On Sunday, Feb. 21, the Minnesota Timberwolves fired former head coach Ryan Saunders. Within minutes, the news broke that Chris Finch would be his successor.
While the Wolves winning percentage hasn’t budged much since the coaching change, there have been a lot of things that have changed for the better for the Wolves.
In addition to discussing players and their individual improvements, it’s important to recognize that the energy is different with a new head coach, and this could be seen as a fresh start for some of these players.
The lineups have been mixed around a lot more since Finch stepped in as head coach and that has been a refresher for the team.
Now, let’s look at some individual players whose play has improved under the new coach.
Minnesota Timberwolves players changing under Chris Finch: Jaylen Nowell
One player that has gotten more opportunity since Chris Finch took over is second-year guard Jaylen Nowell.
Sure, part of it can be attributed to the Malik Beasley suspension, but either way, Nowell hasn’t wasted this opportunity. In the first nine games under Finch, Nowell has been getting more opportunities and improving.
From Fox Sports North:
"… in the nine games Finch has coached, Nowell has been blossoming into a promising offensive weapon for the Wolves. Nowell logged 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while draining 22 of 46 (47.8 percent) attempts from deep in that span."
Put simply, Nowell has been a bigger piece of the puzzle for the Wolves ever since Finch has taken over. In addition to his overall uptick in numbers and general efficiency, Nowell has shot at least 50 percent from three in five of his last 12 games played.
Even though his minutes may be lowered a bit once Beasley returns, Nowell has proved that he can be an important role player for the Wolves in the future.
Minnesota Timberwolves players changing under Chris Finch: Anthony Edwards
This year’s No. 1 overall draft pick started the season coming off the bench. For December and January, he only averaged around 13 shots and a little over 25 minutes per game. Ever since he became a starter, however, his stats have been improving.
In February, Edwards averaged 33 minutes a game. In March, that number grew to 35 minutes per game. What really sticks out, however, is the shot attempts he has in March.
For the month, Edwards has taken 22 shots a game, making nine of them. He even has his highest average for field goal percentage for any month on the season at 42.5 percent. He also dropped his career-high in points on March 18, scoring 42 points against the Suns on 31 shot attempts.
Perhaps most importantly, Edwards has been driving to the basket more frequently and getting more free throw attempts throughout the month of March, which was something he struggled with early on. From the start of the season through the end of February, Edwards was only attempting 2.4 free throws per game. In March, that number has jumped to 5.3 per game.
Even though the shooting percentage remains a bit lower than it should be and the defensive consistency simply isn’t there, there’s a lot to like about the strides that Edwards has made since Finch took over.
Minnesota Timberwolves players changing under Chris Finch: Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio’s improvement coincides a bit more accurately with when he became a starter, but we shouldn’t discount the effect that Finch and some of the offensive changes may have had on the veteran point guard.
Rubio is shooting 47.3 percent from the field in March and averaging 8.6 assists per game. Contrast that to his pre-March numbers of 37.8 percent from the field and just 6.3 assists per contest.
In addition to becoming a starter and now playing for Finch, Rubio has acknowledged several times publicly that he wasn’t in great shape at the start of the season, largely due to an offseason battle with COVID-19. Getting his lungs and his legs underneath him is clearly a significant piece of his recent improvement as well.
In a more free-flowing, pass-happy offense, Rubio has had every opportunity to shine. The Rubio-Russell backcourt pairing that was of interest early in teh season never got off the ground, but we may have the opportunity to see if an in-shape Rubio and a healthy Towns can help a lineup with both Rubio and D’Lo succeed.
As Malik Beasley and Russell each get back on the floor, it’ll be interesting to see how Finch’s offense operates with a full complement of players. Stay tuned.