There were games last season where Dorian Finney-Smith took over. He came off the bench for Florida, and eventually won SEC Sixth Man of the Year, but there were times when he looked like one of the best players in the league.
The win at Arkansas stands out. Florida was playing without Casey Prather, while Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young came off the bench. The Gators needed someone to step up, and Finney-Smith did. The redshirt sophomore posted 22 points and 15 rebounds, leading the Gators to an 84-82 overtime win at Bud Walton Arena where the Razorbacks rarely lose.
He gave the Gators a spark with 15 points -- including four three-pointers -- and five rebounds in a home win over Kansas. He had five other games with double-digit rebounds. Late in the regular season, Finney-Smith posted 19 points and nine rebounds in a road win at Vanderbilt.
Those breakout games were an important part of Florida’s season, but they didn’t happen enough.
Finney-Smith posted too many duds for Billy Donovan to be happy. At Connecticut, he scored just three points in 24 minutes of action. He went through a three-game stretch against Missouri, Alabama and Tennessee where he shot 3-16 and 0-7 from behind the three-point line. In Florida’s final four games of the NCAA Tournament, Finney-Smith went 6-26 from the floor.
The highs for Finney-Smith were very high, but the lows were too low. The challenge for him this season is to become a more consistent player.
“I'm really, really pleased with the growth he's made,” Donovan said. “I felt like last year he was really, really inconsistent. There were some games where he kind of disappeared.
“I think he's starting to step up and emerge as a guy that's going to be a little bit more reliable than he was a year ago. I thought one of the things he struggled with is he had a hard time finishing and making plays around the basket. That's an area of his game where he's gotten a little bit better and has more confidence playing around the basket.
The way to correct that for Finney-Smith was to improve his shot from all over the court. Some nights it would fall and other nights it wouldn’t, but there were too many inconsistencies that slowed his growth. Finney-Smith knows he wasn’t reliable for the team last season but thinks his hard work in the offseason will change that this year.
“I had an up-and-down season,” Finney-Smith said. “I try to take every game that I don’t play good as a chance to learn. I think I learned a lot going through a tough stretch. I went through a tough stretch and learned a lot from it.”
Finney-Smith shot 37 percent from the field last season and 29.3 percent from behind the three-point line. He also shot 64.3 percent from the free throw line. They’re all areas that need improvement this offseason and that’s why he worked hard at improving his shot.
“I got a lot of open shots last year and didn’t shoot the ball as well as I wanted to,” Finney-Smith said. “This offseason, I focused on my shooting.”
It took time for Finney-Smith to adjust to his role as the sixth man last season, but that shouldn’t be the case this year. Donovan hasn’t announced his starting lineup and likely won’t until the week before the season opener on November 14. It makes sense that Finney-Smith would move into the starting lineup this year.
Even if he doesn’t, he’s ready to fill whatever role Donovan asks him to on a team with plenty of talent.
“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Finney-Smith said. “It’s individual talent, but we’ve got to come together as a team and become a team.”