Welcome to the second excerpt of the MinnPost interview with Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch. Part I of this extensive conversation that will be excerpted into next week, appears here.
In part II, Finch addresses the importance of maximizing the team’s budding superstar, Anthony Edwards, and also gets into initial plans for how the various frontcourt combinations and rotations might unfold during the 2023-24 Timberwolves season. You can catch Britt Robson at the MinnPost Festival at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23.
MinnPost: We have talked about the KAT-Gobert pairing, but Ant has to be a primary component of any discussion of your team this season.
Chris Finch: Absolutely. I mean, he is the priority when it comes to making sure that he continues to impact the game at a high level.
Other places I’ve been where we’ve had two bigs, it has just been about those two bigs.
MP: Right. You had Jrue Holiday alongside Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins in New Orleans, but it wasn’t the same as having Ant.
Finch: Jrue Holiday is the best player I have ever coached without the ball in his hands. (He) cuts, spaces, reads the floor, screens, creates offense for others. Now we don’t expect Anthony to necessarily play like that. But it puts a lot more pressure on Jaden (McDaniels) to play like that. You know Mike (Conley) is obviously really good at reading the floor without the ball.
When we talk about more structure, it means targeting the early actions that can suit the two bigs better. But it also means targeting (ideal) two-man actions between Ant and KAT and between Ant and Rudy.
MP: I understand why you want to hone that Rudy and Ant combo. If they could mesh, the ceiling on that is phenomenal. But Rudy is limited athletically and Ant is limited experientially. So that pairing faces a dual challenge to working well.
Finch: Right. So one of our priorities this season in player development is more combo work between those guys. We are doubling down on it. At this point, Rudy isn’t all of a sudden going to become a better post player. But the point is continuing to build that chemistry. The teammate-relationship piece is there – they both really like each other and understand each other. And Ant is going to continue to face different types of defenses, see two (opponents) on him a lot.
You know one of the things Anthony had to learn? He never played against a drop (defensive coverage) consistently, because KAT was setting a majority of his pick-and-rolls for two years, and people were not in a drop against KAT. I pegged this right out of the gate last year as a huge growth challenge for us and Anthony. I told him “You are going to face a drop every night.” So developing the feel and the touch, the timing (against it). But Rudy has only ever been against drops. So, when teams are in a heavy drop against us, we’ve got to go downhill and put pressure on them and make all the plays late (in the shot clock).
MP: In a recent podcast you did with JJ Redick, you stressed that Ant has got to learn how to draw fouls and a big part of that is learning how to drive to the basket against drops. He’s usually in avoidance mode, even though he has the physique of a fullback.
Finch: He kind of gets a little tricky and overcomplicates his finishing. So I’m trying to emphasize when the guy is retreating in pick-and-roll, I want Anthony to just go through and be that fullback you are talking about. Don’t overthink it. And continue to learn how to draw fouls with your body. Don’t settle.
MP: According to advanced stats, the amount of fouls he was able to generate when in isolation play-types was ridiculously low.
Finch: He is not a great foul-drawer because he avoids contact too much. If you watch a lot of these guys play who draw a lot of fouls …
MP: Jimmy Butler.
Finch: Butler is a great example. Everything he does is super-simple and very obvious for the officials to see. Versus when you go in there and you are moving the ball (in your hands) and trying to make a heroic finish every time the officials naturally don’t know if you’ve been fouled. You’re unnecessarily clouding the water.
MP: And I’m not sure the “Hey!” will continue to work.
Finch: (laughs) We can’t rely on that. He’s got to continue to become a better finisher. He still gets to the rim at an elite level. He still finishes at a really average level. And that is low-hanging fruit. We should be able to get better there. And that’s a lot about simplifying it.
MP: And in that case, I imagine all that work with Rudy getting chemistry together will help a lot. Because if he can figure out how to do the lob or the pass, especially late in the shot clock, he has only got to beat one man.
Finch: Right. And it keeps the defense off balance. And sometimes when Rudy is rolling, the gravity is, a lot of teams will give up the rim late. So you don’t have to overcomplicate it at that point in time. Just get it back to Rudy.
MP: When I look at this roster, you have a phenomenal amount of frontcourt depth. You talked about KAT and Rudy playing 30 minutes together last year. Do you think you might stagger them more this year?
