After a whirlwind introduction to Minnesota last season, taking over as Timberwolves coach midway through the 2020-21 season, Chris Finch is now settled into the Twin Cities after a full offseason, much of which was spent visiting and further getting to know his players.
In his first half-season as an NBA head coach, Finch, a Wilson grad, inspired confidence from a fan base often void of it, as he appeared to help unlock rookie guard Anthony Edwards’ potential and led the Timberwolves to a 9-7 record over their final 16 games. (They finished 23-49 overall.)
The task now is to turn the end-of-year flashes into more consistent success this season, which the Timberwolves open Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets.
Finch also will be tasked with serving as a beacon of stability after president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was fired last month.
Ahead of an all-important Timberwolves season, the Pioneer Press conducted a question-and-answer session with Finch, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:
How do you feel different, personally, having a full offseason in Minnesota, having had a chance to work with a good chunk of the guys versus where you were throughout the second half (last year)?
“I feel good. I’m a little anxious that all this offseason work we’ve been talking about does pay dividends. I trust the work that we put in and our guys have put in, but I want to go out and see us put it all together, and until we start going through that process, as a coach, you’re never going to feel confident until you can see it playing out in front of you.”
The team seemed to be at its best in the second half of the season when (Anthony Edwards) was at his best. Is that fair to say?
“Yeah, I think so. One more high-level player on the floor is always a benefit. Yeah. He has this knack for making big plays at the right time, and I think while some of his performances may still have been inconsistent at times, I can remember him turning games around in third quarters for us — end of the third, particularly.”
It was bursts. So how do you get that more consistently throughout a game?
“How do I do it? The way that I’d do it is maybe a few more play calls for him, and also lineup combinations. If he’s on the floor with KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns) and D-Lo (D’Angelo Russell), he might defer a little bit more than we’d like him to, so just kind of navigating that. If he’s on the floor with other lineups where he’s seen as the primary guy, then obviously he ups his aggressiveness.”
At the beginning of last season, he sounded like a guy who was ready to defer. Do you think, as he comes into Year 2, he’ll be less likely to do so?
“I think there’s a chance, for sure. I think it’s part of his growth. Confidence has always been there, but now he’s proved it to himself that he can be more of that guy. Managing that metamorphosis is always going to be key in any of these guys’ developments.”
What do you hope will be the most noticeable leap he will take?
“His awareness on defense and his ability to actually be more of an impact defender, which I think will drive more offensive opportunities for him, because he’s best in transition off of steals and stuff like that. Then for the offensive side of the ball, I would hope that it is a little bit more consistent aggressiveness out there that we’re talking about.”
KAT had a chance at a normal offseason for the first time in a few years, and I know there’s optimism off that, but skill development has never seemed to be the issue for him. So what does this team need more out of from him this season?
“He literally just has to be his best self. The best way that he can help us is to be the top-five-talent-level player that he can be, and also be that every single night. That comes with the work he’s put into his body and his preparation from the physical stamina point of view. From that, everything will come, really.”
Have you seen the returns on the physical work on his body? In what ways is he different?
“Absolutely. You can tell he’s worked on his body. He’s lost some weight, added some strength. His core, a lot of big guys — not just KAT — struggle with that core, because they’re so long. But in (the team’s get-together) in Miami, he made a couple plays with verticality. Just going up, being able to take the hit and stay vertical, that’s not something that he probably could’ve done as easily a year ago.”
Forward Jaden (McDaniels) was aggressive in Summer League, and I think that was kind of expected, but how do you think that can translate to the regular season?
“Obviously his usage with the ball will not be as high as it was in Summer League, but it does give us a chance to put him in playmaking situations, particularly with blended lineups or second-unit type stuff. He’s a really good passer. That’s what we learned the most. We knew he had great instincts, as well, but he’s a very good passer. You’ve got to put the ball in his hands for him to create advantages to do that.”
What do you prefer to be (guard D’Angelo Russell’s) primary responsibilities in the offense?
“To keep pace in the offense, keep the tempo high, and then literally just get us into some early actions — whatever they might be — and then be himself. I want him to be aggressive, particularly after he gives the ball up. If he gets it back, I want him to be super aggressive. He can be aggressive with the initial attack or whatever it might be. And then I don’t really want him to change his game whether he’s on or off the ball, but he’s such an elite passer that we want to try to involve him in as many early actions as we can, because he creates scoring opportunities that others can’t for his teammates.”
You have a bunch of guys who seem like they could be leaders, but in terms of proven leaders, it seems like you have (guard) Patrick Beverley and then a bunch of question marks. So early in the season, does that fall on you more?
“For sure. I’ve always maintained that, as a coach or a coaching staff, you have to be what your team lacks in many ways. I think there’s guys that can evolve into a leader, or we can have a committee of guys who can lead. I think Ant (Edwards) has the ability to grow into that. KAT’s ability to be a leader is going to come down to if he can play at that really, really high level, and that’s all we’ve really asked him to do, just be your best self, and then from there, everyone will follow. D-Lo’s leadership ability will be attributed to his willingness to play both ends of the floor, like he did at the end of (last) season for us.”
It looks like you have one power forward on the roster (Jarred Vanderbilt). So how, if at all, does that affect the number of options that you can go to defensively?
“I look at it the other way. In the league, what power forwards are out there that you really have to struggle with? OK, Giannis, that’s the most obvious one. But most of the people playing at the four (position) are kind of these combo forwards, anyway. I think we have enough options there, whether it be Vando, Jaden (McDaniels) or Taurean (Prince). There might even be some opportunities for Ant to play some four defensively.”
What was the most important improvement made to the roster this offseason?
“That we brought in guys with a defensive mindset. We brought in Patrick (Beverly) and Taurean (Prince), retained Vando. Guys that play defense, enjoy playing defense, complement our core players both offensively and playing most of the defense while being out there.”
Are you confident that this team, this year, given where guys are at age-wise and everything, is capable of coming out and being consistent on a night-to-night basis?
“Am I confident? Yeah, I’m confident. We still are young, so we’re still going to have inconsistencies. We’re young, and that means inconsistent, but I believe we can be more consistent than certainly they have been, for sure.”
What qualifies as a successful season?
“I would say this: If there’s noticeable growth on the things we’ve been talking about … Are we consistent? Are we competitive every night? Are we winning enough games alongside of that? … Then OK, the offseason, our preseason, everything led to the fact that we’re a highly competitive team that’s tough to beat every night with an identity. I think if we do that and we can get our defense up to an average level, we can certainly be relevant in that play-in tournament. If not, then I don’t think we can gauge it as a successful season.”
Source: Berkshire mont