The seamless fit Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch envisioned before the regular season began with recently-acquired three-time All-Star Rudy Gobert in the front-court was not so seamless. The offense, Finch’s Xs and Os specialty, was incredibly clunky. It led to a string of early season blowouts, turnover-saturated games, and a palpable frustration with fans and the team.
Coach Finch on Rudy Gobert’s fit with the Timberwolves pic.twitter.com/CCjzaRIVDR— SneakerReporter (@SneakerReporter) September 26, 2022
It eventually reached a boiling point late in the fall where a sizable contingent of fans called for a midseason coaching change, which, is ironically how Finch found himself in Minnesota to begin with.
Looking back on an underwhelming season with a myriad of injuries, did the Wolves do the right thing in keeping Finchy around? We argued both sides.
POINT: The Wolves Should Have Moved On
Will Tzavaras: In a season that was filled with ups and downs and a lot of conversation around Anthony Edwards’ rise to stardom, the first year following the Gobert trade, and a devastating injury to All-NBA talent Karl-Anthony Towns, Finch was also a hot talking point, with some clear remarks from the fanbase that he wasn’t going to be the one to lead this team to the promised land.
The frustration for fans was rightfully deserved. With a team that had as much star power and potential as the Minnesota Timberwolves did last season, they went a combined 17-18 against teams that were below a .500. In a Western Conference that is home to talent such as Denver Nuggets Finals MVP Nikola Jokić, Phoenix Suns stars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, Golden State Warriors legend Stephen Curry and others, every single game matters when it comes to playoff positioning when the regular season ends.
Minnesota hamstrung themselves. Instead of hosting the inconsistent Los Angeles Lakers during a play-in game at Target Center, they had to try to play spoiler in Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, largely because they blew a second half lead at home to the Lakers a few weeks earlier. Home court advantage in any game matters. If the Wolves were able to win that game, they would have faced the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs who many considered a better matchup as opposed to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets and the buzz saw that Jokić was this postseason.
The Wolves finished with a 25-22 record against teams that finished with a .500 winning percentage or higher. They handled business against teams that were very successful in the regular season but were abysmal against teams that were just bad. Some of those losses included losing two games to the leagues worst team in the Detroit Pistons who finished with the leagues worst record at 17-65.
The worst loss came against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 2, in which key players such as Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, and Anferee Simons did not play because the Blazers were in full tank mode. Losing a game like this, that late in the season, was truly unacceptable.
Not having this roster ready to come out and keep their foot on the gas against truly inferior opponents falls upon the coaching staff and it is the duty of Finch to have this team better prepared. If he can not get that out of this team to get it together and treat every game as important as others regardless of the team in front of them, he shouldn’t be the coach of this team.
Another pain point is the Timberwolves being outscored on average in the fourth quarter. According to NBA advanced stats, the Wolves were posted a -0.8 net rating in the fourth quarter, 18th in the NBA. While on a surface level that number seems small, over an entire 82 game season it means the Wolves are consistently getting outscored in the final quarter, which is a large sample size over an entire year. With this being a consistent problem, you can point to a multitude of things, but a primary one could be on the coach, who is either not putting the guys on his roster in a position to succeed in crunch time, or someone who is getting out-coached in the quarter that has the biggest magnifying glass on it.
Finch also has an issue with using timeouts effectively. He will allow other teams to go on massive runs and will practically refuse to call a timeout to stop the momentum when the team could use it. This has happened across multiple seasons and is not a new issue. Timeouts exist for a reason, and he needs to learn how to use them better.
Chris Finch refusing to call timeouts in obvious timeout situations cost the Wolves their season last year.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) December 24, 2022
He hasn't shown much of an improvement this season. His team has complained about calls all game, isn't playing defense, and isn't passing.
15-7 Celtics start...
OKC's 17-4 run over the last 6:24 has prompted a Chris Finch timeout.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) March 23, 2021
The Wolves trail the Thunder 19-14 at the 3:23 mark.
Wolves are shooting 6/18 from the floor, 2/7 from 3.
These examples are from two different seasons. While he did show some improvement with them last season, it can not continue if this team wants to continue to evolve into a formidable contender in this league.
I think Finch does have the makings to be a good coach, and coaches are only as good as their players. With Anthony Edwards, Gobert, Towns, defensive stalwart Jaden McDaniels, glue guy Kyle Anderson, and that microwave that is Naz Reid, barring good health the Wolves should not be a team that is barely about .500 and throwing away games against bottom feeder teams like they did this past season. The seat may not be hot, but it is getting warmer as we head into the fall for another season of Wolves basketball peeking over the horizon.
Counterpoint: The Grass is Not Greener - In Fact, It’s Already Pretty Green
Andrew Carlson: By no means was Chris Finch a flawless coach last season. The offensive clunkiness is on him and lackadaisical mentality in a lot of games is, at the very least, fractionally on him as well.
But there are three truths here that are absolutely undeniable:
- In his two full seasons as head coach, the Wolves have made the postseason in both. In fact, they just made the postseason in back to back years for the first time in 20 years.
