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Part one of my conversation with Timberwolves coach Chris Finch dealt with the formation of Finch’s foundation and his guiding principles as a coach. Today’s segment focuses on what he thinks of the Wolves six weeks before training camp for the 2021-22 season.

The interview took place on the morning of the same day then-defensive coordinator Joseph Blair announced he had taken a job with the Washington Wizards. Since then, the Wolves have also acquired point guard Patrick Beverley from Memphis in exchange for wing Jarrett Culver and forward Juancho Hernangomez.

So let’s move on to your impressions of the team for this upcoming season. This is a vague opening question but what are the reasons for improvement, the primary reasons why you will be better?

There is a deep and genuine motivation by Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell to have their best offseason ever. And that’s really where it begins and ends, because if your best players aren’t all-in and ready, then you are not going to go very far.

They’ve seen their contemporaries having success. Devin Booker’s in the Finals. Nikola Jokic wins MVP. These are guys who they feel they are every bit as good as, if not better than — or at one point have been better than — in the league.

In 2016, NBA general managers said KAT would be the guy they would start a franchise with above all others.

100 percent. And he still is; he just has to get back to that, right? He has that and he knows that. DLo is healthy, feels good, believes in his team and his teammates. So those two guys.

Then the development of Ant and Jaden. Ant is, as we all have spoken about many times, incredibly gifted, has glimpses of being truly special. He has got to figure out routines. He has got to figure out what it means to be a professional with the right approach, and he is doing it. He cares. His competitive drive might be the highest on our team. But how do we harness that so it becomes productive for everybody, right?

And Jaden, as we talked about, has probably been our most diligent worker in the gym. He has the best foundation in terms of his basketball fundamentals, that is easy to stack skills on.

That’s the core four. Then our other pieces. We are really excited about Vando and really excited about J-Mac (Jordan McLaughlin). We want to get these guys back in the fold. From an analytics point of view, they are checking some boxes that drive winning. And then the rest of our roster.

Malik Beasley gives you that outside shooting.

I coached Beasley for like four games last year. So I don’t even know what that looks like yet.

But you’ve seen the tape on his approach to defense: He takes terrible angles. 

Yeah, for sure. Look, we still have to lean into who we are, and that is an offensive team. And that is one of my approaches that I think I learned in the G League, which is, you just have to embrace these guys for who they are. Because they are really good at what they do.

You had a quote the other day from my colleague Jon Krawczynski that you want to go heavy toward offense in terms of your starting personnel and then move to a more blended group. I know it is early and right now it is tough to know. But am I right in hearing that you are okay with opening with a group where four of the five starters are not known for playing quality defense? If you do that you probably do have to be top-eight or something on offense and then down below mediocre on defense, but not 28th (as the Wolves were under Finch last season).

Can’t be 28th, right. And we feel like we can solve our transition defense, which is somewhat related to shot selection and turnovers but also related to effort. We’ve got to get back. We can’t argue with the ref. We can’t stand when we miss a layup. There are so many little things that winning teams don’t do. Just little habits that we have to get out of. And if we can just rebound a little better, which is going to be a little limited: Rebounding isn’t something that you just coach. You either do or you don’t. And if we can solve those two things, I think we have a chance to be near middle-of-the-pack [on defense].

Looking at roster construction, backup point guard is an unknown, and you’ve got a committee at power forward that we don’t know yet how it will shake out. Obviously, Gersson (Rosas, president of basketball operations) is probably not done, but sometimes some things just don’t happen the way you want them to.

Let’s take point guard first. You successfully worked well with DLo off the ball, grooming him that way, knowing he could always play on the ball. He did work well with J-Mac but that can’t happen as often if J-Mac is going to be the primary backup at point guard. So do you think DLo will have to be on-ball more often as it shakes out? 

I think now, but hopefully, we’ve got a few more tweaks we are going to make here. I think you are 100 percent accurate in that DLo, he is such a good shooter that you want to have him off the ball. When you have as much skill as we have, you can play a lot of different lineup combinations.

Editor’s note: As stated at the top, the Wolves have indeed tweaked and Beverley will provide more opportunities for Russell to work off the ball.

But in terms of initiation, can Beasley or Anthony Edwards initiate the offense do you think or would you be less comfortable with that?

