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.”