It took almost an entire season, but with just three games remaining on the schedule, the Minnesota Timberwolves have finally figured out how to play winning basketball.
At least on one end of the floor, that is.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Chris Finch has offense sizzling down the stretch
The Wolves are 22-47 on the season with the 25th-ranked offense and 28th-best defense in the league, heading into Tuesday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons. They were almost unwatchable after Karl-Anthony Towns injured his wrist at the end of the second game of the season, a win against Utah.
But after all they’ve been through with injuries, COVID-19, and an unprecedented midseason coaching change, the Wolves have figured out how to score the basketball again.
Since Chris Finch took the reins in mid-February, Minnesota is scoring 111.6 points per 100 possessions, good for 18th in the league, as opposed to just 105.7 in the 31 games under Ryan Saunders. The scoring output rises to 113.4 points per 100 possessions post-All-Star Game and 117.5 (7th in the NBA) in the team’s last 10 games (Minnesota is 6-4 in that span), not including Tuesday’s win over Detroit.
So, what’s going on? Well, for starters, the best players are actually playing. Towns and D’Angelo Russell played all of four games together this season with Saunders as head coach. The dynamic duo has already suited up for 19 games together with Finch at the helm. In that span, the Wolves are a respectable 10-9 including the team’s first four-game win streak since 2018.
Minnesota is scoring 117.4 points per 100 possessions in the 372 minutes KAT and D’Lo have been on the court at the same time. That would be the best offense in the league if we extrapolate it over the entire season. Unfortunately, that number craters with the two off the court. Minnesota’s offensive rating is an abysmal 99.9 without either star on the court, which would easily the worst mark in the league.
While KAT and D’Lo are finally showing Wolves fans and the front office what we expected to see after dealing Andrew Wiggins to Golden State for Russell last year, it’s the emergence of rookie phenom Anthony Edwards that is helping the offense reach new heights.
Edwards and the rest of this year’s crop of rookies entered the NBA under the worst circumstances in league history. Due to the pandemic, there was no offseason, no summer league, an abridged training camp, and with the draft moved to late November Edwards didn’t even know he was going to Minnesota until a month before the season.
The 19-year-old was brutal in the preseason and struggled mightily to begin the regular season. He came off the bench for the first 17 games of his career and averaged 13 points while shooting just 35.5 percent from the field with a true shooting percentage of 45.2.
Once inserted into the starting lineup things began to tick up for Edwards, but the extreme inefficiency remained. By the time Saunders was fired, Edwards had shown improvement but was still just shooting 37.5 percent and just 31.3 percent from three and 47.1 true shooting percentage.
Finch has helped Edwards rewrite the story of his rookie season and turn him into a true contender for the Rookie of the Year award. In 37 games under Finch Edwards’ true shooting percentage is up to 54.4 percent, he’s hitting 43.8 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from three while averaging 22.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game.
Finch has Edwards using his strength and athleticism to get to the hoop more in the second half of his rookie year. Under Saunders Edwards averaged 8.5 drives per game and shot a dismal 37.7 percent when attacking the rim. With Finch, he’s driving to the cup 11.8 times a game and shooting a much improved 52.1 percent when he drives. Having Towns and especially Russell on the court helps open driving lanes for Edwards and gives him easier opportunities at the rim instead of trying to finish through all five defenders.
Unlocking the full potential of a Towns/Russell/Edwards big three is the key to success in Minnesota for Finch. The 51-year-old first-time NBA head coach has the Wolves playing their best basketball since starting 10-8 last season before all-hell broke loose. Minnesota is 14-23 with Finch roaming the sidelines, and 9-9 since Russell returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for 26 games.
It may seem huge in contrast to the 7-24 start, but Finch’s attention to detail is what’s making him a black market Coach of the Year candidate. (Ok maybe not, but he should be!) He’s already one of the best coaches in the league at getting his team a quality shot after a timeout in clutch situations.
Minnesota was one of the least clutch teams in the league under Saunders going 6-12 in clutch situations with the league’s 24th best offense. With Finch, they’re 12-9 in the clutch with the 12th best offense in those scenarios.
It’s been a tough season for the Timberwolves, but with Finch running an offense built around KAT, Russell, and an emerging star in Edwards, the Wolves look to be an offensive force for years to come. Now if he could only get them to play a lick of defense.