Dorian Finney-Smith preps for ‘biggest summer’ of his life after productive rookie season

2016-17 Exit Interview: Dorian Finney-Smith

Mavs F Dorian Finney-Smith addresses the media for exit interviews.

DALLAS — Seeing of plenty of playing time during his rookie season after going untaken in last June’s NBA draft, Dallas Mavericks first-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith says he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of how effective he can be moving forward.

With 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki hobbled by a right Achilles strain early in the season, Finney-Smith was thrusted into the starting lineup quickly during his rookie campaign. Finney-Smith then started 35 times during his 81 appearances this season, making the most of his extra playing time with Nowitzki sidelined. But after admittedly hitting the proverbial rookie wall midway through the season, the former Florida standout vows to put in extra work this summer to return a better player in Year 2.

“I played 81 of 82 games, but kind of like right before the All-Star break I was banged up. I just needed a little break from the game, but a lot of my teammates told me it was normal, so they helped me through it,” Finney-Smith explained.

He added: “It’s probably going to be the biggest summer of my life, knowing the expectations that come with it. You know, I played 81 games and I started almost 40, so coaches and everybody see the talent. Now, I’ve just got to get a little bit more consistent with my shot, start putting it down a little bit more and don’t forget what got me here, and that’s defense.”

Defense was certainly the rookie forward’s calling card this season, guarding the likes of perennial All-Stars LeBron James, James Harden and Kevin Durant throughout the course of his first year in the league. But despite a sluggish start to the season at the offensive end, Finney-Smith slowly began to show glimpses of emerging as a knockdown shooter by the end of the grueling 82-game schedule.

All told, the 23-year-old averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds during his first season, clocking 20.3 minutes an outing. He also shot just 37.2 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from behind the three-point arc. But after shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from behind the arc while averaging 6.6 points during a season-high 17 games in the month of December, Finney-Smith says he will work this summer to find consistency at the offensive end.

“I need to get my shot more consistent,” the 6-foot-8 rookie admitted. “I feel like if I knock down the shot and I take a lot, it takes the pressure off guys like [Harrison Barnes] and when I’m on the court with Dirk. … I feel like I can grow a lot more on the court. I feel like I can get a lot better, and I’m going to work until I can’t.

“(Defense) was the reason I got on the court. You know, the things I did on offense was just a plus. But as the season went on, the coaches believed I could do more on offense, so they wanted me to shoot the ball a little bit more. You know, it was an up-and-down year, but it was a great experience for me.”

Finney-Smith signed as a free agent with Dallas on July 8, joining the Mavericks’ summer-league squad as it competed in Las Vegas. He then showed throughout the season what made him a coveted player for the Dallas front office after playing his final three collegiate seasons at Florida following a transfer from Virginia Tech at the conclusion of his freshman year.

In 134 career collegiate games, the 220-pounder averaged 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds while leading Florida in rebounding during all three of his seasons there and in scoring in each of his final two campaigns. But after earning the trust of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and his veteran teammates, Finney-Smith says he’s eager to prove his worth next year with one professional season and a summer of training under his belt.

“It helped me,” Finney-Smith said of his rookie season. “You know, I got the chance to guard some great players, and coach (Carlisle) challenged me to guard a lot of great talent. I just went out there and tried to do my best.

“I’ve still got that chip on my shoulder, along with several guys in the locker room with me. But this is a great place for me. You know, it’s a great organization, and we’ve got great teammates. A lot of them really helped me out this year.”

Mavs will collectively have to replace Al-Farouq Aminu’s high energy

DALLAS — He was arguably the Dallas Mavericks’ most valuable unsung hero during the 2014-15 season. Now, 24-year-old forward Al-Farouq Aminu departs from Dallas and leaves a notable hole in the Mavericks’ second unit after migrating to Portland this summer in free agency.

Playing in 74 outings for the Mavs during the ’14-15 season, Aminu averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes of work. He also struggled shooting the ball during the regular season, connecting on just 41.2 percent from the field and only 27.4 percent from three-point range.

However, the 6-foot-9 lanky forward then stepped up his production in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocked shots and 2.0 steals an outing as the Mavericks fell in five games to the Houston Rockets. He also provided the best defense on MVP runner-up James Harden, giving the team a lift at both ends of the floor while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from behind the three-point arc in the series.

In doing so, Aminu made himself into an attractive prospect in free agency prior to signing a reported four-year deal worth $30 million with Portland. The Mavericks now find themselves needing to replace Aminu’s spark off the bench, hoping one of their new additions can fill the void.

