Dorian Finney-Smith, the Mavs’ undrafted, unheralded, and at one time nationally anonymous rookie, has been arguably the team’s biggest surprise this season.
The only other player who could make a stake to that claim is Harrison Barnes, who’s on pace to become the first Mavs forward not named Dirk Nowitzki to average 20 points in a season since Jamal Mashburn did so 20 years ago. Finney-Smith’s scoring numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy as Barnes’ — though his 17 points did lead the team in Sunday’s win against the Kings — but the rookie is climbing further and further up the Mavs’ historical rookie ladder with each game he plays.
The 23-year-old will almost certainly start tonight in Denver, and that’d be his 20th game started for the team this season. That would move him past Devin Harris and into a tie with Mavs great Mark Aguirre for 17th all-time in Mavericks starts by a rookie. Start No. 21 would move him into a tie with Loren Meyer and Mike Iuzzolino, and then, waiting for him in 14th place, would be Dirk Nowitzki, who started 24 games as a rookie in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign.
Considering only five players in franchise history have started at least 50 games as a rookie, Finney-Smith is on pace to join some unique company, a group which includes Jay Vincent, Elston Turner, the late Sean Rooks, Mashburn, and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, who started 79 games in 1994-95 en route to winning co-Rookie of the Year honors.
Of course, the undrafted first-year Mav’s starter status might be in jeopardy once Nowitzki returns to action, which he hinted to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon could happen as soon as Christmas. But either way, Finney-Smith has put himself squarely on the NBA radar with his recent play of late. In his last six appearances, he’s averaged 10.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on 55.8 percent shooting from the field and 50.0 percent from deep all the while adjusting to the difficult of maintaining consistency at the NBA level.
“I’m just trying to be the same person every game,” he said Sunday. “That’s the toughest thing, because it’s a long season. But I just try not to get too high, try not to get too low, try to find a routine and stick to it.”
Finney-Smith has reached double-figures in five of his 26 career games. That might seem modest, but recent Mavs rookies who went on to develop into prominent players have comparable outputs: Jae Crowder and Devin Harris both did it six times, while Josh Howard did it 10 times. Nowitzki, for reference, did it just six times as well. And Finney-Smith’s 26 made 3-pointers are the most any rookie Maverick has made in his first 26 games, topping Erick Strickland’s 25 in the 1996-97 season.
The production has certainly been there. Here’s where he ranks among all rookies in key statistical categories this month.
|Steals + Blocks||19||T-6th|
And here are his monthly per-game splits. He’s showing tremendous improvement across the board over November.
If Finney-Smith can continue his upward curve, he’s going to hang on to a key rotation spot no matter when Nowitzki returns, even if it isn’t in the starting lineup. By the end of the season, both in terms of quality and in pure production, the undrafted 23-year-old could make a case for an All-Rookie Team spot — and prove to be one of the best rookies to come through Dallas in some time.