- The entirety of Edwards’ development has taken place under Chris Finch. He’s also overseen key developments of Naz Reid and McDaniels as well.
- Finch is second all-time in franchise history in total wins and win percentage.
Let’s Start With #1 and #3
More than that, let’s take both of them at face value for a second. On what grounds should the Timberwolves, one of the most directionless franchises in the history of professional sports, dismiss that in the middle of a season?
“Because the team isn’t playing as well as I thought they would at the beginning of the season.”
Ok, awesome. Would Frank Vogel change that? What about Jeff Van Gundy, Doc Rivers, Kenny Atkinson or [insert your preferred available replacement here]? Think long and hard about it if you would like, I’ll give you all the time you need.
A re-tread coach wouldn’t fix the fact that Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert didn’t play together. They wouldn’t change the fact that the most important connective piece in Kyle Anderson was in and out of the lineup all season with back spasms. They also wouldn’t change the fact that the Wolves found themselves around league average with all of those things, and obvious friction between D’Angelo Russell and Rudy Gobert.
Just how much more improved were the Wolves with Mike Conley? I wrote something similar in my last offseason talkers piece:
In 124 minutes together, Conley, Gobert, and Towns put forth a +7.94 net rating, which is incredibly strong. For context, with D’Angelo Russell on the floor with both bigs, a -2.94 net rating was put forth.
It took time to confirm it, but Russell just isn’t the point guard for a free-flowing offense that has more important mouths to feed. D-Lo was not the problem. But he was a major contributor to the early animosity directed towards Finch.
Let’s Talk a Little Bit About the Development
There are three main development stories with a couple pending that have made Chris Finch a transformational coach for the franchise.
1) Anthony Edwards
Edwards had a tough introduction to the NBA in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not all on former Head Coach Ryan Saunders, but he did have Ant coming off the bench in a season that ended up being a lost cause. Before the All-Star break, Ant was averaging just under 15 points on 37% shooting from the field, and 30% from three. Finch took over shortly before said All-Star break.
After the Wolves came out of the break, Edwards became a human flamethrower. He averaged 24 points on 45% from the field and 35% from 3, including a tandem 40-point performance with Towns in Phoenix against the Suns. Not only was Finch’s impact immediate and we continue to see the effects of that on Edwards’ development that has recently yielded him a five-year, $260 million contract extension, but that game in Phoenix made it pretty clear shortly into Finch’s tenure that Edwards has arrived.
Anthony Edwards joined some elite company last night. pic.twitter.com/qe9uXf76p1— theScore (@theScore) March 19, 2021
Thought this was a really cool answer from Chris Finch on not only coaching Anthony Edwards as a basketball player but as a person, as Ant progresses towards becoming a face of the league… https://t.co/u7eQWhhfkA pic.twitter.com/TArEIGaUKg— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) July 11, 2023
2) Jaden McDaniels
McDaniels started out his Wolves tenure as a perennial DNP. He played just 20 games before the All-Star break of his rookie year, averaged just five points on 38% shooting. He showed defensive flashes pretty early on, but it was under Finch that he started to show more on offense.
Whether it was through more film, more experience, or whatever it may have been, McDaniels attacked space a little bit more efficiently under a more read-and-react offensive scheme with Finch than a more structured, play call-oriented operation under Saunders.
After the All-Star break, McDaniels averaged eight points on 49% shooting. Two years later, he’s become one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire league, and developed his offensive game to the point in which he may be looking at a near max-level contract coming his way within the next year.
Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels had Luka and Kyrie LOCKED UP on the last play to seal the win for the Wolves pic.twitter.com/WEZH4frGaR— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) February 14, 2023
3) Naz Reid
Reid’s development started well before Finch arrived in Minneapolis, but under Finch, he’s found a little bit more consistency in his game, and a little bit of a payday as well.
The former LSU stand-out started his NBA career as an undrafted free agent and logged surprisingly big minutes in his 2019-20 rookie season out of necessity from injuries. He showed flashes from distance and a lot of untapped potential if he could get himself in a little better shape.
Jan. 13, 2020. Naz Reid arrives. pic.twitter.com/2qSvv65hnK— jakes graphs (@jakesgraphs) April 13, 2023
A lot of credit deserves to be given to Saunders for identifying Reid early on and putting him in good spots on the floor to be effective. Under Finch, however, Reid has found himself a consistent role off the bench, gotten better in taking mismatches off the dribble, been essential in spelling Towns or Gobert when the injury bug bites, and has arguably been the best fit in Finch’s system of any player on the team.
Naz averaged 16 points and seven rebounds as a starter to pair with a 58% true shooting percentage (above league average). That culminated in a three-year, $42 million extension this summer, and the stamp of best development story in franchise history.
I’ll revert back to the same sentence that started this section - by no means was Chris Finch a flawless coach last season.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get the Wolves to the 50-win level that so many fans are clambering for. Health will be a big part of getting to that spot, but with a young core that has shown exponential improvement, there is one more thing that could help.
A coach proven successful in development.
What Do You Think?
Do You Believe It Was The Correct Move For The Wolves To Retain Chris Finch?
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