Dorian Finney-Smith figured out years ago that his reputation as a 3-and-D guy would get him into the NBA.
As for staying for six continuously improving seasons?
“I knew if I was going to stay in this league long, I had to take shots,” Finney-Smith said Wednesday. “I knew the defense could put me on the pitch. But insults would keep me out there.”
And it has. In a big way as he and the Mavericks gear up for their first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz.
The 6-7 swingman just wrapped up his sixth season by improving his scoring average and 3-point percentage across all six seasons.
The list of players who have scored more goals and thrown more longballs in six seasons in NBA history?
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Finney-Smith is the only one involved.
And of course, he can laugh at the meaning behind that statistic, as it clearly suggests that he wasn’t very good at shooting basketball when he got into the NBA.
But he also worked on it – a lot. And changed his shot with Rick Carlisle and his staff working tirelessly to overhaul Finney-Smith’s mechanics.
The payoff was obvious. He went from a 3-point shooter under 30 percent in his first two seasons to 39.4 percent last season and 39.5 percent this year. His scoring average rose to 11 points per game this season, the first time he’s hit a double-digit plateau.
The fact that he signed a new four-year, $55 million contract in February is a testament to the value the Mavericks place on his services.
And when he thinks back to how he adjusted his shot, he knows the sometimes painful process was worth it.
“A lot of work, be mentally strong,” he said. “I had to change my mindset, so I had to stick with something I wasn’t seeing immediate results from. So I would say it took a lot of mental strength – and work.”
Also, the shooting aspect became even more apparent four years ago when the Mavericks called up a guy named Luka Dončić.
“It (the shooting) is still a big part of the game,” Finney-Smith said. “And playing alongside Luka I also knew I had to take shots because he finds guys at the 3 point line because he causes so much chaos. But you have to be ready to shoot.”
He was obviously ready to shoot at will.
Critical Statistics: The Jazz are led by Donovan Mitchell with 25.9 points per game, but it could be Rudy Gobert who provides the toughest matchup for the Mavericks — and most other teams.
The 7-1 center averaged 15.6 points and 14.7 rebounds along with 2.1 blocked shots per game. He’s a rare center in the league, as he ricochets, blocks shots – and doesn’t shoot 3-pointers.
He’ll be a liability to keep the offensive glass off, where he annihilated almost four second-chance opportunities per game. The Jazz are fourth in the league in second chance points at nearly 15 points per game.
The Mavericks don’t typically give up many second-chance points (13.2 per game), but Dončić, it was going to be more difficult. Missing any games with his strained left calf takes away the Mavericks’ best defensive rebounder (and all rebounders).
“He dominates the glass. He hurts you,” said coach Jason Kidd. “We have to keep him off the glass because that gives them second chances on three-pointers, even on dunks and putbacks. We have to make a conscious effort not to give offensive rebounds to him.”
The Mavericks improved their rebound throughout the season. But it will be a big challenge to fight back against Gobert, especially if Luka is out.
see potential: Kidd was asked if, when he took that job last summer, he thought the Mavericks could be a better defensive team and how much they could improve.
they were 20th in the overall defensive rating 2020-21.
“I just believed that defense was something we could improve on,” Kidd said. “I didn’t want to be in the top 10. Improvement – from 25th or 26th until 23approx or 20th is an improvement.”
But entering the top 10 (6th at the end of the season) was more than he expected.
“That was a big leap,” he said. “These guys showed they could do it and they had fun doing it. Behind closed doors, they talk about playing defense.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened to Kidd. When he took over as Milwaukee coach in 2014-15, the Bucks were bottom in defensive standings last season.
In Kidd’s first season as coach, they improved to fourth overall.