They can both initiate. Because ultimately we are still going to play through KAT — get it to KAT early.

And what about handles bringing it up — okay as long as there is no pressure?

As long as there is no pressure, yeah. So that is something certainly that we are a little concerned about. We probably need a little more roster balance for ball skills; attacking and playmaking with the ball. We have skilled bigs, which really helps us, but we could use a few more skill players. The two guys we have playing in this (Summer) League, McKinley Wright and Isaiah Miller, they both have a chance.

I agree. Very different players. One is a bulldog, the other is a brain. 

Yeah, and they both are a jump shot away from being definitely in the league.

And size. But you are right; they are both pretty solid pickups that you made on the margins. 

That’s where we are as a franchise right now. We are still on the come and we have to keep going. It would be great if — I mean, Ricky (Rubio, traded to Cleveland) is going to be a big loss at the other guard, but we feel J-Mac is ready to be a backup.

Why did he have so many problems finishing last year?

Tough question to answer because I didn’t see the first year. But yeah, it was a funky year last season and nobody was really in great shape. That’s where it seemed like fitness can really come into play. It is not running out of breath of anything it is just that your touch isn’t really there because you are a little bit more tired than you think. So I don’t know, but I have every confidence in him. I mean we felt comfortable doing the Ricky trade because of how much we believe in J-Mac.

Is your scorer with the second unit more likely to be Beasley or DLo? 

We don’t really know yet. It could be one or both or it could be Ant. It is tough to know yet. Until I know what we are looking like at the four (power forward), it is hard to answer that question. But I think when you look at a finishing lineup, we’re going to be able to put out a lot of firepower and hope to get more stops. Usually at the end of games guys are a little more locked-in defensively.

When you finish, I think Jaden McDaniels is a natural three. I think you do, too. But your finishing lineup now if you have firepower puts him at the four. 

Yeah, it does. But the reason that that works is that most people go to similar lineups at the finish. They tend to play small as well.

And if they don’t, your big lineup might be in play, Naz and KAT is an intriguing lineup. But defensively …

We’ve got to figure it out.

In that pairing, KAT seems to be the roamer when you play that way.

Yeah. I mean, we have a couple of different options to go there. It is a priority for us for sure. You know, we had moments where I thought they were really good together. And I kept saying I wanted to do it more. And it was way more situational when we did it. We have to be way more proactive. It has got to be, this is what we’re doing.

Defensively we can either play zone or switch more or we’ve got to find some sort of coverage where those guys can help each other out. I don’t know what that looks like now. There are several things you can do, like play the way Milwaukee plays or go back to the old Clippers, the way Blake and DeAndre played together there, like a two-man rotation. I don’t know what it is but it is up there as a priority in the preseason to figure it out. We have some ideas.

Naz hits the floor a lot and that hurts your on-ball defense. Is there something about his body that makes that happen?

A couple things. One is we’ve addressed it; I told him you have got to stop falling down. He was trying to play to the whistle and they are not giving that call to an undrafted second-unit, second-year big. And he got better at not doing that. But it is funny, we were just talking about this the other day. When you are a tall athlete in basketball growing up, you play the game, you lift, whatever, but the most important thing is your core strength. And a lot of taller guys just don’t have it because they have such a long torso.

Good point.

You watch volleyball players. That is all about core strength. They have to generate power in the air with no foundation. Everything comes from right here [outlines torso].

And that’s where Naz has nothing. 

Exactly. So volleyball players are never not on their feet; they always come down on their feet. It is not a contact sport. So that has been a big point of emphasis for our guys this summer; trying to develop that core. But you see this issue in a lot of NBA athletes just because of their length.

If you don’t get a backup five, that will be a lineup you will rely on. 

Naz is our backup five. But you are talking like a more traditional five.

A guy who pushes KAT more often to the four than he is right now.

Yeah, yeah. There is a point where you can go out and find a traditional five and he is so good that he can help with KAT’s weaknesses, like rebounding, defense, whatever. KAT’s so skilled offensively that it really works. But a niche five like that, now you risk cannibalizing what KAT does best. Because when he is playing at the four there are going to be matchups that don’t favor him offensively or defensively. Right now he can take big fives off the bounce. So it has got to be the right five next to him.

Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, I can think of a couple like that. 

Yeah! And no one is giving them up.

And then the committee at the four; Jaden obviously will get some time there. Vando if you sign him. Nate Knight, the two-way guy in Summer League seems to have a nose for how to play.

Very interesting. Really smart, rugged, athletic and I think he is fearless. He knows how to play, he slows the game down. In many ways he is like — the game has always been about bigs in some ways and now it is about smalls, but where is it going? Toward skilled bigs. Like the more skill you have now at the big positions the better it is. The better it is to stretch the floor, the better it is that they can pass to each other. If you want to play a fluid offense and the ball is going through your big at the top of the floor, you better be able to have guys who can pass and handle it.

And when I think about you wanting to run a pass-oriented offense, that’s where Vando hurts you. 

Yeah, a little bit for sure.

Because he doesn’t have the hands. And you can’t teach hands. 

He doesn’t have the ball skills. But what he does have is he is a great cutter and he spaces off of KAT really well.

Right, which gets back to what you were talking about before with two- and three-man combinations. And Jaden for whatever reason doesn’t seem to sync up with KAT, or didn’t last season. You would think they would be a lot better together.

I know. So Jaden is like, his offense is up and down because he is trying to figure it out. But he is actually a good cutter too, he just doesn’t have a feel for it yet. I have long felt that getting guys to cut and knowing when to cut is one of the hardest things in the NBA. Because most of the time when you cut you don’t get the ball. You are cutting for your teammates, you are cutting to create space. But when you do have skilled bigs like KAT, now you have guys who want to cut.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards (Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)
Jake Layman is probably the best cutter on the roster.

For sure, yeah. Juancho (now traded) is a good cutter. Vando is a good cutter. Jaden is actually a pretty good cutter. We have really good cutters. Ant: Every time he cuts you get a hand-back from KAT in the post if you wanted it.

And if he cuts from the baseline the whole floor tilts.

Exactly. So Jaden’s impact at the four is mostly to stretch the floor. He has proven he can catch and shoot.

If you do defend the three as well as defend the paint this season, that is a lot of closing out on shooters and you are also running a heavy motion offense. Are you worried a little bit about conditioning with your guys? Can you run a ten-man rotation?

Hope to. Certainly nine and if we have enough guys to play we might push it out to ten or eleven. I think this year people will be in better shape. I think last year started blah.

You did a little bit of Nurse’s x-out philosophy last year, especially in the corners and I know (before he departed for Washington) Blair stated that he wants to switch a little more. How much do you think you will switch and will you switch everywhere do you think?

No. We won’t be a high-volume switch team. For a couple of reasons. One is I think the league has kind of sussed it out. Not totally, but they are far more ready for it and you then get caught like playing the manipulating game and they are going to put your guys into (mismatches) anyway — you’re not tricking anybody. I think situational switching is definitely something we’ll do; switching to be disruptive is always good. But if you have a Jaden or you have a Vando, you don’t want to switch those guys off matchups that you have. Also, it drives accountability if you don’t switch. If your job is to do something then we can decide if you are doing it well enough (if you don’t switch off).

You talked a little about Naz and KAT: Will you switch in the paint more than you have? Will you run a single drop scheme as much or probably less?

We probably won’t be all the way down the floor and then drop. We’ll probably be more up at the level and then try and drop, try to protect KAT in the pick and roll.

Are you worried about KAT getting in foul trouble moving him out on perimeter matchups? He did pretty well.

I’m not worried for foul trouble with KAT. He probably gets more in foul trouble when he is down near the rim and people have a runway at him.

The difference in DLo under Ryan and under you was like night and day. What was your relationship like with him? He came back and you still had Ricky as the starter and you played DLo off the bench and that was working well before you decided to get him back in the starting lineup. In that whole process you flexed him quite a bit. But as you already pointed out, if you guys are going to take a step this year he has to play much better defense. And that is another huge flex for him.

For sure, yeah.

So your relationship with him is a really important element of the season, I think.

