New Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori’s strengths: strategy and relationships

As he was looking to fill out his first, hand-picked coaching staff, Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch wanted assistants who were strong in areas where, perhaps, he was not. That’s a major reason Micah Nori was added last week. Not that Finch thinks he’s a bad in-game coach — his first half-season at the helm […]

New Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori’s strengths: strategy and relationships

As he was looking to fill out his first, hand-picked coaching staff, Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch wanted assistants who were strong in areas where, perhaps, he was not.

That’s a major reason Micah Nori was added last week. Not that Finch thinks he’s a bad in-game coach — his first half-season at the helm suggested he’s relatively good in that area — but, Finch said, “we could be a lot better.”

It doesn’t get much better than Nori.

“He is excellent at in-game management — situations, lineup combination, end of games, special situations. The use of analytics on the fly, our data, in the moment. Game-planning. I love that about him,” Finch said. “Managing those small pieces of a game, whether it be the last 35 seconds of a game, whether it be lineup combinations, trying to get ahead of the game in certain lineup combinations so you have your best players on the floor at the right times together playing against the right combinations the opponent is going to throw out. All that kind of stuff, I think we could be better there. Micah is going to be in charge of a lot of that.”

Nori said you want to coach the game “from the end of the game backwards.” Coaches should plan for where they want to be with three minutes left and plan how to get there.

“What that leads to is your combinations and rotations throughout the game, and making sure that you have the correct matchups on the floor offensively and defensively, and everybody is rested at that time. So you can’t run a guy too long earlier in the game, so that everybody is at their peak performance,” Nori said. “It encompasses what are they trying to do, and just really being able to dive into it.”

While Finch can be adept in that area, as well, Nori noted the head coach’s plate is full. So it’s on the assistants to bring him 85 to 90 percent of the information in a streamlined manner to allow Finch to make the best possible decisions.

That knowledge has stemmed from Nori’s experience. He has spent 23 years in the NBA, and has worked with four Coach of the Year winners — Sam Mitchell, Dwane Casey, George Karl and Lenny Wilkens. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons.

His biggest takeaway through the years has been the value of honesty with players.

“You’ve got to be fair with these guys and tell them the truth,” Nori said. “I know that drum gets beaten quite a bit, but it really is about the relationships and telling them exactly where they are, because one thing about all these players — college, coming out of high school, one year or whatnot — you can’t trick ’em. They understand what they’re trying to get done. It’s why explaining the why is so important, and getting them to trust and believe you so that they know that when you do something, you’re honestly trying to help them.”

Finch and Nori spent the 2016-17 season on the same staff in Denver. It was then that Nori identified Finch as a future head coach he would like to work with one day. That relationship was a big reason why Nori wanted to join the Timberwolves, along with the promise of a roster that featured Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell.

Finch said Nori will have more of an “overview role” rather than anything specific. He said Nori connects “really well with players and with people, overall.”

Coming in, as the only top assistant who wasn’t on the staff last season, Nori said he’ll make an effort to get to know players personally before anything else. Finch and Nori have talked about getting out to see players in their environments this offseason.

“Then you get a feel for what type of temperaments they have and what type of coaching they respond to,” Nori said. “You don’t want come in and be that abrasive guy, and say, ‘Hey, this! Boom, boom, boom!’ You want to get a feel for them, let them come to you.”

And when players do come to you, be prepared to explain the “why” of what you’re asking them to do or change.

“And at the end of the day, you’ve got to be a little self-deprecating, you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself and that type of thing. Don’t take yourself too serious, in a way,” Nori said. “It sounds silly, but you can have all the schemes and all this, but if guys don’t play hard and don’t trust you and guys don’t want to play for you, then it really doesn’t matter. You can have all the Xs and Os you want.

“So I think the one thing that I do bring to the table is being able to say, hey, if Finchy or whoever has to get on guys, you come and say, ‘Hey, listen, you understand what they’re saying and why they’re saying it,’ as opposed to don’t take it personally. They’re just trying to help. I think that’s probably my greatest attribute is relationship-wise. The work at this level, if you can’t do the work, you wouldn’t be in this league at the end of the day. So it’s all that other stuff and relationships and helping guys get better, explaining the why and being able to build from there and being able to see results, for sure.”