This is Part III of my interview with Chris Finch, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach. Parts I and II are here, and hier. The first half of the conversation lasted almost 70 minutes. It was mostly about how Rudy Gobert’s addition will impact the defensive and offensive schemes that the Wolves will use in the 2022-23 season.
The second half, which includes today’s column as well as the one scheduled for Saturday, focuses on players and personnel and their growth and compatibility. It also addresses Finch’s changing role and responsibilities in the organization with the appointment of Tim Connelly, President of Basketball Operations, and his vast staff.
MinnPost: What combinations of players do you want to see on the floor together in rotation? Ant (Anthony Edwards), KAT (Karl Anthony Towns), and Kyle Anderson make a natural trio, and Rudy, DLo (D’Angelo Russell), and Taurean Prince would be great together in terms of floor space and skill-set matches.
Chris Finch A little. I am trying to not make too many assumptions about the season. I just want to watch how it unfolds. The combination of Rudy and DLo is a great one. Ant and KAT are great, as they help Ant keep the floor-spacing. So, I can see these as pivot points for all the other things we do.
MP: Rudy, DLo, and Kyle are the best players on the floor.
CF Kyle is great at closeouts and it’s hard to speed him up. He will drive to the basket and make the next play, even though they may tag him. Rudy’s spacing is more than just having shooters. You can have someone who has ball skills and can do some things with it. We can play Kyle as a point-guard in that lineup and let DLo off the court. They can do many things, so they might change it. However, Kyle is smart enough, skilled and experienced enough to be able find these things.
MP Kyle is going to be very important, isn’t he?
CF: Very. We bought him before we made the trade. We knew this man would fill many of the gaps. He is a big man with a mature personality. He’s also serious. He was a man of great value.
MP – Will you also have another playmaker (e.g. J-Mac Jordan McLaughlin ) on the floor?
CF Yes, I can see it.
MP : This allows you to have multiple outlets, even without shooting.
CF Jaylen Nowell can also be a more playmaker for us. Jaylen is a skilled scorer. Jaylen is a hard-wired scorer. He can make plays and turn corners with DHOs (dribble hands-offs), pin downs or pick-and roll. He wanted to make an impact on scoring in his short time (compared to previous seasons). We have been talking with him about expanding his playmaking abilities.
In my first half-season, he was more of a playmaker. I thought he did an excellent job with primary ball-handling. He didn’t do as much last year because there were so many ball-handlers.
MP – I was stunned to see him shoot almost 40% from the three-point range.
CF I have never seen him as a shooter.
MP: His game is designed to make opponents nauseous and encourages you to shoot midrange.
CF: Exactly. He is able to get to the paint. He is a great player. I also think Austin Rivers can handle the game well when he’s out there and shooting with these guys. Austin is a great player from the corners. He’s a little more skilled above the break but has learned how to impact the game offensively, with or without the ball. All these guys enter the league believing they will score, score and score. He has learned to play the NBA’s standards. He is able to handle enough.
MPWithout committing to anything concrete for two weeks prior to training camp, do we think the ninth slot in rotation will be crowded with Jaylen, Austin Rivers, and Bryn Forbes. Is playing time conditional?
CF Could it be? We haven’t even spoken about Bryn.
MP: Yeah. I can count eight players between those two guys.
CF I would like to believe Jaylen will jump up and seize that chance. There are also opportunities to play small in KAT, which would allow us to get Bryn onto the floor.
MP: There will be times when your guys will need his outside shooting. It’s incredible that your perimeter players were all below the NBA average in true shot percentage, but you still ranked seventh in offensive efficiency due to your shot selection leaning towards at-the-rim shots and three-pointers. Your bigs were extremely efficient and this is likely to continue.
CF We have the best rolling big and most efficient popping big in the league. So between these two, we should be able figure out something. Jaden will have to play more for us.
MP: Yes, we will leave him alone.
CF He is going to get some looks.
MP: What do you expect him to do with the catch-and-shoot? And how much do he want to do with it on the deck?
CF I’d say it is about 50-50. He was very good at getting to the basket from the corners last year, and that is one way we plan to improve him. He has too many skills to be a spot-shooter.
MP: It took him a while to believe that it was last year.
CF I believe Joe Boylan (assistant coach, director of player developmental) has done an amazing job getting Jaden to understand close-outs. His length means that he can literally dribble to and from the rim.
CF I also think he is capable of Rudy turning around on DHOs. He has the ability to make those passes, but he has not had the chance. His length allows him to reach the defense’s heart. He then slows down enough to be able make the late play. This is similar to DLo’s deal. Anthony is different because he is explosive and must make sure Rudy gets all his passes early.
Jaden had a fantastic summer. He looks great and has tons of confidence. We tried to teach Jaden how to control his physicality, hit first and finish.
MP: Do you think that he will ever be able be one of those men who is physically fit?
CF Oh, he’s not going to stack on like 30 pounds.
MP: It never seems like he is gaining weight despite working so hard. He was pushed around a lot last season.
