Timberwolves

How Have All-Star Coaches Fared In the Playoffs?

Photo Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Edwards stood shirtless and praised Chris Finch after Minnesota’s 111-90 win over the Houston Rockets sent Finch to the All-Star Game. “He coaches his players,” he said. “He’s not like a coach who lets us off the hook or tries to sugarcoat stuff for us. He really coaches hard. He holds everybody accountable, and we need that, starting from the head.”

“He’s the head of the snake,” he continued. “We need that.”

Finch is an All-Star, marking the second time in franchise history that Minnesota’s coach will be behind the bench at All-Star Weekend. He earned his All-Star nod by leading the Timberwolves to the Western Conference’s best record before Feb. 5. Finch enters an elite grouping of coaches who have earned this honor. Historically, it indicates that the Wolves are on track for a deep playoff run.

Recently, All-Star coaches have gone on deep playoff runs. Below are the previous 14 All-Star coaches and where they took their teams.

2022-23

  • Joe Mazzulla – Eastern Finals
  • Michael Malone – Finals (W)

2021-22

  • Erik Spoelstra – Eastern Finals
  • Monty Williams – Western Semi-Finals

2020-21

  • Doc Rivers – Eastern Semi-Final
  • Quin Snyder – Western Semi-Finals

2019-20

  • Nick Nurse – Eastern Semi-Finals
  • Frank Vogel – Finals (W)

2018-19

  • Mike Budenholzer – Eastern Finals
  • Michael Malone – Western Semi-Finals

2017-18

  • Dwane Casey – Eastern Semi-Finals
  • Mike D’Antoni – Western Finals

2016-17

  • Brad Stevens – Eastern Finals
  • Steve Kerr – Finals (W)

In the past seven years, no coach who had coached an All-Star team had lost a first-round playoff series. Eight of them led their team to the conference championship series. To find the last time someone coached the All-Star game and got eliminated in the first round, you must travel back to 2011-12 when Edwards was ten. That season, old friend Tom Thibodeau led the Chicago Bulls to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the pre-process Philadelphia 76ers eliminated them in six games.

Three All-Star coaches led their team to a championship. Those three teams have some things in common with this year’s Timberwolves that could suggest Minnesota is poised to make a championship push.

Below are some key statistics from those teams and where they ranked in the league for that season:

2016-17 Warriors 67-15 (1st)

  • 114.8 offensive rating (1st)
  • 103.4 defensive rating (2nd)
  • 59.7% true shooting (1st)
  • +11.6 per game (1st)
  • 14.6 turnover percentage (20th)

2019-20 Lakers 52-19 (3rd)

  • 111.7 offensive rating (11th)
  • 106.1 defensive rating (3rd)
  • 57.3% true shooting (9th)
  • +5.8 per game (5th)
  • 14.9 turnover percentage (23rd)

2022-23 Nuggets 53-29 (4th)

  • 116.8 offensive rating (5th)
  • 113.5 defensive rating (15th)
  • 60.1% true shooting (3rd)
  • +3.3 per game (6th)
  • 14.7 turnover percentage (23rd)

2023-24 Timberwolves 35-15 (2nd)

  • 114.1 offensive rating (19th)
  • 108.2 defensive rating (1st)
  • 59.8% true shooting (7th)
  • +6.2 per game  (4th)
  • 15.2  turnover percentage (28th)

Finch’s Wolves align in certain areas with All-Star-coached championship teams. All three of the past championship teams have top-four records, are top ten in true shooting, have a top six plus/minus, and are all at least top five in offense or defense. The Wolves also share all of those metrics.

Interestingly, all four teams also rank in the bottom 10 of turnover percentage, which measures the percent chance a possession will end in a turnover. Meaning, they all have issues taking care of the basketball.

However, two meaningful differences exist between the Timberwolves and the three past champions. The first is that the Wolves have the league’s 19th-ranked offense, four spots lower than where Denver’s defense would have ranked last season.

That suggests that of the three teams with All-Star coaches, their weakness is still league average, at minimum. Last year, the Nuggets improved their defense rating drastically by 3.2 in the playoffs. Their 110.2 playoff defensive rating would have been second-best in the league for that season.

The other difference may be more apparent and doesn’t show up on a stat sheet. The Warriors had Stephen Curry, the Lakers had LeBron James, and the Nuggets had Nikola Jokic. Those three players all have one multiple MVP Award and are generational talents. With those players, their teams could persevere through turnovers, bad scoring nights, or poor defensive outings. The Wolves do not have an MVP player on their roster.

That brings us back to Finch. Given his All-Star appearance, the Wolves should expect nothing short of a second-round playoff run. However, if Finch can harness the talents of his players and turn Edwards into an MVP, he will have all of the ingredients to make a Finals run. “Finch is a great coach,” Edwards said, “he don’t kiss nobody’s a**.”

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