The way the Minnesota Timberwolves handled the midseason dismissal of Ryan Saunders last year was widely panned. Firing the son of the most successful coach in Wolves history and replacing him with Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch was unconventional, to say the least. Hiring a coach from another team’s bench hadn’t occurred since 2009 when the Memphis Grizzlies swiped Lionel Hollins away from the Milwaukee Bucks. Furthermore, many people around the league believed that assistant coach David Vanterpool was just as qualified for the job.
That narrative quickly changed. The Wolves were 7-24 when Saunders was dismissed on Feb. 21. Minnesota lost its first five games under Finch, but they found renewed life after the All-Star Break. The Wolves finished the year 16-20 and showed the potential we all saw coming into the season.
Significant changes were made. Role players like Josh Okogie and Juancho Hernangómez finally lived up to their potential, while Anthony Edwards transformed into a star in the second half of the season. We all saw how Finch’s influence transformed the team. Even now, long after the Wolves’ season has ended, they stand to benefit as the league moves towards the offseason.
Dominos Fall Around the League
Seven head coaching vacancies opened up after the season concluded. The Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, and Orlando Magic went into the offseason looking for a new head coach and Finch may have been in play for any of these teams.
Any of them could use someone who can come into their system and raise the floor of their offense. Orlando could use a coach who maximizes their current offensive talent while developing the young core. Or a squad like Portland could use Finch to fully reach their team’s offensive potential.
Before arriving in Minnesota, Finch oversaw the development of multiple superstars, including Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Zion Williamson. He was in line for a head coaching job and could rightfully pick any of the available franchises he interviewed with.
These teams now have to sort through candidates quickly enough to get the hire they want before another team takes their guy — this all while front offices are modified or fired and players change teams during the offseason.
Rosas Gets His Man
By acquiring his former colleague mid-season, Rosas was able to hire Finch before any other team could have the chance to negotiate with him, and it’s already paying dividends. We have seen the difference between the Saunders-led team and Finch’s Wolves.
Even with the injuries the Wolves sustained early on, their future looked bleak halfway through the season. However, having young players with a lot of potential like Ant and Jaden McDaniels made things much more clear. They have a positive direction moving forward. The Wolves can dive straight into roster construction and fill out the coaching staff to match their agenda immediately before next season without having to conduct a coaching search.
Based on team personnel, defensive struggles of a high oPPG and DRtg came as expected. The clear difference here is how Finch transformed Minnesota’s stagnant, frustrating offensive scheme into something potent while still not sacrificing defense. Under Finch, the Wolves became what they should have been all along: a high-octane offense that can keep them in any game, but still with a limited defense and an inexperienced young core.
Young Core and Development
The Wolves have the second-youngest roster in the NBA behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, and their youngest players are playing the most minutes as well. Getting those high-ceiling players as many reps as possible is important for both their development and team continuity.
Getting a head start on team building acts as a jump start for the beginning of next year. Many of their core pieces are under contract for multiple years and have already had experience under the new coach. We already have a detailed analysis of how each player fits on this roster moving into the next season.
Defensive struggles were a central concern last season. The team can look into how they did under Finch, identify positions of need, and fill out the roster. Instead of taking an educated guess at what the team will look like under a new coach, they can establish a plan based on what they saw last season.
Ultimately, hiring Finch to develop this young team has shown early benefits. Rosas can now focus on completing the roster and putting Finch in an even better position to succeed.