Should the Washington Wizards fire coach Wes Unseld Jr?

Wes Unseld Jr of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Wes Unseld Jr of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

When Wes Unseld Jr was hired as the Washington Wizards coach shortly before the 2021-2022 season, his reputation as a defensive-minded developmental coach preceded him. He was credited for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray’s development and getting a group that was limited defensively group to play an above-league-average level of defense during his tenure as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.

Wizards fans were justifiably optimistic. Many rookie head coaches such as Steve Kerr, Nick Nurse, and Ty Lue had seen tremendous success in the NBA over the last decade. It made a lot of sense to go after a rookie head coach, and Wes Unseld Jr was one of the most well-regarded assistant coaches in the league.

After 1.5 seasons, has the Unseld Jr experiment run its course? How much of the blame for the Wizards’ disappointing performance falls on Unseld Jr? Let’s explore.

Unseld Jr signed a four-year contract with the Wizards. Head coach contracts usually have a team option for the final year. It is generally ill-advised to prematurely fire a coach and have to pay two coaches, especially if you are not a championship contender.

Yet over 100 games are more than enough of a sample size to get a sense of a head coach’s performance. The Wizards’ record under Unseld Jr is a disappointing 46-65. Even considering injuries, it doesn’t get much better. With a healthy Bradley Beal in the lineup, they are 24-34 over the last season and a half. At a certain point, a head coach needs to start making the case for why he deserves to keep his job. Thus far, Wes Unseld Jr has not been making this case.

Defense has been an area that has been lacking from Wes Unseld Jr’s gameplan.

Defense is traditionally the first area a coach can make an impact. A solid defensive scheme, discipline, and effort can go a long way. Wizards currently allow 114.4 points per 100 possessions, good for 24th in defensive efficiency after ranking 25th last year, according to Basketball-Reference data.

The lack of defensive talent is not a legitimate excuse. Deni Avdija, Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis, and Jordan Goodwin are all decent defenders at the very least. Teams with far more limited defensive personnel like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, or Sacramento Kings rank better than the Wizards. The Wizards’ defense is somehow even worse with the team’s defensive anchor Porzingis on the floor, allowing 115 points/100 possessions.

Related Story. The Washington Wizards need to sign Jordan Goodwin to a full contract. light

Not only has the defense been underwhelming, but the offense hasn’t been much better.

The Wizards’ offense, ranking 22nd in the league, is equally underwhelming. Watching Porzingis isolate against a solid interior defender following zero ball movement to eventually settle for a contested mid-ranger has been far too familiar an occurrence for Wizards fans. Failure to generate good shots has resulted in the Wizards taking the third-most mid-range shots in the league.

It is incredibly difficult to have an efficient offense when you are this mid-range happy. The Wizards take the 26th most shots around the rim and 18th most three-pointers in the league. This shot distribution is the polar opposite of a modern, healthy offense.

And it’s not like the Wizards don’t have the personnel. This team can take a lot more three-pointers. For example, Bradley Beal is only taking 4.9 threes per game: an unacceptably low number for a player of his caliber and shooting skillset.

Unlike many teams, this team can play 5-out lineups with good spacing thanks to Porzingis’ shooting ability from the center position. Usually, lineups with floor spacers and five shooters are devastating for the opposing defenses to deal with. Yet that has not been the case for the Wizards.

Wes Unseld Jr has failed to live up to expectations in other areas as well.

One area in which Unseld Jr was expected to excel was in young player development. So far, Wes Unseld Jr’s performance has proved to be a mixed bag. In his defense, this front office has not drafted any prospects with high upside or signed any promising young players in a long time. They prefer drafting players they believe to be NBA ready that come with low ceilings.

Still, Avdija turning into a solid defensive player and Corey Kispert evolving into a decent offensive wing have been positives. However, Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford showing no substantial improvements, and Johnny Davis not being able to get any minutes so far are certainly not feathers in Unseld Jr’s cap.

In the last few years, Wizards made a difficult and unpopular decision (one that I certainly disagree with). They wanted to try to stay competitive by choosing not to rebuild, trading for Porzingis, and giving Beal the supermax contract. For that decision to bear fruit, the Wizards needed to make the right moves to execute their vision.

Wes Unseld Jr has not proven to be the right man to execute that vision. If you are serious about being a competitive team challenging for a playoff spot, you must cut your losses and find yourself a new head coach.

If you are not, then it might be time to blow it up for a rebuild.

Next. Washington Wizards: is it time to move this former All-Star?. dark