StaTuesday: Chris Finch to bring offensive efficiency to Wolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves shocked the basketball world Sunday night by firing Ryan Saunders, minutes after a 103-99 loss to the New York Knicks.

On Monday, Minnesota officially announced the hiring of new head coach Chris Finch, who left his gig as an assistant coach with Toronto in the middle of the season to join the Timberwolves bench.

It’s been a long journey up the ranks for Finch, who grew up in Pennsylvania but began his coaching career overseas with the Sheffield Sharks of the British Basketball League back in 1997.

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Finch jumped back across the pond in 2009 when he became the head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, a team in (then) NBA D League. He won a D League championship with the Vipers in his first season, and was quickly promoted to the NBA bench.

Finch served as an assistant coach for Houston (2011-16), Denver (2016-17), New Orleans (2017-18) and Toronto (2020-21). He was also the associate head coach for New Orleans in 2019-20.

The 51-year-old is known as a creative, offensive-minded coach. And he’s got the stats to back it up.

Of the four organizations he’s coached, all teams took a big jump in offensive rating during Finch’s tenure. During the championship run with the Vipers in 2009-10, Finch’s team finished second in points per game (110.1) and first in offensive rating (114.9) in the D League.

Houston ranked 14th in the NBA with an offensive rating of 104.2 in his first full season with the Rockets (2011-12), but jumped to sixth in 2012-13 (108.8).

Finch clearly made an impact on his next two stops. Denver rose from 17th (104.9) in 2015-16 all the way up to fourth (112.2) in 2016-17 when Finch came aboard. When Finch departed for New Orleans for following season, the Pelicans went from 26th in 2016-17 (104.7) to 12th in 2017-18 (108.5).

We’re not saying Finch is guaranteed to be the second coming of Phil Jackson, but he clearly has added offensive value to organizations around the NBA.

When looking at his time in Denver and New Orleans, one thing is consistent — Finch helped build offenses around big men.

He helped elevate Nikola Jokic’s game in Denver, as the 6-foot-11 center increased his per-game averages from 10.0 PTS, 7.8 REB and 2.4 AST as a rookie to 16.7 PTS, 9.8 REB and 4.9 AST in 2016-17.

In New Orleans, Finch was faced with a big challenge: Help design an offense centered around a pair of All-NBA big men in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. The Pelicans traded for Cousins at the 2017 deadline, so the 2017-18 campaign marked the first (and, well, the only) full season of Cousins and Davis in New Orleans.

That bodes well for two-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, who has only appeared in 11 games this season and is still working through the kinks of how to play alongside this relatively new Wolves roster.

The Finch era officially launches Tuesday night when the Timberwolves battle the Milwaukee Bucks on the road. The game will be televised on FOX Sports North, with “Wolves Live” beginning at 6:30 p.m.