Chris Finch Reveals His Blueprint For Pairing KAT and Gobert

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Before the mid-2000s, the NBA was full of players who dominated close to the basket. All-timers such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O’Neal made a living inside the three-point line. More specifically, it was the centers who commanded the way the game was being played. It was common back then to have two players manning the power forward and center spots who stood at around seven feet tall and weighed north of 270 pounds. That’s how the game was played. Teams needed size down low to thrive on both sides of the ball. Since then, the game has been played much differently. Teams now rely less on positions and more on switchability.

Gone are the days of big burly centers that exclusively operated in the paint.

You rarely see a team have multiple players in a lineup at one time who are classified as “big men.” However, that’s exactly what Tim Connelly and his staff did with the Minnesota Timberwolves when they paired Rudy Gobert next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Following that trade, there was some well-warranted scrutiny from the local and national community. The Wolves seemed to be going left when the resort of the league was going right. And for a team who just found their identity a season prior, many didn’t think that splashy a move was warranted.

It wasn’t all roses when the two big men shared the floor for the first time, but after one season, it’s obvious that they can play relatively well next to each other. Some of that is simply because they are both multi-time All-Stars, so figuring out ways to succeed individually comes naturally to them. However, the backbone to them finding sustained success, not just individually, is what Chris Finch has done and will continue to do as he finds a productive way for them to coexist on the same team.

Finch joined JJ Redick on his podcast a few weeks ago; here is a link to the highlights. On the show, Minnesota’s head coach laid out how he balances analytics and playstyle while also figuring out how to build a structured offense that Towns and Gobert can make a living in.

The Northern Heights have contrasting playstyles. KAT loves to have the ball in his hands at the point of attack, at the elbows, and while on the perimeter. He is at his best when the offense is running through him. However, Gobert can be dominant without the ball in his hands. He primarily works in pick-and-roll sets while providing some stifling defense. Because of this, the adjustment for Towns has been more significant than Gobert’s.

Offensively, Towns can’t pose as his usual dominant offensive threat if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Everything ran through him when he was Minnesota’s starting center and their best player. If the team needed to halt a run with a bucket? KAT was their man. If the team needed a clutch bucket? KAT was taking it.

Once Anthony Edwards came bursting onto the scene, KAT was no longer the far-and-away best player. Instead, he has become equal, if not lower, on the scoring totem pole. But it’s not difficult to regulate scoring between two ball-dominant players as a coach, especially for someone like Finch. He has prior experience on teams with multiple All-Star scorers. However, it’s challenging to ensure that one player doesn’t get neglected.

“There was a big concern for me,” Finch explained on the podcast when asked about KAT’s new offensive role next to Gobert. “I didn’t want to just turn him [Towns] into a 2-guard, play him in the corner, and tell him to take more threes. I do think he can increase his three-point rate, but he has so much success driving against fives. I think now he has to realize that he needs to shoot over more fours.”

Of course, spacing Towns from beyond the three-point line when sharing the floor with Gobert seems to be the best way to get the most out of their offensive games. However, KAT should not strictly be played off the ball. Rather, Finch needs to continue prioritizing getting the ball in the hands of Towns at the point of attack.

The dynamic nature of The Big Purr’s offensive game allows him to play well next to Gobert, as we saw in small sizes last season. However, much pressure is sitting at Finch’s feet to make it all work together enough to make a deep postseason run. That’s a significant challenge, but not one that the three-year head coach can’t overcome.

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