Finney-Smith earned significant playing time this season — unusual for a rookie under coach Rick Carlisle — because of his ability to become a lockdown defender. But what prevented him from even more playing time was his inability to consistently hit a jump shot.
Finney-Smith knows it, the Mavericks’ coaching staff knows it, and probably even the team’s most diehard fans know it. So as the Mavs packed their bags and departed for the off-season, Finney-Smith left knowing that if he learns to make a few more jumpers on a consistent basis, it would make life easier for Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of his teammates.
“If I knock down the shot,” Finney-Smith said, “I’ll take a lot more pressure off of guys like HB, and when I’m on the court with Dirk.”
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Finney-Smith played in more games (81) than anyone on the team this season. The only game he missed was the third contest of the season – a 93-92 loss in Houston on Oct. 3.
But the black mark on Finney-Smith’s resume is that he shot 50 percent or better from the field in only 27 of those 81 games.
However, during an eight-game stretch from Dec. 7-19, Finney-Smith made at least 50 percent of his field goal attempts in every contest. That includes hitting 15 of 29 3-pointers and 29 of 52 shots overall during that stretch.
“He can shoot,” owner Mark Cuban said. “He shoots well in practice all the time. He just has to be able to shoot consistently in the games like he does in practice.”
This season, Finney-Smith averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game. He also shot 37.2 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from 3-point range.
But defense is where Finney-Smith made such a powerful impact as he started 35 games this season.
“It was the reason why I got on the court,” he said. “I got a chance to guard some great players. Coach challenged me to guard a lot of great talent and I just went out there and tried to do my best.”
The Mavericks’ best perimeter defender, shooting guard Wesley Matthews, was the player who mentored Finney-Smith.
“I learned a lot through the adversity this year, especially in shooting droughts,” Finney-Smith said. “[Matthews] never let me doubt myself, he always stayed on me, he always told me, ‘Remember what got you on the court, so whatever happens on offense, just make sure you keep doing what you’re doing [on defense].’ ”
Last summer, Finney-Smith joined the NBA after he went undrafted out of Florida. He signed a two-year contract with the Mavericks on July 8 that paid him $543,471 this year with a team option that will pay him $905,249 next season.
Not getting drafted despite being second-team all-Southeastern Conference as a junior and senior still rubs the 6-foot-8, 220-pounder the wrong way. Particularly since he averaged 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game his senior season at Florida.
“I still got that chip on my shoulder, along with several guys I’m in that locker room with,” Finney-Smith said. “But this is a great place for me. It’s a great organization, I’ve got great teammates and a lot of them really helped me out this year.”
Finney-Smith, who turns 24 on May 4, is part of the team’s young contingent that played significant minutes down the stretch and appears to have bright futures in the NBA. That includes Nerlens Noel (23), Yogi Ferrell (23), Nicolas Brussino (24) and Barnes (24).
“We’re all around the same age,” Finney-Smith said. “I knew Nerlens before this year and me and Yogi hit it off as soon as he got here (on Jan. 28), so hopefully we’ll just all get better and we’ll stay on each other this whole summer.
“It’s probably going to be the biggest summer of my life, just knowing the expectations that come with it.”