Timberwolves

What Have We Learned About Chris Finch After 82 Games?

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy (USA TODAY Sports)

Time feels like it’s stood still since the beginning of the pandemic. It might shock you to realize the Los Angeles Lakers won their Mickey Mouse championship in the bubble 15 months ago instead of 15 years ago, or that The Last Dance aired in 2020 and not 1998.

For Timberwolves fans, it may seem like Chris Finch has been patrolling the sidelines in his team-branded quarter zip for years. In reality, Finch has only logged his 82nd game as a head coach in Minnesota’s 128-125 loss to New Orleans on Tuesday. Finch has a 36-46 record in his first full season, the 20th-best record in the NBA during that span. However, his .439 winning percentage ranks third among all Timberwolves head coaches behind Flip Saunders and Tom Thibodeau. It would be tied for the 12th-best full season in franchise history.

It’s still premature to say if Finch’s tenure is a success. But what have we learned about the coach and the team after 82 games of Chris Finch?

Finch’s tenure with the Timberwolves began bizarrely. The Wolves fired Ryan Saunders after sputtering to a 7-24 start last season. Instead of going through the normal process of promoting a current assistant to interim head coach — say, David Vanterpool — Gersson Rosas decided to make an outside hire. He brought in Finch, whom he knew from their time with the Houston Rockets’ G-League team. Finch’s hiring made waves across the league, but most were upset about the process rather than who he hired.

Finch went straight from the frying pan and into the fire, taking over the worst team in the league. The first-time NBA head coach had a rude welcome with five straight losses while evaluating the team on the fly before the All-Star break. After regrouping, Finch led the Wolves to a respectable 16-20 record the rest of the season, including 11-11 after D’Angelo Russell returned from a knee injury.

He kept the good vibes rolling into the 2021-22 season, leading the Timberwolves to a 20-21 record halfway through the schedule. The biggest surprise is that the so-called offensive guru who learned under Mike D’Antoni, Mike Malone, and Nick Nurse has one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Thanks to the addition of All-Defensive stalwart guard Patrick Beverley, the emergence of Jarred Vanderbilt as a modern-day Dennis Rodman, and a level of effort from its three stars unseen on past Wolves teams, Minnesota currently ranks 10th in the NBA in defensive rating. Along with defensive coordinator Elston Turner, Finch has their squad playing the franchise’s best defense in more than a decade.

The same cannot be said for the offense. In Finch’s 41-game stint at the helm last season, he led a small offensive resurgence with a group that was tanking. Saunders’ team had the third-worst offense in the NBA before the Wolves fired him. Finch performed some minor miracles to resurrect the Wolves on offense with the 17th best offensive the rest of the season.

For whatever reason, things haven’t progressed the way fans assumed they would this season. You would think a team run by a Nick Nurse disciple built around Karl-Anthony Towns, DLo, and an emergent Anthony Edwards would produce one of the best offenses in basketball. That hasn’t quite been the case this season. The Wolves rank just 19th in the league through 41 games, averaging 109 points per 100 possessions. That’s somehow worse than their 109.3 offensive rating last season.

Part of the issue is the Wolves couldn’t find their nose with their eyes closed from beyond the three-point line this season. Outside of Towns and the last month of Edwards, everyone on the roster is struggling to hit their threes. Last season’s sharpshooter, Malik Beasley, is only shooting 34.6 percent from deep. DLo is well below his career average at 34.7 percent, and everyone else is scuffling below them. The Wolves shoot the most threes per game in the league but shoot just 34.1 percent, 21st in the NBA. There are other obstacles to the offense running smoothly. Consistent ball stopping, blown layups, and one-dimensional players all affect the offensive production. But the lack of three-point shooting has been the bugaboo all season.

While the offense struggles, the biggest feather in Finch’s head coaching cap is Edwards’ development. The top pick in the 2020 draft had a disastrous start to his career. He looked extremely raw in the preseason and had only a few practices in a new city before the season began. The former Georgia Bulldog averaged just 14.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game on a 37/31/79 shooting split before Saunders got the ax.

However, Edwards turned things around almost immediately after Finch took over. In 41 games under Finch last year, Ant averaged 23.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game on a 44/34/77 split. You can attribute his considerable improvements to a talented rookie finally figuring things out, but Finch certainly helped the teenager progress from potential bust to All-Star caliber player. Finch will have a job as long as Ant continues his meteoric rise to NBA superstardom.

It’s too early to tell how Chris Finch’s tenure will be remembered. But by previous standards, he’s off to a pretty good start. Finch has the Wolves squarely in the hunt for a spot in the play-in tournament this season, with the possibility of a top-six seed if they can buckle down and win a few extra games. Finch came to the Wolves amid absolute chaos, but he has proven over the last 82 games that it’s nothing but smooth sailing so far for the NBA’s most turbulent franchise when he’s running the show.

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