Dallas Mavericks rookie Dorian Finney-Smith was told prior to last night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks that there would be a chance he’d be called into action early in the game. His night ended by receiving the game ball from head coach Rick Carlisle.
In the NBA, things have a way of changing rapidly. Each night, there are different players around the league who are thrust into the spotlight. Injuries are a huge part of the game, and an injury to one player creates an opportunity for another.
Finney-Smith is a perfect example of this. When Carlisle called his name with 11:23 remaining in the second quarter, the undrafted small forward out of Florida was ready to prove to his head coach that he was ready.
Dallas essentially played last night with just a nine-man rotation. The team has suffered several injuries to key players, like Dirk Nowitzki (sore Achilles), Deron Williams (calf strain) and Devin Harris (toe sprain) and has been forced to rely on other players like Finney-Smith out of necessity.
In the Mavericks’ five games prior to last night, Finney-Smith had appeared in four of those contests but registered just four minutes total of playing time. Last night, he played 32 minutes against the Bucks and recorded five points, three rebounds, three steals and one block. He was also a team-best plus-19 while on the floor.
“Finney-Smith is a more-experienced player in the American game,” Carlisle told reporters after the game. “He’s an excellent defender. We don’t normally do it, but he got the game ball tonight. He was plus-19 when he was on the floor and Milwaukee was only 0.56 points per possession when he was on the floor. Other guys are doing it too, but it’s not a coincidence that the game changed on some level when he was out there.”
After going undrafted in June’s draft, Finney-Smith had to put in work in order to stick with the Mavericks. One might think that a team that is full of veterans and set up to win now would be hesitant to give a roster spot to an undrafted rookie, but he caught the eye of the coaching staff.
Finney-Smith signed a three-year, partially guaranteed deal with the Mavericks back in July. His stats with Dallas during Summer League in Las Vegas didn’t exactly jump off of the page, but the team was impressed with his energy and ability to defend. One player who faced him in college told Basketball Insiders that he was among the toughest defenders to match up against.
It was that defense that kept him in the game against the Bucks. He was credited with locking down Giannis Antetokounmpo on the final possession of regulation to help send the game to overtime. Antetokounmpo is averaging 21.1 points per game this season, but was held to 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting against the Mavericks. In addition, Finney-Smith also recorded two key steals in the overtime period to help seal the win.
“It felt good to know that he trusts me enough to play me down the stretch to get stops,” Finney-Smith told reporters after the game. “That’s what I like to do. I like to play defense. He put me in when it mattered and it just feels like he got a little trust in me after tonight.”
Given his strong play on defense last night, it was no surprise to hear Carlisle praise the rookie after the game. As previously mentioned, Finney-Smith received the game ball last night and was also praised by several of his teammates.
“I’m going to keep this ball,” Finney-Smith joked after the game. “[I’m] probably going to put it in a case or something. It just feels good. All of these guys, we got a lot of good guys. They were talking to me every timeout. It felt good out there.”
It remains to be seen what type of role Finney-Smith will continue to have as the season progresses. Nowitzki isn’t expected to travel with the Mavericks on their upcoming four-game road trip. Carlisle said after the game he’s not sure when Williams would return from a calf injury, and Harris just got out of a walking boot and is still a few weeks away from returning.
It seems as though he could continue to see extended minutes in the immediate future with those three players still a few games away from returning. After those players return, his playing time could be minimal. Despite that happening, he’s shown he’ll be ready when his name is called and that seems like a great way to stay in Carlisle’s rotation.
Finney-Smith is one of those players who can impact games in a number of different ways. If it’s not his defense, it could be his effort making hustle plays. He isn’t known to be a great offensive threat, but it’s his energy that he says can be controlled. He said you can’t control if the ball goes in, but you can control your effort on every play.
After learning that he had made the Mavericks’ final 15-man roster prior to opening night, Finney-Smith told reporters that he celebrated by getting back into the gym. He said he woke up at 7 a.m. the next day and went through his normal workout routine.
It’s clear that he’s earned the trust of his head coach to this point and it seems reasonable to think he’ll continue to help produce for the team. In just his first time this season seeing extended minutes, Carlisle said after the game that the team couldn’t have won without him. If he can do that in his first meaningful game of the season, it’ll be fun to see what he’ll be able to do throughout the rest of the season.
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