Following a second-consecutive 35-win season, Washington Wizards Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. finds himself in hot water. Despite having talented rosters, Unseld has yet to reach the playoffs, let alone the play-in.
On a lot of teams, he would’ve been fired. However, with the team transitioning into a rebuild, combined with owner Ted Leonsis’ desire to let coaches finish their contracts, Unseld will still get another chance.
The most frustrating part of his tenure has been missed opportunities. Whether it be blowing 20-point leads or losing the locker room, the Wizards have hurt themselves too often. That falls on the head coach. His job is to make sure his guys are ready, get along with each other, and understand what it takes to win at the highest level.
Wes has yet to meet those standards. So, how can he improve in year three? I discuss the three most pressing issues that Unseld must address to retain his job.
It’s one thing to have a strategic game plan. It helps the team get off to a good start. But when shit hits the fan, are you able to respond? Can you out-smart opposing coaches? That’s the mark of a great head coach, and something Unseld must hone in on.
Think about it. How many times last year did we get out to hot first-quarter starts? Kristaps Porzingis would dominate, Bradley Beal would find his stride, and the Wizards would be leading early. Then, the opponent adjusted, and in the blink of an eye, the lead vanished. Porzingis wouldn’t score for quarters at a time. The offense would disappear. Games like this are what I’d like to avoid this season.
That point where the opposing team figures out your game plan is vital. Unseld needs to have things stocked up to respond and start a run of his own.
An example of this occurred last season against the Heat. After a strong 37-23 third quarter from Washington, Miami Coach Eric Spoelstra went zone. The 2-3 defense stifled the Wizards paint attack and forced the team into taking deep threes.
There was no adjustment by Unseld. No move to break the zone. Just vibes.
The result: Another close loss in Miami. Another winnable game that slipped away in the fourth quarter. Games like this are often the difference between the 12th seed and the 9th or 10th seed. Not a big difference, but one that would’ve put the Wizards in the play-in game.
This gripe correlates with my last point about adjusting, but I feel it needs its own section. I can’t tell you how many times I screamed “CALL A TIMEOUT” at my TV last year. At one point, I thought Unseld was allergic to them.
Jokes aside, the lack of run-stopping timeouts was super frustrating. When we score six straight points: timeout. When our opponent scores six straight points: nothing. Eight straight: nothing. Ten straight: finally a timeout. But at that point, the damage has been done. The lead is gone and we’re back to square one.
I can think of so many games where we needed a timeout and Wes didn’t call one:
35-point blown lead the Clippers (2021-22)
- No timeout until lead was down to 20. Kept starters out until lead was down to 12.
Home loss to Knicks last year (Jan 13, 2023)
- Allowed Knicks to go on 7-0 run before half and another run in the third quarter.
Loss to Clippers that marked 9th straight L (2022-23)
- Up 85-81. Clippers score four straight to tie game. Offense is stagnant and players are gassed. Unseld elects to not call a TO. An 11-2 Clippers run ensues. Finally, Unseld takes time. Wizards lose.
Overtime vs both Miami and Toronto (2022-23)
- A total of seven points scored through two five-minute periods. Only one timeout called in both overtimes combined. Offense had stalled, and Unseld let things play out instead of calling timeout and regrouping.
Home loss to Kings (2022-23)
- Wiz up 10. Kings hit two straight threes to cut lead to four. Unseld doesn’t call timeout to stop the run. Kings hit two more threes and then Unseld calls for time. Should’ve called it much sooner to stop the bleeding. Kings run away with the game. Wizards lose.
Defined roles are a core value to championship teams. Guys buy in, understand their jobs, and do them well.
For the Wizards, that isn’t the case. When certain guys play big minutes one night, then suddenly disappear from the rotation, it disrupts their rhythm and affects team chemistry.
When healthy, every team should have a set of 9-10 guys that will be used that night. That level of consistency hasn’t been felt in Washington and is a big reason why the Wiz failed to put together wins last season.
Exhibit A: Anthony Gill
Gill’s minutes have been sporadic under Unseld. Some nights, he’s relegated to the bench as a cheerleader of sorts. Other nights, he starts at forward and plays big minutes.
I understand some of this is due to injury, but it’s still concerning that a guy goes from not playing at all to starting after just one injury.
I’m looking at how Unseld puts his rotations together, because it will tell me a lot about the personal adjustments he’s made to his coaching philosophy.
With logjams at SG and PF, he’ll have his hands full deciding who to play. I’m excited and hopeful for Unseld’s third year at the helm.
A question to consider in the comments below: How hot is Wes Unseld Jr’s seat? How many games are you giving him before he gets fired? Or are you giving him the full season, no matter the team’s record, and then deciding his future next offseason?