The Washington Wizards have found their successor to Scott Brooks at head coach with the hiring of Wes Unseld Jr. as the organization’s 25th head coach. Some may feel the choice was pre-determined and biased with nepotism as Unseld Jr. is the son of Wes Unseld Sr., arguably the best player in team history as an MVP and champion before being head coach then general manager. Present majority owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Tommy Sheppard underscored that Unseld Jr.’s merits warranted the job even without the heartwarming story.
“While I’m so thrilled and honored that we have Wes here. It wasn’t because of the legacy here, it was because of the process and the game-planning and reviewing of the film together and Wes was just incredibly impressive with how relevant of his understanding about what we needed and what we would do differently,” Leonsis said at Monday’s press conference.
Unseld, 49, began his career in Washington under his father (who worked him harder because of their relation) in 1997 as advance scout, a brutally thankless job, before earning a back of the bench assistant coaching title under Eddie Jordan in 2005. The DMV native would go on to assist in Orlando, Golden State, and Denver over the last decade playing a part in the development of Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. to name a few. That should be music to Deni Avdija’s ears as he looks to make a noticeable jump in his second NBA season after a chaotic rookie campaign.
Washington’s newest head coach is known for his meticulousness that can be attributed to the hours of film he has watched over the last 24 years in the NBA. He described that there are nuances you pick up on that you pocket into your own philosophies on both offense and defense. That will be a welcome change to an organization that was a poor defensive team for the previous five seasons and who’s offensive gameplan over the past couple years was essentially play with pace. Unseld knows that the team’s ceiling will only increase with improved play from his younger talent and that will mean getting more than a stagnant in the corner Avdija once having a more normal offseason with a real training camp.
“Talking to Bradley, talking to Russell, I think both guys look at these two individuals [Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija] as guys that can elevate our overall platform and the whole question is how do we bring them along,” Unseld described.
Already well versed with the roster he is inheriting, Unseld understood Avdija did not shoot the ball well last season. That was something not to be unexpected and predicted by his Maccabi coach Veljko Perovic as something that would need time. There is certainly some degree of coach speak, but Unseld certainly views last year’s ninth overall pick as a versatile weapon with the proper development.
“I think Deni has a lot of potential,” Unseld began. “I’m extremely happy to get an opportunity to coach a guy like that. There’s a lot of versatility there. I think he’s got a lot of physical tools. Obviously struggled a little bit with the shooting, I think he’s a shooter, he’s gonna make shots. He will come back to the average, but for him, just the game slow down a little bit. With COVID, so many restrictions the team had, injuries, there wasn’t a lot of on-the-floor practice time and with that he didn’t get the necessary reps. So I think it’s a little unfair to categorize a guy right now, but just from afar I think he has tremendous potential.”
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Between no offseason or training camp to COVID and injuries, Deni Avdija’s rookie year was quite abysmal. The only direction from there is up and Wes Unseld Jr. has an impressive track record to make one think Avdija could reap the benefits of renewed usage in Year 2.