“I felt he was really good all year,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said while praising Aminu’s performance during last season. “You can never have enough athletes now in the game that can run, that can finish on the break, that can defend and use his length. I thought he was phenomenal. He made it hard on James, just using his length really well. I think he worked on his shooting throughout the year, so he had some good shooting games. But he’s a slasher and great energy player, and I thought he played extremely well during the playoffs.”

Aminu came to Dallas with plenty of untapped potential, holding averages of 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 303 career games during stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans prior to signing with the Mavs on July 29, 2014. And according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, it’s head coach Rick Carlisle’s tireless work with the young forward and the team’s development staff that should be credited with bringing the best out of the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

It’s now that track record of developing budding stars that gives Nelson and Carlisle confidence in believing the Mavs will successfully make up for the loss of Aminu during the upcoming season.

“He did a great job,” Carlisle said of Aminu’s efforts last season. “He was one of our best workers from Day 1. He came from some systems where there were limits put on what he was expected to do. Coming into this, I made a promise to him that we would work to develop his game to places it had not been. He needed to develop as a three-point shooter. He needed to learn to play inside and outside. He did not shoot the three particularly great during the year, but there was never one time when I did not encourage him to continue shooting them and continue working on them. As the playoffs unfolded, he shot over 60 percent from three and did a lot of great things. He’s an exciting young player. … He had a great experience here. We had a great experience with him and he helped us. He’s young still. He’s 24 years old. Guys with his ability level and work ethic have a higher ceiling than most. He just has such great heart and such great work ethic that I wouldn’t bet against him. I wouldn’t bet against him.”

“We’ve just been really lucky that you have players like [Aminu], who see us as a destination to develop,” Nelson added. “Brandan Wright certainly had that opportunity a few years ago, and he got himself out in the marketplace. And he certainly got his value. We were lucky Al chose us with an eye on the history that we’ve had here, with Rick and our development program.”

Selecting former Virginia standout Justin Anderson with the 21st overall pick in the first round of June’s draft, the Mavs will now look to develop the first-year standout into a two-way player much like Aminu proved to be last season.

Anderson played three years at Virginia, leading the Cavaliers to two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and just the second ACC tournament championship in school history. As a junior, he averaged 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists, connecting on 46.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from behind the arc on his way to being named to the NABC All-America Third Team and All-ACC Second Team.

The 6-foot-6 Anderson also helped to lead the Mavericks’ summer-league squad to the quarterfinals of the Las Vegas Summer League in July, starting all six of the team’s games and averaging 17.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals an outing. And with Carlisle working tirelessly to develop the young swingman’s game, Anderson could find himself in the rotation in Year 1.

“Justin is a unique kid,” the coach said while speaking about the addition of Anderson in the draft. “He’s a three-year guy. He’s gotten better each year. He’s very physically strong. We feel he’s a wing player that could play either the two or the three. We believe that he’s got an NBA body, and he was one of the strongest kids in the draft positionally. He’s in a good position coming here. You know, we have to fill roster spots, we need to get younger, and so he makes a lot of sense for us. And we need to improve our defense. He’s a solid defender, and he’s a guy whose shooting has gotten better the last three years.”

Losing their best perimeter defender in Aminu, the Mavericks will certainly look to Anderson to emerge as a lockdown option as a rookie. But another player also has the potential to provide Aminu’s high-octane play on defense as newcomer Maurice Ndour tries to build on his stellar play with the New York Knicks’ summer-league squad.

The 6-9 Ndour averaged 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in 28.3 minutes of work during the Knicks’ five games in Las Vegas, signing with the Mavs as a free agent on July 23. The 23-year-old spent two years at Monroe College, earning National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region selections twice before transferring to Ohio University. He then was named to the All-Mid-American Conference Second Team in his senior season with the Bobcats, averaging 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in the process.

And it’s Ndour’s defensive prowess that could earn him a spot in Carlisle’s rotation next season as the Mavericks try to improve on defense after ranking 25th by giving up 102.3 points an outing.

“The biggest thing for us as a team right now is we have to get more consistent defensively. … That’s our goal right now and going forward,” Carlisle confessed after the Mavs ranked 18th in the league last season with a 103.7 defensive rating.

He added: “Offensively, I like our team. It’s really going to depend on two things: getting rid of or keeping down catastrophic turnovers that turn into un-defendable baskets, ’cause that affects your defensive numbers, and then it’s how well we’re able to develop a group edge and toughness about the defensive end. Even though we may not have the best individual defenders from top to bottom, this is the challenge where we’ve got to do it as a team.”

