s absence was felt inside and on the glass. But with Williams appearing to return to his elite form in the last three games after addressing his own injury concerns earlier in the season, the Mavs believe that they can bounce back Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings.
“It’s been tough with the injuries for us,” Williams admitted after Monday’s loss. “It seems like we get one guy back, and somebody else goes down. It’s definitely been tough. We’d like to be a lot more healthy than we are. We’d like to have Dirk out there, J.J., me for more games and Bogut for more games, but we can’t control certain things. So, we’ve just got to keep on trucking.”
Williams has definitely done his part to help the Mavericks keep trucking along, dishing out 28 combined assists in the last two games as the team has tried to build momentum at home. To the delight of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the three-time All-Star has also seemingly shaken off the left calf injury that forced him to miss eight outings during a nine-game stretch from Nov. 6 to Nov. 23.
Returning to the lineup during a 128-90 loss in Cleveland on Nov. 25, Williams has seen his minute restriction increase since clocking just 15 minutes during that game. Matching his season high by playing 37 minutes during Monday’s loss, Williams has recently stepped up with several injuries to the Mavericks’ core contributors. And according to Carlisle, the team’s success moving forward is directly tied to Williams’ health.
“Well, he’s doing a good job of distributing the ball, but I’m very encouraged by how he’s moving and how he’s playing,” Carlisle said of Williams’ recent play. “The shotmaking isn’t all there yet, but that’s coming. And it’s just a matter of continuing to work into the conditioning and rhythm aspect of it, but he’s playing very well. I like his effort on defense, too.”
Despite seeing his minute restriction extended to at least 30 minutes a game during the last three outings, Williams has yet to consistently find a shooting rhythm since battling his way back from the calf injury. Still, the veteran floor general has found a way to affect the game in other areas, emerging as the Mavs’ top playmaker and facilitator with a 7.2 assist-to-turnover ratio during that span.
Scoring 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting during a 97-87 loss in Charlotte last Thursday, Williams also dished out eight assists to keep his teammates involved. He followed that with a season-high 15 assists to go along with nine points during Saturday’s 107-82 victory over Chicago, making up for a 3-of-11 shooting night by committing only one turnover. Williams then continued to struggle finding the bottom of the net Monday with 15 points on just 6-of-18 shooting, dishing out 13 assists to just two giveaways as the shorthanded Mavs competed for the better part of 48 minutes before eventually falling. He’ll now attempt to rise to the occasion to help the banged-up Mavericks get back on track when they host the Kings (7-13) in the third outing of a four-game homestand Wednesday night.
“I mean, obviously, I think my teammates are doing a great job of getting open,” Williams explained. “We’re rolling to the basket a lot more, and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. When you have a roll presence, someone like Dwight [Powell] and Bogut the last couple of games, they’ve been rolling and finishing, and that opens up three-point shots. And of course, when you have assists your team has to make shots. So, hopefully I can help them out and make some shots myself, ’cause I haven’t been doing that.”
Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, hosting the Sacramento Kings. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. It will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Andrew Bogut (right knee injury) — out
Seth Curry (right knee sprain) — out
Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain) — out
J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out
Final: Hornets 109, Mavs 101
Behind the Box Score
Deron Williams’ roll allowed the Mavs to play perhaps some more pick-and-roll than usual tonight. Dallas used 24 such possessions in the P&R, per team analytics, and scored 32 points in those situations. That’s a 1.33 points per possession mark, which is really good.
The Mavs (4-16) play the Sacramento Kings (7-13) on Wednesday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.
Satnam Singh, the Mavs’ second-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, is the subject of a new Netflix documentary titled “One in a Billion,” which will make its global debut tomorrow, Dec. 6.
The film features NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, and Troy Justice, the NBA senior director of international basketball operations.
Singh is hoping to become the first Indian-born NBA player in league history. He averaged 1.5 points and 1.5 boards last season for the Texas Legends, the Mavs’ D-League affiliate. He also appeared on both the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer League squads in July.
This is the second Mavs-related documentary to make it to Netflix in recent years. “The Perfect Shot,” which focuses on Dirk Nowitzki’s basketball career, debuted on the streaming service last year after a theatrical run.
When it’s one of those nights, it’s one of those nights.
Too often this season that phrase generally suggests a tough situation became even tougher for the Mavericks, but that wasn’t the case in Saturday’s win against the Bulls, when the Dallas offense finally erupted. The club surpassed the century mark in scoring for the second time in almost in a month.
Here’s a recap of some of the most eye-popping numbers from Saturday. It was certainly one of “those” nights for the Mavericks, and hopefully for the players in that locker room there will be more like them to come.
– Deron Williams recorded a season-high 15 assists, his most in a regulation game since February 2015. He became the first Maverick to dish out at least 15 in a regulation game since Jason Kidd did so in October 2010, per Basketball-Reference. More impressively, Williams turned the ball over just once. It was his first game with at least 15 assists and only one giveaway since that same 2010-11 season. (On his big assist night in 2010, Kidd handed out 18 dimes and turned the ball over just once. Thirteen times in his career he recorded a 15/1 game, including five for Dallas. What a player.)
– As a team, the Mavericks recorded a season-high 31 assists, their most in a game since March 2016. “I thought we got a lot of swings, got some open looks, got movement and easier shots, as opposed to just straight isolations,” said Harrison Barnes, who finished with only one dime but was the beneficiary of his teammates’ passes, Williams in particular. He shot 4 of 7 following a Williams pass, per NBA Stats. (Barnes, by the way, was also a season-high +32 in 37 minutes.)
Highlights: Mavs vs. Bulls
Check out all the top plays from Saturday night's 107-82 win over the Chicago Bulls.
– Wesley Matthews drained a season-high seven 3s on 11 attempts. He’s been absolute money from deep lately, now shooting 44.9 percent from beyond the arc in his last 11 games. During that time, he’s averaging 16.6 points per game on just 12.8 shot attempts with a 56.0 effective field goal percentage. Those are elite-level numbers for a shooter in this league. His hot shooting might eventually simmer down at least a little bit, but he’s more than bounced back from his slow start to the 2016-17 season.
– Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith both registered career-high scoring nights, tallying 17 and 11, respectively. Meanwhile, Andrew Bogut scored a season-best eight points. The extra production from the bench players in particular was very important for Dallas, as all of the non-starting groups registered a cumulative positive plus-minus for just the fifth time all season, per Mavs analytics. The Mavericks are now 4-1 in those games. Injuries have truly decimated the starting lineup and much of the bench as the season has gone on, which has forced backups into starting roles and deep reserves into significant backup minutes. That has a domino effect on the back end of the rotation, which has been getting beat by healthier opposing second units. But on this night the Mavs’ reserves were more than capable of keeping up with the Bulls. (The starting group’s plus-minus of +12 also tied for the best in a game this season.)
– The Mavs defense allowed just 0.77 points per possession on trips when the Bulls were unable to get the ball into the lane, per Mavs analytics. That isn’t a season-high mark (0.40 against the Pelicans was) but it continues this trend: Dallas is 4-0 when allowing 0.83 PPP or better against opposing offenses in those situations, while the Mavs haven’t won a game when opponents score 0.84 or higher.