Finch: I think we might have to. What that looks like exactly I’m not sure in terms of rotation. When you have KAT as your starting 4 (power forward), it forces a couple of things. Of course he is going to be your backup 5 (center) too. That puts the bulk of the minutes for Naz (Reid) at the 4.
MP: Which given his slimmed-down physique and the way he has learned to play with it, is necessary.
Finch: Yeah. But guarding at the 4 … offensively he put the pieces together for playing the 4 really well right before he got injured (in March). He’s got the skills to do it. Posting up switches (on to a smaller defender) is something we have got to get better at with him. But previously when he was at the 4, a lot of what he would do is just stand in the corner. But then he learned to continuously put himself in the action and not really deviate too much in how he played. He actually overcompensated when he was at the 4. And KAT did a little of that too. In transition, KAT would always run to the corner, even if he was leading the break. He needs to run to the post; get more early post-ups and put himself more in the action running the floor.
And of course that also bumps Kyle (Anderson) to the 3 (small forward) for most of his minutes. And when Kyle is on and KAT is on, I need that ball in Kyle’s hands. So what’s the spacing with KAT look like?
That’s what I was wondering. I know how much you admire and respect Kyle’s game. Rudy is usually the first to sit and Kyle is the Rudy whisperer. Do you think Kyle may not be the 6th man, that he may come into the game closer to when Rudy returns rather than being the first off the bench?
Finch: Well for sure we need to keep that pairing, which was very good, and I will try to protect that. But Kyle had really good numbers with KAT too.
MP: But it is easier to find people who are good with KAT on offense than with Rudy on offense.
Finch: Right. Kyle helps us maximize Rudy in ways some other players maybe not. I do think Shake Milton is going to be a really good partner for Rudy.
MP: Oh! As a 3?
Finch: Doesn’t matter. One (point guard), 2 (shooting guard) or 3; as a ball-handling perimeter guy who likes to play basketball.
MP: What is it about him that makes you say that? I saw him in Philly but not on an everyday basis.
Finch: He’s good with the ball and can get where he wants to go. He is excellent at making the late play. It is an old-school game. You can’t speed him up. He’s a little like Kyle in that sense, but a little bit more wired as a scorer. But yeah, I think that could be a good pairing. And that might alleviate the necessity of always having to play Kyle with Rudy.
MP: And Mike seems like a natural for either one of your bigs. Would you rather have him out there while KAT stays out there through the first rotation? With his age, I don’t know how many minutes you want to give him. Put simply, do you have any idea yet when Mike will leave the floor for the first time?
Finch: Probably in the middle of the (first) quarter.
MP: So somewhere in the middle between Rudy and KAT?
Finch: Yeah. I want to protect – I mean, he is so good with Rudy, that I wouldn’t want to risk that success. And when those guys are out, what has to come back to us is the KAT/Ant pass-and-chase chemistry. That was something that naturally died because we didn’t have it for 50 games. And then when it came back, we had to keep reminding ourselves, “Oh great, these are things that we can do.”
MP: Also, Rudy is so much more of a factor to consider compared to Vando (former Timberwolf Jarred Vanderbilt) that I think he got into both KAT’s and Ant’s heads a little too much.
Finch: That’s a fair comment. When you have a number of high-usage guys – last year, if you put D’Angelo (Russell) into the mix, that was three guys who have pretty-high usage. And the reality is, when you have a guy like Rudy, he’s not a high usage guy, but he needs people to make him better, which is a whole different level of usage that doesn’t really go to the guys who are wired to score. So that is essentially like having four high-usage guys on the floor at the same time. We don’t feel like we have that in our lineup any longer. We feel like Mike is really good at maximizing Rudy and playing off everybody.
MP: Mike is a finish carpenter. He basically will finish what you need, but he won’t seem like he is “usaging” if that can be a word.
MP: He actually scored more here than in Utah but he doesn’t take the air out of the ball (dribbling) and makes the right play pretty quickly.
Finch: We had a conversation about six games in (after his arrival). And I said to him that he had to score for us. Because the gravity of D’Lo (the player the Wolves traded to obtain Conley) in the high slot opened up so much room for Anthony. And our best games before the trade were games where D’Lo and Ant were both getting off and mostly doing it from the top of the floor. And Mike is obviously accomplished and skilled and experienced enough to be able to do whatever is asked. It wasn’t a problem for him and he did it without disrupting our flow.
We’re still going to need that, I think. Maybe not so much when he is out there with KAT, but certainly at other times.
Coming in part III – How the Wolves will play defense