With that said, the Mavs may also have to fill Aminu’s void as a team.

Mavs could look to address perimeter defense in NBA Draft

DALLAS — While admittedly looking to retain the services of spark plug Al-Farouq Aminu this summer in free agency, the Dallas Mavericks may also attempt to bring in a player capable of aiding the high-engery forward at the defensive end of the floor via this month’s NBA Draft.

Emerging as the Mavericks’ best perimeter defender during the 2014-15 campaign, the 6-foot-9 Aminu will now opt out of his contract and test free agency on July 1 with hopes of returning to the squad next season. The Dallas front office will then look to keep him in the fold with an attractive offer. Meanwhile, the Mavs could attempt to bring in another player that’s capable of providing lockdown perimeter defense, armed with the 21st and 52nd picks in the draft on June 25.

“When you have a leak in the roof, you’ve got to figure out if there’s a bunch of little things contributing to it or if it’s one big thing,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said while addressing the team’s defensive deficiencies this season. “Right now, we got a lot of little things that we need to get patched up and that’s what we’ve looked at.

“The biggest thing for us as a team right now is we have to get more consistent defensively. … That’s our goal right now going forward.”

The Mavericks ranked 25th in the league in points allowed this season, giving up 102.3 points an outing. The Mavs also had a 103.7 defensive rating, ranking 18th in that department. But, according to NBADraft.net, perimeter defense is certainly something the Mavs are looking to address in the draft, tabbing Virginia’s junior standout Justin Anderson as a possible candidate for the team in the first round.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Anderson certainly showed his offensive versatility on the wing in college, averaging 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 26 games this season for the Cavaliers. He also showcased the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter, connecting on 46.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range.

However, it’s Anderson’s size, ability to guard multiple positions and near 7-foot wingspan that has scouts and front office executives salivating at his prospective contributions to a team on the defensive side of the ball. And should he fall to the Mavs at No. 21, Anderson could immediately step into the rotation to help spark the team as it tries to make the proper upgrades at the defensive end going into next season.

“Offensively, I like our team,” Carlisle confessed. “It’s really going to depend on two things: getting rid of or keeping down catastrophic turnovers that turn into un-defendable baskets, ’cause that affects your defensive numbers, and then it’s how well we’re able to develop a group edge and toughness about the defensive end. Even though we may not have the best individual defenders from top to bottom, this is the challenge where we’ve got to do it as a team.”

After finding his niche, Al-Farouq Aminu hopes to find home in Dallas

DALLAS — He was viewed as a potential steal in free agency when the Dallas Mavericks inked him to a deal last summer. But, after coming into his own over the course of the 2014-15 season, Al-Farouq Aminu may have just begun to tap into his own potential.

Despite playing in 81 games for the Los Angeles Clippers during his rookie season after being taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, Aminu would find himself on the move in the four-player trade that sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul from New Orleans to L.A. Aminu then struggled to develop a niche with New Orleans, starting 157 games over the next three seasons while showcasing glimpses of an up-and-coming perimeter defender and rebounder.

Signing with the Mavericks on July 29, Aminu quickly accepted a reserve role while supplying depth at both forward positions behind 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and fellow new addition Chandler Parsons. And after emerging as the Mavs’ best energy player off the bench, Aminu says he will express the player option in his contract to once again test free agency with hopes of returning to Dallas on a longer deal.

“I had a lot of growth this year,” Aminu said following the Mavs’ first-round playoff exit while summing up his ’14-15 season. “Just being around these vets, I learned a lot about how to conduct myself throughout the year, and I really appreciate everything from the coaching staff and the vets. I learned a lot.

“I think I was able to show a wide range, even to myself, with my versatility. I even played the (center position) a little this year, and that was kind of fun. And I steadily worked on my shot and different things like that, where I can always use improvement.”

While the former Wake Forest standout may have proved something to himself this season, he also earned the respect and admiration of the Mavs’ front office, his coach and teammates.

Playing in 74 outings this season, Aminu averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes of work. He also struggled shooting the ball, connecting on just 41.2 percent from the field and 27.4 percent from three-point range.

The 6-foot-9 lanky forward then stepped up his production in the playoffs, averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocked shots and 2.0 steals an outing as the Mavs fell in five games to the Houston Rockets. Playing stellar defense on the league’s No. 2 scorer, James Harden, Aminu also shot 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from behind the three-point arc while starting the final two games in the series for the injured Parsons.

