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What do the Timberwolves need to be truly elite in the West?

Can Kyle Anderson be as valuable as he was last season; consistency from Anthony Edwards on defense and the role Naz Reid.

Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch: “On the floor, Kyle [Anderson, above] wants [Anthony Edwards] to dominate. He tells him, ‘Just let me get you the ball to do it.’”
Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch: “On the floor, Kyle [Anderson, above] wants [Anthony Edwards] to dominate. He tells him, ‘Just let me get you the ball to do it.’”
Photo by Shaina Benhiyoun/SPP/Sipa USA

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Welcome to the fourth and next-to-last installment of my conversation with Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch. Parts I, II and III are found here.

In this segment we probe whether or not Kyle Anderson can be as valuable as he was last season; the need for consistency from Anthony Edwards on defense and how his seemingly inevitable superstardom will challenge his maturity; and the role Naz Reid will play in this first season after signing a large long-term contract.

MinnPost: You said a few times, both during the season and after the season, that Kyle Anderson saved your season. You also said he almost has to be out there in crunch time because he is such a good decision-maker. Given your personnel and hoped-for health this season, what can you and should you get out of Kyle, who is in a contract year, this season? I guess what I’m asking is what can and should you get out of Kyle, who is in a contract year, this season? Can you get an encore performance and still keep the team on its best development track?

Chris Finch: Well, I never really thought about like that. I just look at him as so adaptable. I’m not worried about it. He shot the ball phenomenally well. Hopefully that continues. Maybe it comes back to earth a little bit, I don’t know. I’m not going to park him in the corner. He is going to continue to be in the action.

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MP: He is so good operating around the foul line area.

Finch: So good, yeah, in the middle of the floor. We use him as a de facto point guard and that’s what he’s best at. He’s best with the ball in his hands, making decisions. And there is no reason that he and KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns) can’t team up in the same way – they have good numbers with each other too.

MP: But if he is on the floor with Ant (Edwards), is that going to work as well? D’Lo (D’Angelo Russell) liked Kyle on the floor with him because D’Lo wanted to be off the ball. But I think that Ant feels like if Mike (Conley) is not on the court, he is going to want to have the ball, for all the legitimate reasons he should have it. Will there be some conflict in terms of ball usage?

Finch: Yeah, maybe a little bit at times. Some of that is natural, I think, those conflicts that happen a little bit. But that doesn’t mean it is going to submarine you.

I just watched Anthony get off the ball and make all of the right plays for Team USA – super proud of him for the way he played there. Not just because he put up numbers and played big moments, but he made a lot of simple plays, with ease, plays that he fought at times here. And maybe some of that is just the maturity: “I know now that I am good enough. I don’t have to prove it to the world every single time down the floor.” That’s not to say that he’s a finished product, but he knows that. I know it was preached to him when he got there: “They are going to pack the paint, so just get off it.” He did, and also I’m sure, by nature, he is playing with some of the best players in the league …

MP: Most of them his peers in terms of youth.

Finch: Yeah. And he’s going to say, I trust all these guys. But I also believe Anthony trusts all of his teammates here.

I say all that to say that I know one guy that Ant listens to on the floor, all the time, and that is Kyle. On the floor, Kyle wants Ant to dominate. He tells him, “Just let me get you the ball to do it.” Which to me is perfect in the sense that it saves Ant from having to burn useless energy.

MP: Is Ant always going to be a challenge-oriented defender rather than a steady guy who you can rely on defense? Is the same quality that makes him an extraordinary home run hitter on offense, is thus oriented to being a home-run hitter on defense too?

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Finch: Ah …

MP: I know you don’t want to admit that even if it is true.

Finch: It is probably a fair assessment of his defense so far. I think he has to become a way more consistent defender. I think he has to make improvements off the ball – he is still very, very good on the ball.

My experience with a lot of those guy I have been around – I’ll use Jrue Holiday again as an example – if they are not challenged by the guy they are guarding, then they all will take their foot off the gas.

MP: And look around to see who needs to be challenged?

Finch: Yeah. I think Anthony has to continue to realize that his path to being an MVP-level player is being the most dominant two-way player in the league. Because he has the ability to do it. And that is something that separates himself from a lot of guys. And that is something that we are preaching to him all the time. I think also, learning, being more comfortable in scheme, scheme, scheme, is helping. But he can’t pick and choose.

