Whatever the fine art is behind being a successful defensive player, Dorian Finney-Smith has it down pat.
The Dallas Mavericks list the four-year veteran as a forward. But when it comes to playing defense, Finney-Smith is locked and loaded and can effectively guard any of the five positions on the court.
“He’s had to guard everybody really over the last three-plus years he’s been with us,” coach Rick Carlisle said following Tuesday’s practice at the Lympo practice facilities. “He’s guarded (centers) like (Karl-
Anthony) Towns, he’s guarded point guards like (James) Harden and (LeBron) James, and even smaller guys like Kyrie Irving, and everything in between.
“I love the way he plays defense. He’s a real key guy because he can guard a lot of different positions.”
According to Finney-Smith, there’s no off-the-charts talent a player must possess in order to be a proficient defender. Yet he added that a player must be a workaholic and also have a keep sense of other players’ strengths.
“I would say knowing player’s tendencies, and I would say playing real hard (are critical),” he said. “I kind of feel like defense is a little bit of talent, but it’s a lot of want-to.
“Either you’ve got it in you or you don’t. For me, since I’m so versatile, you’ve got to know all the spots on the court. I know more than one player’s tendencies.”
That comes with Finney-Smith putting in extra hours doing his homework. However, the 6-7, 220-pounder came into the NBA as an undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2016, and made the Mavs’ roster primarily because he didn’t mind getting down and dirty and playing defense.
“I always had a knack of taking it personal on the defensive end, and I just let that carry with me from college,” Finney-Smith said. “At Florida we picked up full court (on defense), so it was an easy transition here harassing the ballhandler.
“I also had Wesley Matthews here with me, and Devin (Harris), who played great defensively in their careers. I just took everything I could from them while they were with me, and now we’re here.”
While most of Finney-Smith’s work on the court doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, his work is nonetheless greatly appreciated by his coaches and teammates.
“He’s great,” forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “He always has the toughest test against whoever we play. He always brings energy and plays hard, a guy who can switch multiple positions, so he’s very valuable.”
Carlisle describes the art of being a great defender as a player who loves to compete.
“Length and toughness and physical ability are certainly important, but I’ve seen a lot of guys that are really good defenders that don’t necessarily have great ability,” Carlisle said. “But they just have great desire. (Finney-Smith is) one of our best guys.”
Finney-Smith will certainly be one of the players who will take his turn guarding Detroit’s Blake Griffin when the Mavs (16-7) play the Pistons (10-14) on Thursday at 8 p.m. in Mexico City. The Portsmouth, Va., native is definitely up for the challenge.
“When Blake sees me he’ll probably try to post up a little bit more,” Finney-Smith said. “I just try to make it tough on him and try to get him to shoot some fadeaways.
“He’s going to make tough shots. I see he’s expanded his game. Now he’s shooting a lot of step-back threes — he’s just not dunking. Me, (Dwight Powell) and Maxi (Kleber), we’re going to have to do what we’ve got to do to slow him down.”
In assessing how he’s able to defend a cat-quick point guard like Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving one minute and then slide over and defend a bruising center like Towns the next minute, Finney-Smith described it like this:
“I would say I’ve got the height to (guard centers), and also I can move fast enough to guard guards. I use my length against small guards – guys like John Wall and Kyrie.
“With guys like Towns and big guys I try to be a little bit more active. I try to use my feet, because I know I’m not going to overpower too many people – not those big guys. That’s when I’ve got to be a little bit more agile and try to outsmart them.”
Meanwhile, Finney-Smith isn’t receiving notoriety just for his defense. His offensive numbers are also on the up-tick as he’s averaging career highs in scoring (8.6 points), field goal accuracy (56.1 percent) and 3-point shooting (32.9 percent).
“Luka (Doncic) and our guards are doing a great job of finding me,” said Finney-Smith, who’s averaging a career-high five rebounds per game. “Also, they’ve been telling me to keep shooting. The last game (Sunday against Sacramento) I came out 0-for-3 and they yelled at me for turning down a shot.
“That made me feel good to know that they still want me to shoot even when I didn’t make a shot. I put in the work, everybody’s confident in my shot, I’m confident in my shot, so I’m just going to keep shooting. But I also just try not to lose that defensive edge.”