CF Some of this is body type. He has a high centre of gravity. There is also a difference between man-strength and growing into your muscles. All of us go through this, and luckily for us, that is still ahead of him, regardless of whether he gains another five or twenty pounds. I don’t want him growing too large. I want him stronger. He is strong, as they tell me. I have seen him withstand more hits than he has in the past. It’s a different story when Kawhi Leonard hits you, instead of Wendell Moore (Wolves rookie).
MP: Fouls are where his weakness has most affected him on defense. You don’t get whistles if you are being pushed around.
CF: No. He has to protect these high-leverage players who know how to place people in this (fouling), situation. This is unfair for him. These guys are smart too. They are aware that Jaden is foul-prone so they draw him early to get him out. They don’t want to see them suffer.
MP: Have you ever seen him move up from the third position? You were always intrigued by him at the 4 position before.
CF I don’t think so. If he excels at 3 we could become very different with all that length.
MP: It takes the pain out of losing Vando and PatBev (Patrick Beverly).
CF It is less painful there, yeah. He can also play there with Taurean and Kyle, and when that happens, who are the 4 or 3? I don’t know.
MP : A combination of two or three of these makes a great switch line.
CF The league has changed to “You are what your can guard.” Offensively, you are either a point or a wing. Those guys are all wingmen.
MP: Ant development is one of the most important aspects of your job. Some of this goes beyond basketball skills. He was a tough coach.
CF: For sure.
MP: He didn’t have much room for error when he sustained that tendinopathy injury. Did that seem intentional? Are you able to help him get through certain things?
CF Ant wants to be coached hard, I believe. Ant likes to be coached hard and he takes advantage of that. It is important to remind him that there are still opportunities for earning and learning. It is crucial that he follows that path. We didn’t know how to handle the injury and Ant didn’t know how to deal with it. We didn’t know how badly it was bothering him because he’d never been injured before. It would bother him, but he would soon forget about it. Ant should have the mindset of great players playing every night. I said, “Look around.” Lebron (James), (Russell Westbrook), (James Harden), KD (Kevin Durant), when he’s not hurt. Giannis (Antetokounmpo). These guys don’t rest. You can’t rest if you want to be a great league player. He thinks that way. He is a lover of playing, and wants to continue to play. He is physically a specimen. Therefore, he should be able play.
As we move forward with Ant, I believe the refining of Ant’s game will be a key part of our future success. You need to feel the game, read it, draw fouls, close the games and read the floor. He was just getting a taste of everything. Now we need to break it down for him and walk through each step. This summer we did a lot of that, as well as work on his finishing. But, I am a firm believer that you must be great at what your already excel at. Keep working on these things.
Many young players are prone to thinking, “I want this and that,” but the truth is that you can’t add anything if you don’t know what you’re good at. And, with those other skills, you might only have two chances to use them in a particular game.
MP: I understand what you’re saying. Ant is amazing when it comes finishing at the rim. However, the stat sheet clearly shows that he is not very good at this skill.
CF He is an elite performer at getting there but average at finishing. How can you be elite at getting there if you’re not good at finishing? You can do it all, whether that’s kick-outs or drawing the foul or finishing the shots. These are the basics; let’s get to work on them before we move on to a post-up where I might have you in the post twice per game.
MP : Maybe you can trim a few points so that you have more driving opportunities.
CF I believe that the shooting is true, but it’s not my belief. The off-the-dribble shooting. It’s quite dangerous to shoot the ball off the dribble as it looks.
MP : He reminds of Paul George a bit.
CF His growth
MP : He is more flexible than you think. At the same time, you are teasing him; you don’t know where your ceiling lies.
CF This is a great comp, because Paul George in my opinion is one of the most difficult covers in the league. He can get his shot up above highly-contesting players.
MP: It becomes a question of whether he is beating his self that night. This is one way he reminds us of Ant’s future. To continue: Ant’s inevitable maturity must be anticipated, both pro- and con. He will lose his innocence.
MP: Kevin Durant, when he entered the league. He was a true star, and he still has that easygoing charm. It’s not that Ant will automatically go this way. He will undoubtedly get dented. His homophobic comments are a recent example of a prominent early mark that will not fade. As he grows up and the pressures and media glare increase, there will be more. It will be difficult to retain the best parts of him.
CSS: We need to manage that change as an organizational approach and not as a coaching exercise. My belief, and the reason we have great hope for Ant, is that Ant’s DNA is very strong. He was raised in the most difficult environment possible. He is passionate about doing the right thing and helping people. We all learn lessons early, some later in life and most lessons are learned privately. Ant will learn the majority of his lessons publically. However, I believe that Ant had the character to handle it and remain focused on his growth as a player and person.
He is my hero. He is an absolute joy to coach. He will follow your lead, and you can tell him what you need. He will eventually feel he knows better, and there will be some pushback. There are also times when he is there. That is the great trait that great players possess: stubbornness.
Tomorrow is the last part of Coach Finch’s interview.