Put your scuba gear on folks, because today we’re going 10,000 leagues under the lakes of Minnesota on this Chris Finch deep-dive. Ready for a polar plunge?
Some know Finch as the dark-horse candidate from the head coaching “search” in 2019. Others may remember him from the millions of times he has been hailed as the next NBA head coach by the national media. But based on the texts I received on Sunday night, many didn’t know who he was. I am here to tell you who he is and why he’s a perfect fit for the Minnesota Timberwolves roster.
Finch fits the archetype that Timberwolves fans dream about: He was an underdog success story. Finch graduated in 1988 from Wilson High School in West Lawn, Pa. (population: 1,700). He went on to play four years of Division III basketball at Franklin & Marshall, where he’d make it all the way to the national title game.
After graduation he moved across the pond to play for the Sheffield Forgers in the second tier of England’s National Basketball League. That’s right, he loved basketball so much that he was willing to move to northern England for a chance to play in their second-best league. Did he and his teammates have to work box office before the game? Were the hoops eight feet tall? It doesn’t matter because to Chris Finch, basketball is basketball no matter how many grass courts he had to play on.
By the end of his playing career, he helped the Forgers forge a path into the first division. Most importantly though, his coaching career began.
During his tenure with Sheffield, he won three BBL titles, two as a coach and one as a player. Again, they still haven’t updated from peach baskets, but a win is a win — even if it’s only the highest honor in British basketball.
Finch eventually moved on to Germany to coach for the Gießen 46ers, where he evidently spent more time learning how to draw the letter ß than drawing up plays. I for one do not blame him! Then he relocated to Belgium, where he had more success, winning the Belgian league with Euphony Bree. I’m sick of all of these weird team names, so let’s skip to his time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets’ G-League affiliate.
Chris Finch won the G-League championship in his first year with the Vipers, three years before his future associate, Nick Nurse, would win his G-League title with the Vipers. It was during this time that Sam Hinkie introduced him to Gersson Rosas.
Finch was promoted to the Rockets’ coaching staff after his success in the G-League, where he mentored James Harden helped the Houston Rockets reach the Western Conference Finals in 2015.
Finch was known for his defense as a player, but by now it was clear that he would become an offensive guru. After the Houston coaching carousel in 2016, Finch was offered yet another promotion, this time as an associate head coach for the Denver Nuggets.
Mike Malone took the defense, Chris Finch focused on the offense. As my partner in crime Chelanga Langason mentioned yesterday, he helped improve Nikola Jokic’s efficiency so much that he ended up finishing second in the Most Improved Player Award voting behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not only that, but the team went from 17th (105.6) in offensive rating to fourth (113.2) and from 16th (95.7) in pace to seventh (98.3). This was also Juancho Hernangomez’s intriguing rookie year, where he shot 40% from 3 for the only time in his career, for whatever that’s worth.
In 2017-18, Finch was hired to work under Alvin Gentry as associate HC once again, this time tutoring the unproven Anthony Davis. AD was coming off of his second First Team All-NBA selection in 2017, but he had never won a playoff game, and people were beginning to wonder if we’d ever see him play well on the biggest stage.
The 2018 playoffs featured the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans’ incredible upset sweep of the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Davis was unstoppable, averaging 33 and 11.8 with 2.8 blocks. Within a year New Orleans went from 26th (105.2) in offensive rating to 10th (109.6) and from 12th (98.0) in pace to first (100.5).
Finch would stay with the Pelicans for two more years. Yet again he was able to produce a Most Improved Player candidate; this time Brandon Ingram won the award.
This year Finch joined the Toronto Raptors after Stan Van Gundy was brought in to coach the Pelicans, and now Chris Boucher is looking like a top-five MIP candidate, showing out on offense like never before.
Boucher was a player many ignored as Toronto seemed to be content with moving on from Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. As an Angelino who had to watch Ingram for his first two years, I never believed he would be who he is today. As an obligated Karl-Anthony Towns fan, I didn’t see Jokic becoming one of the two best centers in the league — possibly one of the two best players period — this year. And finally, as a fan of ball movement, I never thought that Harden would eat so much food.
What this Means for the Wolves
Seriously, though, Finch has been a key mentor for three different First Team All-NBA players, each of whom is one of the top 10 players in the game today. I have often remarked that the easiest coaching skill is getting fringe NBA roster players to play hard — that was the Ryan Saunders specialty — but the most difficult coaching skill to have is getting the superstars to realize their talent. Finch has been lucky enough to be a part of mentoring four budding All-Stars.
So which Wolves player stands to benefit the most from Finch as coach?
Looking at the current Timberwolves roster, it’s not difficult to find some comparisons to the players Finch mentored. AD and Jokic are obviously KAT. Harden is probably a combination of Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. Jarred Vanderbilt is maybe a second-year Chris Boucher. Most importantly to me, though, is that Brandon Ingram has been one of the main offensive comparisons for Jaden McDaniels’ ceiling from Day 1.
It’s honestly as if this roster was built for Finch to coach it. Almost every transaction that Rosas has made seems to point to Finch’s core beliefs as a coach: pace, space, length, versatility. I wrote earlier that the Wolves didn’t have the right bandleader (coach) like Charles Mingus to play free jazz (a versatile pace and space style). They needed a coach who would bring the right structure first and then allow the players to play freely within that structure.
Ryan was doing his best impression of what Gersson wanted all along, but Finch has brought this style wherever he has gone. Chris Finch is our Charles Mingus.