MP: He has done a phenomenal job of, not even necessarily tuning out, but hearing the noise and not letting it affect him. He doesn’t have an entourage that is in danger of screwing him up. But do you worry about that anyway? Inevitably the distractions and temptations will increase.

Finch: I don’t worry about it. Ant is an incredible young man. When you meet all the people who are around him, who helped raise him, they are all good people. They are people that have always looked out for him. And they will always tell you how intuitive he has always been about choices. So I don’t worry, because I trust that the foundation of the way he was raised is there. But managing the change of all these guys is part of it. They all change – everybody changes.

MP: Even if he keeps his head on straight, his schedule, the way he is regarded and prioritized by not only his peers in the game, but the circus of broadcast media and social media, whatever.

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Finch: Absolutely. What is important for him – and this is where I kind of worried the most – is that in the last two years, he has jumped exponentially in his professional development habits. I have long said this about Ant: He doesn’t have bad habits, he has no habits. So learning a schedule – he was always willing to do the work but maybe the purpose and intent behind it all wasn’t there as much. He is slowly starting to take care of his body better. Slowly starting to eat better. Slowly starting to understand the transference of work to the floor. And now he just has to keep maintaining that.

When I talk to him and watch him and work with him, I see it, you know? As we go through this change, he has to understand that that’s what’s creating this and that is what is going to allow him to continue to build upon that. He is the perfect amount of confidence and coach-ability.

MP: We haven’t talked that much about Naz (Reid) yet. He got a big contract and he’s going to have to be shoe-horned into the rotation. How does that happen?

Finch: Well the first thing is, a lot of minutes at the 4 (power forward). Hopefully we stay injury-free, but there is always going to be foul trouble in certain games, so he’ll have minutes at the 5 (center). But we just want him to really keep excelling at the 4, and offensively I think we’ll find that, it will be fine. Defensively it might be different for him every night; I think that is going to be his challenge. We’re doing a lot of work with him, player-development-wise, just on the defensive side – guarding, switching, sitting down (in his stance and being staunch). The pressure is off on the contract and I think last year it was on his mind at times; it certainly drove his performance but also he probably was chasing a ton, unnecessarily so, maybe trying to score too much. One thing I love about him is that he creates a lot of offense just by his decision making – he is very quick to get to the next action and he is super-skilled. So I want his playmaking to go up a bit more this year, because he is a really good passer and he could look to pass a bit more. Even though, as you said, he is going to be ‘shoehorned,’ and his minutes might be capped a bit more than they were last year, I hope he doesn’t feel the need to go in and try to fill up those minutes by trying to score. Because chances are he is still going to be on the floor with KAT or with Ant, which is fine, but he has to figure out how to play best off of them.

MP: Is it a helpful thing that Naz and KAT (have) some of the same challenges defensively at the 4 and that it might be solved by the same systemic answer?

Finch: Yes (said three times as I asked the question). I do think that is a good thing.

MP: He seems to have trouble establishing position on defense. Especially in the low block, he doesn’t seem to square up well on his man and his angles are off.

Finch: We have not done a good enough job of giving him the tools of playing the low block. Most kids coming in from college can’t do it: They play post defense with their chest, they give ground. It is a very different role there and here we have been through it, we’ve taught it, but we haven’t repped (repetition) it out.

He needs to do a better job of utilizing his quickness in denying catches and forcing people out. But again it is something that it finally started to click with him toward the end of last year.

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MP: Naz is one of those guys who really thrives with pace. Do you think you will have a “hair on fire” offensive group that you will occasionally put out there? You have had the last couple of seasons. A lot of it were those guys who came up from Iowa together – Naz and J-Mac (Jordan McLaughlin) and Jaylen Nowell. But Nowell is gone and J-Mac’s minutes are more in doubt. Do you think Naz will have those high-pace opportunities? I mean, he and Ant work well that way. But is that still part of the package, especially since you are talking about more structure and spacing?

Finch: I would hope so. I mean, we’ve got to maintain – we were by nature a more slow-footed team, I would say. Naz should be a rim-runner. He should stretch the floor in transition. As a 5 he has always traditionally played in the trail, but he needs to get out and play. If he can get some early post-up opportunities he should. I think that is something he has to give us, to be a driver of pace in transition.

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