Evaluating coaching in the NBA is always difficult. Separating the coach’s plan from the players’ execution is a tough task. In a superstar-dominated league, it is hard to parse out the impact of a coach on a team’s play. That is even more challenging for a young, rebuilding team like the 2023-24 Washington Wizards.
So, how can the new Wizards front office actually evaluate the job Wes Unseld Jr does next year?
There are still things to look for when evaluating if the coach is the right choice for the team, even if winning games is not the top priority. There are more to evaluating coaches than the number of games their team wins.
For all intents and purposes, Wes Unseld Jr’s job seems secure. Everything coming out of front office’s mouth and all reporting suggest that there is utmost faith in Unseld Jr as the head coach. Josh Robbins of the Athletic reported that despite the fact that Unseld Jr’s contract runs for two more years, the 2023-24 season will be a make-or-break one.
The two most important things Unseld Jr needs to accomplish next season are player development and forming winning habits.
For the 2023-24 season to be a success, young players like Bilal Coulibaly, Johnny Davis and Deni Avdija have to show improvement. This could be through their shooting, playmaking or defensive ability. If Jordan Poole displays improved defensive awareness and strength, if Corey Kispert adds a new dimension to his game, or if Patrick Baldwin Jr and Ryan Rollins become rotation-level players, Unseld Jr can consider it a win.
As important as player development is building good habits in the young players to help develop a winning team culture. The Washington Wizards of the last couple of years lacked this. This requires communication, discipline and effort on the defensive end, and off-ball movement, passing and good shot selection on the offensive end.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Wizards ranked 7th and 3rd in the entire league in mid-range attempt frequency in Unseld Jr era, while they ranked in the bottom third of the league in rim and three-point attempt frequency. Creating higher-efficiency shots at the rim or higher-value shots from beyond the arc will be something to watch for the 2023-24 Wizards.
The Wizards also ranked in the bottom third in the league in defensive efficiency the past two seasons, finishing the seasons 25th and 22nd, respectively. A slight improvement on that end will signal that Unseld Jr can coach successful defenses if he had better defensive personnel.
Regardless, the Wizards will likely win fewer games than the 35 they won in each of the last two seasons. And, that is completely fine. That is not what Unseld Jr is going to be judged on. However, if the team doesn’t demonstrate any blueprints for success for the future when there is more talent in Washington, that could signal a looming coaching change.