During media availability on Thursday, Washington Wizards Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. opened up about some of the most pressing stories from the beginning of this season, including Johnny Davis’ play time, Corey Kispert’s injury and more. Here is what he said.
On Johnny Davis
In his first career NBA game, the 2022 10th overall pick Johnny Davis... did not play. Unseld remained vague on why Davis did not see the floor: “It’s hard to play 10-11 guys every night, so you just...have your top rotation. ”
When asked if Davis would play in tonight’s season opener against the Chicago Bulls, Unseld kept his cards close to his chest: “I would never say a guy is not gonna see the floor. The game will dictate it...If there’s foul trouble, there’s a scenario where it makes sense, absolutely, he could get out there.”
If Davis did not play against the Indiana Pacers, who project to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, it is hard to imagine him receiving enough playing time this season to properly develop. Unseld stressed the rookie’s need for development: “I think he’s gotta continue to get better, he’s gotta stay ready, and if his number’s called, he’s gotta step up and perform.”
One minute of Johnny Davis practicing his 3-point shot a week ahead of his NBA debut— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) October 12, 2022
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On Corey Kispert’s ankle injury
Corey Kispert sprained his ankle during the Wizards’ trip to Japan and has been out since. Unseld believes Kispert has been recovering well. “I have to wait to see how he responds. He is doing more and more linear stuff,” Unseld said. “He’s trying to build up his strength to cut and move. You know, he’s not doing any of that right now with the basketball, but [he’s] working on the ball handling, working on the agility... Thankfully the swelling, I think, has gone down, but he still has a little bit of a ways to go with when he gets into five-on-five live competition.” Kispert projects to be out for around three to five more weeks.
He’s expected to miss roughly 3-5 more weeks, but @corey_kispert looks great today at #Wizards practice! pic.twitter.com/qpHHe5pGZs— Marco Gacina (@MarcoGacina) October 17, 2022
On Wednesday’s win over Indiana
On Wednesday the Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 114-107. Bradley Beal led the team with 23 points, and Monte Morris was was a team-high +17. Unseld praised the Wizards defense, stating, “There were a lot of good possessions defensively.”
Not everything was rosy in the win, however, as the Wizards allowed the Pacers to come dangerously close to mounting a comeback. Indiana went on a handful of late scoring runs when, as Unseld said, “We allowed them to walk into two transition threes, and we gave up an offensive rebound, which allowed them to potentially tie the game. Luckily, they missed it.”
Unseld was vocal about the team’s need for offensive fine-tuning: “I felt we missed some opportunities to find the good-to-great plays, and the times when we did payed off.” He described the Wizards’ spacing and off-ball movement as “solid, not great... it’s still a work in progress.”
On tonight’s matchup against DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls
Tonight at 7 p.m. the Wizards play their first home game of the year against the Chicago Bulls, who match up well against the Wizards. “[The Bulls] are a dynamic scoring team,” Unseld said. “They put a lot of pressure on you in different ways. A lot of small, small pick-and-rolls, they space their bigs, they play fast.” The Bulls’ big men can stretch the floor (including Andre Drummond now, apparently) and almost everyone else can attack the rim at lightning speed.
Unseld described the Bulls’ offense as “very unconventional in nature” and admitted it would push the limits of the Wizards’ defense, but felt confident in his team’s ability to fend off most of Chicago’s offensive weapons. He did, however, concede that the Wizards do not have an answer for the scorching-hot DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan, who experienced an All-NBA career renaissance last season four years after he was last selected to the All Star Game, scored 37 points against the Miami Heat in their season opener. “He’s a heck of an offensive weapon,” Unseld said. “He’s a problem...His midrange game is like shooting layups. He lives at the free throw line, so being able to do it without fouling him is so critical.”
On Will Barton coming off the bench
Forward Will Barton was expected to start on Wednesday against Indiana, but he ended up coming off the bench for 14 points. Unseld remained non-committal on future plans, but did indicate that he liked utilizing Barton as a sixth man: “He can excel in that role.”
Will Barton beats the buzzer to end Q1! #KiaTipOff22— NBA (@NBA) October 19, 2022
Live Now: https://t.co/1pomQZMAZK pic.twitter.com/m90TR00vkT
“I felt like [Barton] was a better fit coming off the bench,” Unseld said. “He knows it’s not necessarily who starts, but who finishes.” Unseld even indicated that Barton may play the role as a heat-check spark off the bench, similar to a player like Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams: “[Barton] is a streaky three-point shooter...and he can really get hot.”
On the point guard rotation
Monte Morris and Delon Wright occupied all 48 minutes of play at the point guard position against Indiana on Wednesday, and Unseld indicated he will continue to stagger their minutes going forward. “It’s good balance. Both guys [Monte Morris and Delon Wright] have different strengths,” Unseld said, referencing Morris’ superior playmaking but Wright’s superior Defense. Morris started, but he played only 21 minutes to Wright’s 27.
On Taj Gibson’s role
The Wizards signed 37-year-old Taj Gibson this summer, and according to Unseld, it looks like Gibson will be more of a locker room guy than anything: “A fraction of [his impact] is basketball,” the coach said. “He’s got different insight as a 14-year vet...He’s done it all.” Unseld at first hesitated but ultimately allowed for my comparison to other older coach-type players like Andre Iguodala and Udonis Haslem.
When asked about their relationship, Unseld joked that he and Gibson are “just two old guys sitting around and having a conversation.”