Since the days of having Randy Wittman as head coach and then transitioning to Scott Brooks, the Washington Wizards head coaching situation has been a rough spot for the better part of a decade. After departing with Scott Brooks this offseason, the main priority of the Summer was finding a coach who can utilize talent in optimal situations. After hiring Wes Unseld Jr to take the role, it’s safe to say Wizards fans have found the coach they’ve craved of having.
Son of NBA legend Wes Unseld, Unseld Jr has had a long career as an assistant coach in the NBA. After being a scout for Washington from 2004 to 2007, he transitioned into coaching where he would be promoted to assistant coach in 2007. Shortly after, he left to join Golden State as an assistant, and then transitioned to Orlando and Denver. Simply put, Unseld Jr has been around the league as an assistant coach, and the fact that he’s just found a job as the head coach is very surprising.
Unseld Jr was heavily considered for multiple head coaching jobs in 2019 and 2020, but fell short of multiple offers. This offseason, he was the clear favorite to land Washington’s head coaching job due to his father’s legacy in the city, and he landed the job pretty easily.
Since joining the Wizards, the job Unseld has done as coach has been near flawless. From uniting the locker room, to developing legitimate game-plans, to using his personnel the right way, Unseld has been a major reason for Washington’s early success.
During the Scott Brooks era, the game-plans were simply centered around getting the stars to carry the load, rather than developing a system to get all involved. Unseld Jr has developed a system that still prioritizes his stars, but also gets everyone else involved simultaneously. On this new look Washington team, everyone eats, and with the depth of this roster, that’s a good thing.
The way Unseld was able to develop players like Kyle Kuzma, Aaron Holiday, and Deni Avdija over one short offseason with the team has been vital to the success of the team. Kuzma has been crashing the glass more than ever before, while also putting more energy in on the defensive end of the floor. Although there are still moments where he takes bad shots or boneheaded plays, this is a completely different version of Kuzma that we’ve yet to see throughout his NBA career.
Aaron Holiday has been molded into a more tertiary option, rather than a primary or secondary ball-handler. As a spot up threat, Holiday has thrived, while also being able to take on the reigns as the ball-handler in small spurts. Deni Avdija has molded his all-around game into a swiss army knife archetype, as he’s developed into an above average defender and solid offensive option.
Another thing that Unseld has helped nail is his adjustments. In the past, coach Brooks would insist on playing a player who was going through a cold streak, and even despite having a game-plan that doesn’t work, he would continuously fail to adjust. This cost Washington multiple big games, as it was easy to neutralize them due to their simple system and lack of adjustments, but Unseld has fixed both of those things. From implementing plays such as the Spain pick-and-roll, to not playing players who are performing poorly, Unseld Jr has completely fixed this issue for Washington.
Despite the fact that Washington may not be a contender, this team has surprise team written all over them. This start is not a fluke, as they’ve beaten tough teams despite Bradley Beal dealing with nagging injuries, and they’ve also had the most cohesion as a team since 2016. The Wizards are not a team anyone would want to see in the playoffs, mainly due to Unseld’s impact behind the clip-board.