The Minnesota Timberwolves have never had a coach win the NBA’s Coach of the Year award. They’ve employed a few coaches who won the award at other stops in their careers (Dwane Casey, Sam Mitchell, and Tom Thibodeau), but they’ve never been the proud recipient of these honors while living in Minnesota.
While it seems that the award this season is all but locked up by Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams - who the Wolves faced on Wednesday night - it is becoming largely disrespectful that Chris Finch’s name is found so far down the ladder when it comes the the Coach of the Year race this season.
Vegas Insider has slated Chris Finch’s odds to win the award at +8000, which ties him with Utah’s Quin Snyder for 10th on the list.
Here are the coaches with better odds to win the award:
- Michael Malone, Nuggets (+6000)
- Doc Rivers, 76ers (+5000)
- Steve Kerr, Warriors (+2500)
- Billy Donovan, Bulls (+2500)
- Ime Udoka, Celtics (+1500)
- JB Bickerstaff, Cavaliers (+1000)
- Taylor Jenkins, Grizzlies (+800)
- Erik Spoelstra, Heat (+700)
- Monty Williams, Suns (-1000)
I’d say that all of these coaches have had solid-to-great seasons at the helm of their respective teams, but I would also argue that Chris Finch has done more with less than a majority of these guys.
What Has He Done?
Finch has taken the talent on this team - the nearly identical talent that was a league worst 7-24 at the halfway point last season (the point that Finch took the reigns) - and pushed them to be a team 10+ games over .500 as the season nears a close.
Last season, the Timberwolves finished the year with a record of 23-49 after that putrid start. Do some quick math and you see that Chris Finch dragged the team out of the mud to a 16-25 record after taking over. Doing that with limited practices, time, and familiarity was impressive.
This season, as the tweet below shows, has been vastly improved for the Wolves. Only the Cavaliers have had a bigger jump in winning percentage than Minnesota.
Who Got Better vs. Who Got Worse. What Jumps Out? pic.twitter.com/xnM2WKa1Y9— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) March 23, 2022
After winning just 31.9% of their games last season, the Wolves had won 57.5% of their games (42-31) at the time of posting for the above graphic.
Granted, the Wolves have had some better injury luck this season, but they’ve still missed key contributors quite a bit this season. Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Patrick Beverley missed 10, 7, 15, and 22 games respectively. So, sure, they haven’t been the injury stricken team that we’ve come accustomed to over the past few years, but they haven’t been really been a beacon of good health either.
The main reason that this team, whose only difference from last year’s squad was swapping Ricky Rubio for Taurean Prince & trading Juancho Hernangomez and Jarrett Culver for Patrick Beverley, is their coach decided that it would be in the team’s best interest to put his players into complimentary roles that match their skillsets.
Chris Finch was able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of his core and finagle a system that allowed those players to be the players they know the can be. The defensive scheme changed drastically and became the talk of the town for much of the season. But, as that slightly slipped, the offense came out of nowhere and all of a sudden has been one of the best in the league for a majority of the season.
This team doesn’t give up now. Going from a squad that frequently gave up double digit leads at the end of the 4th quarter to being a squad you feel confident in when leading by 3 with 4 minutes left is an astounding change of events in less than a calendar year.
Why He Warrants More Love
Finch is not going to win the award. Like I previously said, Monty Williams has all but put the award on his mantle. But, Finch deserves to end the season in the top 5 of voting. He has put together a fantastic season on the court, developed relationships with key players off the court, and garnered respect from his peers around the league.
Most, if not all, betting websites had the Timberwolves over/under win totals between 32.5 and 35.5. They hit the high end of that mark in early March and are still piling on more wins. Those expectations probably weren’t realistic, but I don’t think what Finch has accomplished was expected by many. The Wolves were deemed to be a team destined for road play-in games, but rather find themselves battling for the 5th and 6th seeds with less than 10 games to go.
As I researched the previous winners of the Coach of the Year award, I came across a few notable attributes and accomplishments that seemed consistently present. I will list those and some coaches who fit the criteria in the somewhat-recent past:
- Markedly exceeding expectations (Thibodeau 2020-21, Nurse 2019-20, Budenholzer 2018-19, Dwane Casey 2017-18, D’Antoni 2016-17, Budenholzer 2014-15)
- Dominating on both ends of the floor (Budenholzer 2018-19, Casey 2017-18, Kerr 2015-16, Budenholzer 2014-15)
- Winning 60+ games (Budenholzer 2018-19, Kerr 2015-16, Budenholzer 14-15, Popovich 2013-14)
- Vastly improving from year prior (Thibodeau 2020-21, Budenholzer 2018-19, D’Antoni 2016-17, Budenholzer 2014-15)
Chris Finch fits the mold of “markedly exceeding expectations” as the Wolves will likely finish 10+ games over their projected win total. He also firmly fits into the “vastly improving from year prior” category, as the Wolves assuredly finish with a winning percentage 15+% better than last year.
While the Wolves haven’t been “dominating on both ends of the floor” (meaning top 6 in both offensive and defensive rating), they have the 6th best offensive rating and the 11th best defensive rating, for games played through 3/22/2022.
The one category that Finch surely won’t end the season in is the “winning 60+ games” club. The team will be lucky to sniff 50 wins.
In the last 8 seasons, the Coach of the Year winner has only twice met all four of those aforementioned criteria (Budenholzer in 2018-19 and 2014-15).
Again, the argument being made is not that Chris Finch should beat out Monty Williams for the award. Williams likely ends up meeting 3 or 4 of the criteria by years end. Rather, the argument is that it is asinine to think Chris Finch has had the 10th or 11th best coaching performance in the league this year.
The Wolves have improved drastically, blew their win total projection out of the water, and are a great offense and solid defense. What more does Chris Finch have to show to get a little bit more love on the Coach of the Year front?
Regardless, I’ll be excited to see just how many votes he ends up getting when it is all said and done.