It’s been a mixed bag for the Minnesota Timberwolves since Chris Finch took over as head coach a little less than a month ago.
In fairness, they haven’t had much time to acclimate to their new coach’s schemes and since the All-Star break, they’ve been much more competent in a small sample.
But Finch’s hiring was supposed to be seen as a boon for Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. The offense would be focused more on them and putting the two guys who are seen as the primary core players in a position to succeed.
And to this point, Finch has accomplished the first part. Towns and Edwards have each seen their usage rates increase by over three percent compared to the beginning of the season under Ryan Saunders.
Edwards in particular is getting an uptick in playing time following Malik Beasley‘s suspension, seeing an over three minutes per game bump.
But without another offensive creator outside of those two (and Edwards is still figuring out the NBA game), things have been rough.
It has, however, given us a chance to evaluate the two core building blocks together and figure out how to best build a team around them.
Evaluating Minnesota Timberwolves duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards
Through all the injuries to both himself and his teammates, Towns has spent the most time on the floor with Edwards (and Ricky Rubio) at over 430 minutes. According to Cleaning the Glass, lineups with Towns and Edwards that have played at least 100 possessions all have positive net ratings.
Teams need to respect how athletic Edwards is and no big man is fast enough to contain him coming off of screens, so they’re forced to try to hedge which leaves Towns open for pick-and-pop threes or space rolling to the rim.
KAT is a cheat code against any drop coverage and because of Edwards’ athleticism and aggressiveness, Steven Adams is forced to respect him if he comes downhill. Towns doesn’t need a ton of room and the New Orleans Pelicans gave him all the space in the world.
Watching this live, I was fully expecting a turnover here with how long Edwards was holding on to the ball and how compact the space was getting, but he proved me very wrong. He strings Bismack Biyombo along beautifully, waiting for Towns to find open space and as soon as he sees the miscommunication between Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges, he hits Towns.
For as good of a playmaker as Edwards has become, there’s still room for him to grow as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. His 0.68 points per possession as a ball-handler in pick-and-rolls is one of the lowest marks in the league.
Part of this can be attributed to his lack of a pull-up 3-point shot.
On the season, Edwards is shooting right around 26 percent on pull-up threes but his catch-and-shoot numbers are nearly 10 percent higher and he’s right around 40 percent on catch-and-shoot threes in the last eight games. This opens up more room for the two to work while Towns has the ball.
The sheer space Towns creates by just being himself is amazing. He has a mismatch against Dario Saric and the Suns go into a fire drill on defense. Cam Johnson abandons Edwards, and Towns chucks one of the prettiest passes I’ve seen from him right in the shooting pocket.
If Edwards can continue to be a knockdown shooter on those shots, it’ll open things a lot more for Towns and himself.
Letting Towns operate as a facilitator has been a focus under Finch and it has seen Towns’ assist rate jump by more than three percent since the coaching change.
Additionally, Edwards is improving as an off-ball player, scoring 1.17 points per possession as a cutter and 0.97 on handoffs.
Towns draws Wendell Carter Jr out of the paint, hits Edwards in stride, and for as bouncy as Patrick Williams is, you don’t want to get between Edwards and the rim when he has a full head of steam.
And if the opposing big plays tight to Towns, he’s explosive enough to do it himself.
But a big part of what makes this work is that the paint is wide open for drives.
Towns has the option to hit Beasley in the corner for an open three as well on this play and that spacing is invaluable to how Edwards and Towns function. This leads us to how Finch can best build a lineup around these two.