And after Aminu was able to make the most of his first postseason appearance, the Mavericks now hope to retain his services by luring the 24-year-old back with an attractive offer during free agency.

“He did a great job,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Aminu’s efforts this season. “He was one of our best workers from Day 1. He came from some systems where there were limits put on what he was expected to do. Coming into this, I made a promise to him that we would work to develop his game to places it had not been. He needed to develop as a three-point shooter. He needed to learn to play inside and outside. He did not shoot the three particularly great during the year, but there was never one time when I did not encourage him to continue shooting them and continue working on them. As the playoffs unfolded, he shot over 60 percent from three and did a lot of great things. He’s an exciting young player. We certainly hope that we can get him back here, because he fits into our culture, he fits into our fabric and fits into the character of this organization. So, we’ll see. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen there, but he had a great experience here. We had a great experience with him and he helped us. He’s young still. He’s 24 years old. Guys with his ability level and work ethic have a higher ceiling than most. He just has such great heart and such great work ethic that I wouldn’t bet against him. I wouldn’t bet against him.”

“We’ve just been really lucky that you have players like that, who see us as a destination to develop,” team president of basketball operation Donnie Nelson added. “Brandan Wright certainly had that opportunity a few years ago and got himself out in the marketplace, and he certainly got his value. We were lucky Al chose us, with an eye on the history that we’ve had here, with Rick and our development program. He certainly should opt out. And he will, as noted. We hope to be in a position to reacquire his services.”

The support of his head coach and the front office should prove beneficial during negotiations this summer. However, it was the encouragement of Mavs center Tyson Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year, that went a long way for Aminu this season.

Pulling Aminu aside during training camp, Chandler constantly boosted the fifth-year pro’s confidence during limited playing time throughout the course of the season. The two quickly formed a bond, according to Aminu, helping to anchor the Dallas defense. Now, as both he and Chandler get set to enter free agency, Aminu hopes the Mavs’ front office can keep the two defensive specialists together as the team looks to build on this season’s success.

“It’s funny. (Chandler) was one of the first people to appreciate what I did out there on the court,” Aminu explained. “I remember my wife showing me something he said in an article, saying that I do a lot of stuff that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet. I appreciate people like that, that saw something in me and also taught me a lot about the game. I love this team. I love this city. Great guys, like I just alluded to. And the city, it’s a beautiful city. I hope I can be right here.”

“He was one of the really bright spots of this year,” Chandler added. “He reminded me a little bit of myself and others who have been in similar situations, where you’ve kind of been on teams that you didn’t necessarily find your spot and your home. I feel like he’s always been a promising player throughout his career. Teams never put him necessarily in a position to succeed. And this year was kind of a growing experience for him, because I think from those teams that he’s played on you almost sometimes become a whipping boy. He grew, he was encouraged every day, and coaches were working with him every day. He saw the fruits of his labor on the run that he made in the playoffs and he showed a lot of teams, including this organization, how valuable he is and what he’s capable of doing. I think he’s going to have a bright future. I said it when I saw him early in the summer before preseason started that I thought he had the potential to be a great defender. By the end of the year, he really showed it.”

Mavs hope to tap into Al-Farouq Aminu’s potential this season

DALLAS — Although he was less heralded than some of his fellow summer additions to the Dallas Mavericks, 6-foot-9 small forward Al-Farouq Aminu could still play a pivotal role for the team this upcoming season.

Entering the league as the eighth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Aminu was quickly shipped after his rookie season in the deal that sent guard Eric Gordon and center Chris Kaman to New Orleans. Aminu then joined the Mavs during free agency this summer after playing 303 career games in his first four seasons, bringing with him averages of 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

Last season, Aminu started 65 of his 80 appearances for the Pelicans and averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. The lanky perimeter defender also terrorized the Mavs in a game that seemed to garner the attention of team owner Mark Cuban, scoring 16 points and grabbing down 20 rebounds as New Orleans fell to a 100-97 home loss on Dec. 4.

Now, after he failed to fully tap into his potential during his stints with the Clippers and Pelicans, the Mavericks hope to unlock a side of Aminu’s game that has yet to be unleashed upon the league as they also try to fill the void left by the free-agent departure of veteran Shawn Marion.

