A change in his shooting stroke has made a world of difference for Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith.
Undrafted in 2016 out of Florida, Finney-Smith entered the NBA as an immaculate defender with not exactly a penchant for putting the ball in the hole. Some of his offensive shortcomings were due to the hitch in his shooting stroke.
But with a lot of work in changing his quirky release over his first four NBA offseasons, last year Finney-Smith shot 47.2 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, both career highs. All of that was welcomed news from the Portsmouth, Va., product, who has always been laser-focused on being an astute defender.
“I wouldn’t say I was a bad shooter (in college),” Finney-Smith said. “I shot the ball pretty good in college. It’s just that it was a bad looking shot.
“I couldn’t get it off much in the NBA without feeling like I had to rush it, because it took a long time for me to get it off and put the ball behind my head.”
During his senior season at Florida, Finney-Smith actually made 43.6 percent of his field goals and 36.6 percent of his 3-point shots. But with NBA defenders coming at him at a much faster and more furious pace, that forced him to get back in the lab so he could get his shot off much quicker.
“I went through some mental ups and downs,“ Finney-Smith said. “Changing your shot, you’re just not going to make shots right after you change it.”
Finney-Smith gave kudos to Mavs management for sticking by him during the periods when he was correcting his shooting stroke.
“I’m also fortunate enough that the Mavs stuck with me long enough to even watch me get better, or even let it happen because they could have moved on just because I couldn’t make a shot until the second year,” he said. “But also, again, that’s me doing something else to get myself on the court.
“At that time, making shots was just a plus. They all knew what I did — and that was play defense.”
Although Finney-Smith was an exemplary defender, the Mavs needed him to make shots. Because if he wasn’t capable of putting the ball in the hole at a respectable rates, he was always going to be wide open. And that would leave the other five defenders to guard the other four Mavs on the court.
Meanwhile, this past offseason was one of reflection for Finney-Smith. And he looked directly back to the 118-108 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 at American Airlines Center as the contest that truly cost them to lose their first-round playoff series in seven games.
The Mavs won the opening two games of the series in Los Angeles, and were blowing out the Clippers at home in Game 3 in front of a raucous crowd, 30-11, with 4:38 remaining in the first quarter. But the Clippers outscored the Mavs, 20-4 the rest of the period and only trailed 34-31 after the first quarter.
“I would say it helped to motivate you after that Game 3 for me,” Finney-Smith said of his summer routine. “I feel like that Game 3, I didn’t bring what I used to bring to the table.
“I wouldn’t say that’s the reason we lost, but I feel like we were up (by 19 points) and I didn’t even help out a little bit or make the open shots I did have. It helped fueled me for the summer. Those days when you don’t want to do nothing, you’ve got something you can stick to (that will) get your (rear end) up.”
Finney-Smith also saw changes near the top of the Mavs’ franchise as Donnie Nelson is no longer the Mavs’ long-time general manager, and Rick Carlisle is no longer the team’s long-time coach. They were replaced over the offseason by Nico Harrison and Jason Kidd, respectively.
“When I was in college I played with two or three different coaches, and then three years ago I had a whole team change, pretty much,” Finney-Smith said. “I ain’t used to change. This is the first one in the NBA – a coaching change.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I just stay positive. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I can’t focus on that. All I can do is control what I can control, and that was making sure the kids were smiling. I’m just going to let (owner) Mark (Cuban) and them handle that over there what they’ve got to handle and I’ll just worry about basketball.”
Finney-Smith isn’t even worried about the contract extension that he’s currently eligible for. For now, he’s just thinking about the Mavs hoping to extend their preseason record to a perfect 3-0 when they play at the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. CT.
“I try not to think about it,” Finney-Smith said. “I try to play basketball. It if happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I can’t do nothing about it.”
Finney-Smith, 28, said it’s obvious that he wants to play the rest of his career donning a Mavs uniform.
“Everybody knows that,” the lanky 6-7, 220-pounder said. “I don’t think it needs to be said.”
Of Kidd and the infusion he has injected into the Mavs, Finney-Smith said: “He’s got a championship (as the Mavs’ point guard in 2011). The energy around the locker room has been amazing. Everybody is excited.”
What also excites Finney-Smith is that defenses now have to pay close attention to his deft shooting touch from 3-point range. Yet he still said:
“I’ve got to get the corner threes off a little faster than I used to. And also like in the playoffs, guys be running me off the (3-point) line and making me shoot pullups. So I have to have counters to whatever teams are playing.”