Offseason speculation about Chris Finch’s job security is a topic among media and fans after the head coach’s Timberwolves fell short of expectations last season. The Wolves won four fewer games than they did during the 2021-2022 season and struggled to qualify for the playoffs. Then the Nuggets defeated the Wolves in an opening round postseason series, winning four games to one.
Next fall Finch starts his third full season as the team’s head coach. During a telephone interview with Sports Headliners, the likeable Finch was asked if he feels mounting pressure.
“There’s pressure all the time to win,” Finch said. “I want to win every game. I want to keep growing our program here. I don’t feel any more or less pressure than I did when I first got here—which was the pressure to prove ourselves every day.
“These paths are not linear. You don’t always go from 42 to 44, to 46, 48 and 50 (wins). But I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment that this team was able to get into the playoffs for back-to-back seasons for the first time in many, many years (since 2004).
“I think if I was grading this team, I would give it overall a B-. Our young players got better, we finished with a winning record (42-40). We played in a ton of meaningful games. We had chances to…maybe finish a little higher, win a few more games, maybe go a little further in the playoffs if things broke a different direction for us.
“But we gotta now win those little battles. We gotta mature across the board. There are a lot of little things we gotta do to try and improve our performances. But we feel like we’re set up pretty well going forward. We’re certainly not satisfied with where we are, but we also don’t feel we’re a million miles away from where we want to be, either.”
There’s conjecture the Wolves front office will do little in the offseason to change the makeup of the roster. The idea being to stay the course, mostly because star forward-center Karl-Anthony Towns missed 53 games and his absence never allowed a full look at the “Twin Towers” experiment with the 7-foot Towns and 7-1 center Rudy Gobert.
Finch, though, isn’t necessarily predicting status quo. “We love our core. We still believe in our core but we’re always looking to add to that whatever way makes sense. …”
Finch refers to this time of year as “the Super Bowl” for the front offices of NBA teams. Executives like Wolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly are making evaluations about not only their teams but the June NBA draft, and the trade and free agency markets.
A front office never knows what opportunities will be presented. That was exemplified in bold face last summer when the Wolves traded five players and four future first-round draft choices to acquire Gobert, who had been a perennial defensive and rebounding force for the Jazz.
Finch acknowledged that internally pre-trade discussion was “debated heavily” (as with any major transaction). The pros and cons were discussed. In the end, Finch said, “everyone was on board” with the deal including the ownership group of Glen Taylor, Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez.
The results of the trade have been panned not just in Minnesota but around the country. The team often struggled to find cohesion and Gobert at times was part of the problem. There were more than a few moments when he played slow and awkwardly, particularly on offense where his shooting range and repertoire is limited. And near the basket his hands might fumble the basketball.
Gobert’s stats fell off from the previous season with the Jazz. Points per game declined from 15.6 to 13. 4; rebounds 14.7 to 11.6; blocks 2.1 to 1.4. The Wolves did move up in defensive rating in Gobert’s first season, going from No. 13 to No. 10. (Defensive rating is the number of points allowed per 100 possessions.)
Gobert, twice NBA Defensive Player of the Year during his career, joined the Wolves in training camp after playing extensively for France’s national team last summer. At times he looked liked a tired player trying to find his energy. Compounding Gobert’s introduction to the Wolves was Towns missing training camp sessions because of illness, and then early on in the season he suffered a severe quad strain forcing him to miss 53 games before returning when playoff time was near.
Gobert, Towns and teammates never had extensive time to mesh. “We never looked at it as like a one hit wonder or a one-year thing,” Finch said about the blockbuster trade. “We knew it was something that was going to be more transformative.
“It takes time, and you know when you get a chance to acquire a player of Rudy’s talent…(he) shores up a lot of the things that we had been weak at: rim protection, rebounding and anchoring a defense.
“You know we had a long thought (process) about putting a guy like this next to KAT. It’s just a matter of which one and who, and what type, and how do you do that. And you know when Rudy became available, I think it was something that we all were very excited about, and we remain excited now.”
Gobert turns 31 next month but Finch isn’t concerned about his big man’s age. He refers to Gobert as a “world class athlete” who is among the best players he has seen in taking care of his body.
“You look at Rudy, there’s not an ounce of fat on him,” Finch said. “He loves to play. He loves to compete. He does a great job of managing his workload. He’s always got himself into a position to be ready to play.
“We didn’t feel that there was going to be any kind of danger of being a significant drop-off in performance. Quite honestly…given all the (team) injuries…he played above and beyond what we thought we were going to require of him.”
A conversation with Finch prompts an interviewer to pick up on his genuineness and optimism. That comes through when the 53-year-old coach talks about next season and a fresh start with Towns and Gobert. The two bigs can play together on both ends of the court, he said, even though the offense often struggled last season.
“From a basketball skills point of view, we don’t see a reason why it shouldn’t work. Everyone’s got to make a little bit of sacrifice in certain things.”
Success can come from better floor spacing by all the players. Things will work when players, including Towns and Gobert, complement each other’s skills. Finch said there is no shortage of willingness with his “Twin Towers” to help each other and the team. The hope is that a full training camp and early season together will create more rhythm and cohesiveness in the offense. Things will look in synch instead of being discombobulated.
The Wolves hope to retain valued reserve and free agent Naz Reid. At 6-9 the forward-center adds to the roster of talented big men. And that size can be troublesome to foes. At the extreme, Finch could potentially use a zone defense with not only Towns and Gobert on the floor but Reid, too, and move small forward Jaden McDaniels (6-9) to guard alongside 6-4 Anthony Edwards.
After Towns returned to the lineup the Wolves used a zone defense, taking advantage of their length and size. “It was bothersome to our opponents,” Finch said. “You could see it.”
Zone used to be viewed as a junk defense in the NBA but not now. The Wolves are positioned to be among the teams to frequently use it. “We’re committed to play whatever it takes to build a great defense,” Finch said. “We’re certainly open to zone.”
With their “Twin Towers” the Wolves have cast themselves as different from most NBA teams who use smaller players in their starting lineups. The local NBA club isn’t trying to start any trends. The Wolves are just trying to be successful and think they can be.
“We gotta be good at what it is we’re trying to do, not just different,” Finch said.1 comment