Timberwolves’ Head Coach Chris Finch Endorses Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins For NBA Coach Of The Year
The Heat’s Erik Spelstra and the Cavaliers’ J.B. Bickerstaff join Jenkins as frontrunners to win NBA Coach of the Year.
Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch has 80-1 odds to win NBA Coach of the Year at MaximBet. However, the worthy longshot tells MaximBet he believes Taylor Jenkins of Memphis should receive the award this season.
This is a positive story about the Minnesota Timberwolves. No, really.
Sportswriters get to write stories like this every couple of decades, so do not adjust your screen. The Wolves are better than you may realize, and their coach is an intriguing wager to win NBA Coach of the Year at this point of the season.
He is Chris Finch, who came to Minnesota from Nick Nurse’s staff midway through last season when the Raptors were calling Tampa their temporary 2020-21 home because of the pandemic. Finch had to grab a suitcase, fly to Milwaukee and take over the team in the middle of a road trip after Ryan Saunders was fired.
Finch currently has the Wolves sitting at 42-31 and in seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the Denver Nuggets and the coveted sixth spot in the standings, which means avoiding the play-in tournament and having several extra days to rest before starting the postseason. They are 1.5-point home underdogs against the West-leading Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, according to MaximBet.
“I haven’t really thought about it a lot, but my personal choice would be Taylor Jenkins of Memphis because of what they have done in terms of exceeding expectations,” Finch told Maxim.com in a phone interview. “The benchmark is pretty much where Vegas had you at preseason, and we’ve already accomplished that.”
But that is not all. Minnesota has the NBA’s highest-scoring offense at 115.4 points per game, and since January 2 the Wolves have gone 26-11 to move from a .500 team to a squad sitting 11 games over .500 with a core that includes reigning Rookie of the Year Anthony Edwards, newly crowned 3-point champion Karl Anthony-Towns and defensive standout Patrick Beverley, best known recently for making a show out of razzing Russell Westbrook following a particularly egregious turnover last Wednesday in a 20-point Wolves victory.
Just getting the Wolves to the playoffs should be worth a little something extra. This is a franchise that annually battles the Sacramento Kings for the title of Least Successful Franchise in NBA History. But this year is different.
Minnesota is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18, looking for the franchise’s first series victory since 2003-04 when Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell formed a fairly formidable veteran foursome.
If some of you do not remember that team, that is perfectly OK. That’s because ’04 was a strange year, an election year in which Lord of The Rings, of all movies, won the Best Picture at the Oscars instead of Lost in Translation, a defeat that Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray have never quite recovered from.
And when it comes to never recovering from something, well, that is where the Timberwolves come in. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals that year, and the number of playoff series they have won since then rhymes with Hero, Nero and T-Rowe.
And when you talk about T-Rowe, you have to talk about Price.
And the price on Finch winning Coach of the Year is currently 80-1 at MaximBet, which flies in the face of the bookmakers who are listing Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns as the -1000 shoo-in to win the award. But the part that is most vexing is that eight other coaches are considered better candidates than Finch.
They are Erik Spoelstra of the Heat (7-1), Jenkins of the Grizzlies and J.B. Bickerstaff of the Cavs (8-1), Billy Donovan of the Bulls, Steve Kerr of the Warriors and Ime Udoka of the Celtics (25-1), Doc Rivers of the Sixers (50-1) and Michael Malone of the Nuggets (60-1).
Williams is a worthy favorite because his team will easily finish with the best record, but has he really exceeded expectations after taking his team to the NBA Finals last season? Spoelstra went to the Finals two years ago with pretty much the same team, Donovan is reaping the rewards engineered by GM Arturas Karnisovas, Udoka has the Celtics heading into the playoffs with a head of steam, Bickerstaff’s Cavs are fading, and Kerr, Rivers and Malone have no business in the discussion.
So it becomes a question of whether Finch has a chance. And it says here that only one thing will get it done for him: Winning out.
“The best thing I’ve done, really, is putting together a staff that includes Micah Nori running the offense and Elston Turner running the defense,” Finch said. “Micah is a genius at offensive efficiency, and Elston’s focus on defense has helped us do what we set out to do: Be an above-average offense that can exceed everyone’s benchmarks.”
“Also, when I took over for Ryan (Saunders) he was coaching Anthony in a rookie season and dealing with COVID, which was tough. Since then we’ve added Patrick and Taurean Prince, and those guys have been instrumental to our maturity and our toughness and our defensive orientation.”
After playing the Suns, the Wolves have four more consecutive tough games: At home vs. Dallas, at Boston, at Toronto and at Denver. Then comes a road game against Houston before home games against the Wizards, Spurs and Bulls to conclude the season. A 9-0 finish would give Minnesota 13 victories in its final 14 games, and a 19-2 record since Feb. 28.
Enough to get Finch the COY award? You never know. But when Deadpsin is pulling for you, at least you have someone on your side.
Remember: Every season there is one award that comes down to the final week of the season, and it sure is not going to be Rookie of the Year or Sixth Man or Most Improved this year.
In fact, Coach of the Year may be the only award that is not already decided, although Defensive Player of the Year is always a toughie because voters do not always judge great defenders the same way coaches do. If they did, Patrick Beverley of the Wolves would be Top 3 year after year.
So maybe it is Finch? Or Jenkins? Or Ukoka? All are priced nicely. But remember, if Mikal Bridges gets a lion’s share of the Defensive Player of the Year votes, then voters will not have to pick out a different spot to give some props to the Suns.
But again, anything short of a 9-0 or 8-1 finish and a fifth-place or sixth-place spot in the West will likely get Finch little more than a few second-and third-place votes when the ballots are cast.
Not that he cares … or so says a guy who jumped into coaching at age 27 after a playing career at Division III Franklin & Marshall College in West Lawn, Pa. and a playing career that lasted four years with the Sheffield Forgers in Britain. Finch coached in England, Germany, Belgium and the D-League before becoming an NBA assistant with stops in Houston, Denver, New Orleans and Toronto before moving into the big seat.
“I was fortunate enough to work for guys like Kevin McHale and Michael Malone and Nick Nurse and Alvin Gentry who let you be a coach when you are an assistant,” Finch says. “They let you do the work, and that has been what has gotten me to where I am today.”
Where will he be in the playoffs? It’s unlikely that he’ll be at a podium accepting the Coach of the Year award, but it is not an impossibility. Stay tuned, and if you want to take a flier on a worthy longshot, Finch may be your man.
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