“He’s been the last two years the best rebounding small forward in the NBA. It’s not even close,” Cuban said in regard to Aminu’s addition during a recent interview with 105.3 FM The Fan. “You know, it’s kind of like Shawn Marion. Not to compare the two, but sometimes just going to a new location takes you out of the perception that your former team had of you and puts you in a new position to succeed. And I think Al is just going to be a stud. He literally was one of the first calls I made during free agency, because we were hoping that we could get him as kind of a young stud defensively that we can put in. And we think in our system that he’ll be able to produce offensively much better.”

Born the son of two parents, Aboubakar and Anjiflic, that competed with the Nigerian National Team during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aminu undoubtedly possesses the genes to be a star in the professional ranks. However, after garnering All-ACC Freshman Team honors back in ’09 at Wake Forest before leaving the colligate game behind following a sophomore season in which he averaged 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds, Aminu has struggled to find consistency in the pros.

Known for his perimeter defensive prowess, Aminu shot over 47 percent from the field each of the past two seasons in New Orleans. He will now try to improve his three-point shooting, figuring to see plenty of wide-open looks while joining a lineup that features 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, 2-guard Monta Ellis and fellow newcomer Chandler Parsons. Still, improving his perimeter shooting will take much work as Aminu comes to Dallas as a 29.2-percent shooter for his career from behind the arc.

“It’s a confidence thing, right? I mean, look, the grass is always greener on the other side, right? And anybody who’s leaving a team, particularly in a scenario like Al has had, it wasn’t because things were great. And so I think, you know, coming into a new situation, his confidence is going to be a lot higher. We’re going to work to build his confidence, because his shot looks good. It’s not like one of these guys where you look at it and go, ‘Oh, my goodness. That guy can’t shoot. Why is he doing that?’ His shoot looks good, and typically in that type of scenario it’s all about confidence. And so, if we can work on his confidence, we think he can be legit and not a 29-percent three-point shooter,” Cuban explained.

The Mavs have been in this position before, bringing in defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson in a seven-player trade package that included the acquisitions of forward Caron Butler and center Brendan Haywood from Washington during the ’09-10 season. Stevenson would eventually thrive as a spot-up shooter for the Mavericks’ 2011 title team, knocking down 39.7 percent from three-point range during that postseason.

The Mavericks’ brass hopes Aminu can play a similar role this upcoming season, looking for the soon-to-be 24-year-old to emerge as an unsung hero.

“You know, it’s just like with DeShawn Stevenson. DeShawn’s shot was ugly, but we got his confidence up there and he turned into a 40-percent three-point shooter when he was with us. And we think [Aminu] can be similar in that he’s got a much prettier shot, he’s got better form and with just a little tweak in confidence I think he can be a good shooter,” Cuban said. “You know, the Kiki Vandeweghe rule is you give him one or two spots on the court where he can knock in an open shot and he can be an impact player.”

Positions of need entering draft: perimeter or interior defenders

DALLAS — Be it on the perimeter or at the rim, the Dallas Mavericks could look for some help on the defensive side of the ball during Thursday’s NBA Draft.

With their top perimeter defenders, Shawn Marion and Devin Harris, both set to enter free agency on July 1, the Mavericks could seek help with the 34th and 51st overall selections in the draft. The Mavs could also look to fortify their interior, adding a rim-protecting big man to assist starting center Samuel Dalembert inside.

“We don’t have a bunch of individual stoppers,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle confessed during a season in which Dallas ranked 20th in the league while allowing 102.4 points a game and 22nd with a 108.7 defensive rating.

He added: “We’ve got Marion, who to me is perennial all-defense, even though he never gets it. And we’ve got [Samuel] Dalembert, who is one of the best rim protectors. Then, on the rest of the team there’s no guys on paper that you’d say is an NBA stopper. We have to do it by showing a crowd, bringing a lot of help and by being really tied together.”

Adding nine new faces last offseason via the draft and free agency, the Mavericks struggled to gain continuity on the defensive end during the 2013-14 campaign. The Mavs’ front office will now try to keep this season’s team intact, looking to form more of a defensive identity with a returning core.

However, with backup big man DeJuan Blair also set to hit the open market on July 1, the Mavs could look to integrate a young interior defender to strengthen their bench. The team could also attempt to add a lockdown defender on the perimeter, giving them some insurance should they be unable to keep Marion or Harris in free agency.

“You know, defensively, we’ll be better next year,” Carlisle vowed. “You know, again, I thought nine new guys was a challenging thing. The way Dalembert finished the season the last two months was really encouraging for next year, and yes, that’s another reason why Marion is important. And I think if we can get Devin Harris back next year and have him from start to finish, he’s one of our better defenders as well. So, we’ll keep working in that area and it will be a priority for us.”