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Jace Frederick: Timberwolves coach Chris Finch finally getting his well-earned recognition

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch likely spent the 2021 all-star break wondering what he’d just done.

Finch took the reins during a tumultuous time in Minnesota. The midseason dismissal of his predecessor — Ryan Saunders — was controversial not because of the merit of the move, but the timing.

Finch’s introductory press conference was less about getting to know the new coach and more about trying to establish what the heck happened over the previous 36 hours. Minnesota played five games under Finch prior to the all-star break, losing all five. The last of those was a 135-102 drubbing at the hands of Charlotte.

Three years later, Finch is coaching the Western Conference all-star team after leading Minnesota to the top record in the West at the two-thirds mark of the season.

The rise of the organization — and with it, the coach — is a direct result of the bench boss’ guidance over the past 36 months.

He buoyed the previously sinking ship in 2022, instilling a fly around defense while inserting Jarred Vanderbilt into the rotation to provide a spark to help Minnesota finish the year 9-7 over its final 16 games.

The momentum carried into the following season, where Finch led a team that was so used to losing for so long to 46 wins and the playoffs in a year where two of its best players were 20 and 21 years old. Again, it was largely thanks to a defensive scheme that capitalized on the group’s athleticism and spunk.

A quick reminder that that season opened with the team’s previous president of basketball operations being fired days before the start of training camp. No matter, Finch directed the team those rocky waters with relative ease.

And then after Minnesota acquired Rudy Gobert in a blockbuster trade, the Wolves managed to thread a needle of playing two centers together in just their second season, the first of which was complicated by injuries. The trade that was originally the butt of many jokes is now lauded as a potential stroke of genius.

Because Finch can find a way to make anything work. That was evident when Jaylen Nowell, Greg Monroe and Nathan Knight were beating the Boston Celtics. As it is now, as a team that entered the season as a likely play-in candidate now has a firm grasp of the No. 1 seed.

The talent certainly helps — it’s difficult to produce a masterful meal without high-class ingredients, but Minnesota is also winning at such a high clip because it’s generally outcoaching its opponents. The Timberwolves’ defensive game plans far exceed what most teams display on a nightly basis during the regular season.

The offense, which sputtered early, showed signs of potentially clicking right before the all-star break — a trademark of Finch-coached teams.

But perhaps just as important for an NBA coach is the managing aspect of the position. Finch empowers players, while also holding them accountable. The sometimes harsh criticism is always well received because of the well-established, pre-existing relationships formed between coach and player.

Finch simply understands people. He knows coaching Anthony Edwards — who the coach has helped develop into a fringe MVP candidate-type player at the ripe age of 22 — requires a different approach than coaching Karl-Anthony Towns. And yet he’s able to walk that line without demonstrating favoritism. Forget basketball IQ, Finch’s social IQ is high level.

It’s why everyone likes him, from the players — who recently donned shirts with the coach’s face plastered all over them — to the Wolves’ assistant coaches, who all speak so highly of their boss and the environment he cultivates.

People like working for Chris Finch, and they know they can to win with him. He’s a general behind whom troops will happily follow.

Despite leading a massive turnaround, Finch is still a relative unknown in the greater NBA world. That will start to change this weekend, when casual basketball fans see the Timberwolves’ head man subbing the likes of LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in and out of the all-star game.

On that sideline is exactly where Finch is meant to be. Because if the past three years have proven anything, it’s that Chris Finch is indeed one of the best basketball coaches in the world.

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