Yeah, no doubt. I didn’t see him play much under Ryan, so I don’t know about that. I can only say that my relationship with DLo is good and he has allowed me to coach him, which is important. He was hurt when I first came on board; I didn’t even meet him physically for, like, several weeks. He was in Miami rehabbing. So I spoke to him initially and then I just had a text relationship with him. He would watch the game and the great thing about DLo is that he’s a junkie; he watches every game of everybody, all the time. He likes the game way more than I do. So we would check in after games. He would text me, ‘Hey, coach, like what you’re doing,’ or ‘why did you do that?’ It was all like he was just trying to figure me out and I could learn him and we’d talk once in a while.

So that part was kind of organic. He came back; all credit to him, he came back quickly because he wanted to play. I was lucky in that he came back on a minutes restriction. So the only way to have him finish games and maximize his minutes was to not start him. Well, it wasn’t like I had to sell him some role that he had to swallow.

But starting or not can often be a big deal with players.

And he was awesome with it. He was truly a great pro and I think he enjoyed it. He was worried about doing too much in the beginning. And the most important thing was that we got him healthy and we got him involved. We didn’t want to — we were who we were at that point. We wanted to win games but we weren’t about to try and damage DLo. So we were lucky about that and then he just grooved with that second unit right away. And then we started winning with it. I could tell he was wanting to start but he was being a good pro. And we talked about it regularly. The front office was like, ‘hey we should start DLo so we can start figuring out what Ant, DLo and KAT look like.’ I was like, ‘yeah, but we’re winning, we’re finally winning! Not now!’ (laughs)

And I’m sure Ricky was happy because he has been a starter since he was 14. 

Exactly. And so it was working and then, well I waited until we dropped a couple of games and then I said, we’re just going to do this, we’re phasing some stuff out. And then I think it was Ricky and DLo starting. And they found a bit of chemistry that they hadn’t found before.

Yeah, the friction between them and their styles seemed to diminish. 

Yeah, they were pretty good together and that left a natural spot for J-Mac to get out there as well.

I know you have only had four games with him, but what do you envision from Beasley?

Obviously a high-level shooter. I was with him his rookie year (in Denver). The growth he showed as a worker, as a professional, and he has like a kind of pitbull mentality — he is really fiery and brings that juice to it, which is something I think our team needs. Yeah, I love his competitiveness. Sure, he is limited defensively but he is going to try. He is not looking for a shortcut. He’s got all the factors to keep being a better and better player.

His catch and shoot from the corner while on the move is phenomenal.

Oh yeah, phenomenal. And if they double KAT in the post like in the Chicago game, just before his suspension, he can have a great game. There are a lot of fun things you can do with him.

Last thing: there is this quote you gave to someone that really struck me: “I need to accentuate the best talent on this team while developing the young talent and they can’t cannibalize each other. That is part of my job.” 

That to me is the crux of the 21-22 season, this question of the timelines: Can you parallel the timelines between KAT-DLo and Ant-Jaden or do you eventually have to blow one of them up? 

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I don’t think you have to blow one of them up. Because our established talent is still not in their prime yet.

But year 7.

Yeah, they’re getting there. And I think we have the luxury of seeing if can try and take a step forward together this year, and then see what that means after that. Fortunately, they don’t play the same positions. We don’t have to make a decision between a young stud point guard and a veteran stud point guard.

My bias is that you can have two timelines even if they are not working for a while because there is no iron-clad rule that says everybody has to be the same age. But there is that tendency of people to think it won’t sustain; that KAT is going to get unhappy or it is not working out in X number of years.

And if that is the case, then you have talent [to trade with] and you can pivot.

So you are feeling realistically optimistic about this season?

Absolutely. 100 percent. And it is not just how we played at the end of the season. I was in the gym this morning at 8:00 (during Summer League in Las Vegas) and there were six guys in the gym: KAT, DLo, Ant, Josh, JC and Naz. They were excited to be there, they are working hard. It is all a cliché right now, I get it. But we have new coaches on our staff that weren’t here last year and they are more excited than anyone else. Because they think, we’ve got talent. We’ve got talent. And we’ve all been in situations where we didn’t have talent. Micah Nori, he was with Jokic and he was like, ‘KAT is [does a weighing with his hands] with KAT and Jokic.’

And let’s face it, if we don’t believe it …

(Top photo of Chris Finch: David Berding / USA Today)