British outlet The Conventional 9 recently posted a short video on YouTube detailing Chris Finch’s time with the Sheffield Sharks in the British Basketball League. Several people interviewed in the video remembered Finch’s incredibly successful tenure with the Sharks with pride. Mike Tuck, captain of the Sharks, said: “The Chris Finch era was the golden age of the Sharks. … He set the tone for the club and he left quite a legacy. Wikipedia, our #1 source for things most likely true but almost always accepted by a faceless set of moderators, wholeheartedly backs up this sentiment with a single, vague paragraph titled “The Golden Era.”
Finch’s praise is well deserved. After four years playing for the Sharks, he took over as their coach in 1997 and immediately made an impact. The Sharks won the British League Cup in 1998 and then won back-to-back British League trophies in 1999 and 2000.
Finch won BBL Coach of the Year in 1999 and was widely hailed as one of the best coaches in the league, alongside former boss-turned-rival Nick Nurse.
“The rivalry between Chris and Nick never ended,” recalled Sharks general manager Sarah Backovic. “It was a go-to position on both sides of the fence, you know, it was pretty fierce.”
In one of many grudge games, Finch’s Sharks and Nurse’s Giants faced off in the final game of the 1999 season to determine who won the league. The game was tied with four seconds left and Terrell Myers drained a jumper just past the three-point line to give the Sharks the win.
However, perhaps the most interesting nugget of information from the video comes from Sheffield Sharks chairman Yuri Matischen. Yuri commented that it’s “very interesting with Chris in the NBA now, he’s been hailed as one of the best offensive coaches. Well, I can assure you it was all about defense.
I also noticed that throughout Chris Finch’s time in the NBA, many articles and comments analyzing what he brings to his teams focused primarily on his skills as an offensive coordinator. Upon joining the Toronto Raptors, Nick Nurse called Chris Finch “one of the best offensive minds in the NBA.” When Finch was on the New Orleans Pelicans coaching staff, William Guillory of The Athletic called Finch “an offensive mastermind who built offensive systems adaptable to some very unique stars.”
Those articles were all correct, and offense is definitely a strength of Finch’s training. Last year, in Finch’s first full season as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team ranked 7th in the NBA in offensive rating. They ranked 25th the previous season and 24th the previous season. He helped develop an attack that incorporated the young talents of Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels into the already established core of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
However, perhaps the most impressive thing he did in his first full year as Minnesota coach was to completely reinvent the defense. The Timberwolves’ past defenses had been relatively conservative, using mostly drop covers with a “tough is enough” mentality. But Finch’s defensive scheme encouraged players to cut passing lanes, play and transition for easy buckets. It has worked wonders and Wolves have gone from 28th in the league in defensive rankings in the 2020-21 season to 13th last season. They also finished 3rd in steals per game and led the league in points on turnovers, demonstrating the effectiveness of the aggressive style of play.
There were definitely a few issues that came with it too. Players sometimes got burned by going too far out of position for a steal, and they sometimes sacrificed rebound positioning in the name of defenders jostling to help on rotations. However, the scheme played to the strengths of the Timberwolves’ young and athletic core and covered the lack of secondary rim protection and rebound depth through the playoffs. This demonstrated Finch’s ability to create original strategies to help his players succeed on defense and offense.
Yuri’s take on Finch as a defensive-minded coach is illuminating as it suggests the American public may have been underestimated on Finch’s defensive acumen as a head coach. It’s no one’s fault in particular, of course. Prior to joining the Timberwolves, he had not been the head coach of a team since 2011, when he coached the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Although Finch won a D-League championship and Coach of the Year in 2010, that championship only carried enough weight to earn him an assistant coaching position in the highly competitive NBA job market. . Assistant coaches are naturally less in the spotlight than head coaches or players. Therefore, it is difficult for people outside an NBA organization to tell what specific duties each assistant coach is tasked with and what happened on the field as a result.
Moreover, Finch has built half of his 24-year-old coaching resume on four European teams, including Sheffield Sharks, Giessen 46ers, Euphony Bree and Dexia Mons-Hainaut. Most Americans have probably never heard of any of these teams and would have a hard time accessing game stats, let alone actual game broadcasts. It’s likely that even the most hardcore basketball fans and international journalists are still missing a few data points about the statistical intrigue of Finch’s long career. Therefore, they could not have foreseen how good he would become as an NBA coach.
However, the select few who are old-school Sheffield Sharks fans and were around during the golden years of the Chris Finch era swear by his coaching skills on both sides of the pitch. They saw it coming. It would come full circle if Finch and Nurse had the chance to reignite their NBA rivalry, but this time in a Timberwolves-Raptors championship series. Currently, that seems a bit far-fetched, given that the Wolves have just taken a huge step to win now by trading for Rudy Gobert, and the Raptors are patiently rebuilding around Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and several other youngsters. players who are around 6 years old. ‘8″.
Either way, Finch will have a new set of players to work with next year and will therefore face a new challenge of creating the optimal defensive schemes for the new and improved roster. However, if Sharks lifer Yuri (and Minnesota’s performance last year) teaches us anything, Finch is just as good at coaching defense as he is on offense, if not potentially better. Only time will tell.