According to Marc Stein of...wait what is Marc Stein of these days? Anyways, according to NBA insider Marc Stein the New Orleans Pelicans are closing in on hiring Denver Nuggets Associate Head Coach Chris Finch.
The New Orleans Pelicans are closing in on the hire of Nuggets assistant coach Chris Finch to join Alvin Gentry's staff, league sources say.— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 19, 2017
This may not seem like much but its actually a rather big blow to Denver. Finch is widely credited as being the mastermind behind the Nuggets highly successful offense which ranked 3rd overall in the league this season, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. According to Stein, the Pelicans targeted Finch precisely for his abilities on the offensive end. After his success in creating an unconventional offense that ran through Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, it’s understandable that the Pelicans would want to bring him in to try and figure out how to maximize the paring of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. That duo struggled to get going after being paired together via trade at the deadline last season.
This is a bit alarming for two reasons. First and foremost, the Nuggets offense was an absolute juggernaut last season but only after they went to a scheme based around Jokic. One would hope that the system Finch put in place will live on without him but as the league adjusts to it, how the Nuggets respond without Finch and create new wrinkles to keep the rest of the Association on their toes will be an interesting development to watch. What perhaps is most alarming though is this is yet another assistant coach to leave head coach Michael Malone’s staff after just one season. Four Nuggets assistants from the 2015-2016 season did not return for the 2016-2017 campaign. Some coaches, such as Noel Gillespie, left for promotions but others, such as Chris Fleming and Dee Brown, left for what seemed like similar roles, though perhaps with people they were more comfortable working with. Ed Pinckney was rumored to have been looking for other jobs while still under the Nuggets employ, he eventually would resign and go to work with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The departures of Fleming and Pinckney raised eyebrows, and some, including many here at the Stiffs, questioned if these departures were due to an incompatibility with coach Malone. The nature of Pinckney’s departure, at least from an outside perspective, seemed to indicate as much. There is no such rumors swirling around Finch’s possible departure, at least not as of yet, but it does bring to question why the Nuggets would let an assistant coach who was so vital to their offensive success this season get away, much less to a team whom the Nuggets should expect to have to compete with for a playoff berth in the upcoming season. It is possible that this is a promotion for Finch should he go, Wes Unseld Jr is the lead assistant for Denver and perhaps Finch will be moving into a role that is closer to that with the Pelicans. Stein did not indicate where in the echelon of assistants Finch would be with New Orleans.
Undoubtedly this is a set back. It is reasonable to assume that the Nuggets would have liked to retain Finch’s services for the upcoming season given his success. However, it’s also not something to make overblown. When Fleming left last season many were concerned about how the Nuggets would adapt to losing their top offensive coach and they in turn were able to go out and get Finch who was able to maximize the Nuggets talents on offense in a way Fleming did not. Still, it’s hard to imagine how the offense can improve upon it’s already scorching pace of 111.7 points per game (a nearly 10 point per game improvement for the year prior) especially without retaining Finch. Fortunately for the Nuggets they can afford a dip in offense.
The Nuggets coaching staff will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on over the offseason. This could simply be the case of a talented assistant getting rewarded for a great season by receiving a promotion outside of the organization and right now there’s not much reason to believe otherwise. However, should more Nuggets coaches elect to go elsewhere it will start to raise questions about why that is, and fairly or unfairly the narrative will start to center around coach Malone and what would seem to be a disturbing developing pattern of incompatibility between him and his assistants. Stay tuned Nuggets fans.