Those long hours meticulously working on his shooting stroke paid major dividends for Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith this season.
Last year Finney-Smith shot career-highs of 46.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from 3-point range, along with 72.2 percent from the free throw line. But this year he took that a step farther with career high numbers across the board – 47.2 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from beyond the 3-point line, and 75.6 percent from the charity stripe.
Finney-Smith also averaged career highs in points (9.8) and assists (1.7). The improvements are a testament to the hard work he put in trying to perfect his craft since he entered the NBA in 2016 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida known mostly for his defense-first approach to the game.
Looking at Finney-Smith as an offensive weapon took on extra meaning during that memorable home game on May 1 against Washington when he received a pass from Luka Doncic in the corner and drilled the game-winning 3-pointer with just 9.2 seconds left that lifted the Mavs to a 125-124 victory over the Wizards. In that game Finney-Smith was 8-of-12 from the field and a sizzling 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I just keep getting better at my shot, making plays off the dribble,” he said. “I would say I’ve been putting the ball on the ground a lot more.
“And coach (Rick Carlisle) has given me a lot more chances to be a playmaker than I was in previous years.”
There is one aspect of his game, however, that Finney-Smith would like to improve. And that’s his rebounding.
Last year Finney-Smith averaged 5.7 rebounds per game, but that number dipped to just 5.4 rebounds this season. It’s a definite sore spot for the 6-7, 220-pounder.
“Offensively, I feel like I’m a good offensive rebounder,” he said. “I feel like I’m one of the best. But defensively, can I box out my man?”
Earning his paycheck on the offensive boards has been a staple for Finney-Smith ever since he joined the Mavs. And as he’s gotten much better at it, he knows opponents have paid attention.
“Offensively, I feel like I do a good job of finding angles and finding ways to get extra possessions,” Finney-Smith said. “This year I feel like a lot of teams were boxing me out a lot more than they were in previous years, but I still try to be relentless on the glass.”
Finney-Smith, 28, added that the Mavs also are still trying to be relentless in their pursuit of getting out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since their 2011 championship season. He said he’s adamant that the Mavs were about two or three minutes away from winning their best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, which they eventually lost in seven games.
“Just a couple more plays,” Finney-Smith said. “Then we’d be talking about something different if a couple of plays would have gone our way.”
The Mavs won the first two games of the series against the Clippers in LA, then dropped the next two at home before capturing Game 5 and a 3-2 series lead with a 105-100 victory in Los Angeles. However, the Mavs lost Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road, which was the only time the home team won a game in this ridiculously topsy-turvy series.
“That series was wacky, man,” Finney-Smith said. “They couldn’t get a win at home and we couldn’t get a win at home. But they figured it out (at home) in Game 7.”
In retrospect, Game 3 was the game where Finney-Smith believes the tide turned in this series. Already leading 2-0 in this series and coming home to play in front of a raucous crowd, the Mavs jumped out to a 30-11 lead.
However, by the time the first quarter ended the Clippers were only trailing, 34-31, and went on to jump back into the series with an improbable 118-108 triumph.
“I think it was Game 3, we came out hot and they neutralized it,” Finney-Smith said. “You’ve got to take off your hat to them.
“They figured it out at home. That’s something we couldn’t do.”
And for that, Finney-Smith was almost apologetic, considering the Mavs crammed over 18,000 fans into American Airlines Center for Game 6, which was the largest crowd at the time in the NBA during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, what he experienced this season was certainly more palatable than losing to the Clippers in six games in the first round of last year’s playoffs in the bubble in suburban Orlando where fans weren’t allowed at the games.
“This is my first time being in a real actual (playoff series),” Finney-Smith said. “I’m not saying the bubble wasn’t a playoff game. It just wasn’t fans there.
“This year I got to feel that energy and know what I saw growing up my whole life, so it was fun.”
Being eliminated by the Clippers in the playoffs for the second straight season obviously was no fun for Finney-Smith and his teammates. But if the Mavs meet the Clippers again in the postseason, at least they’ll already have the blueprint on how to attack them.
“I can’t really say what we need to work on,” Finney-Smith said. “We just got to learn from this past series.
“This is the second time we’ve bumped heads with these guys. You probably got to beat this team to get where we want to go.”
Overall, Finney-Smith won the newly-minted Defensive Player of the Game belt a team-high seven times this season. That’s the coveted award handed to a Mavs player for his stellar defensive performance whenever Dallas won a game.
On the flip side, Finney-Smith sat out nine games this season from Jan. 9-25 due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
“All the ups and downs that we had, we had a resilient team,” he said. “I know everybody probably had to go through something as a team. We figured it out.
“I feel like everybody in that locker room did a good job of stepping up whenever they needed to.”
And that definitely includes Finney-Smith.
“I wish we were still playing,” he said. “This is something we dreamed about our whole life — playing in a playoff game.
“This city did an amazing job of bringing that energy. We just couldn’t pull out a ‘W’ for them. But next year we’re definitely going to get some wins in this building.”