When Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. was introduced, formally, as the team’s new leader over the summer, it was pretty clear what his tenure would look like — at least in concept.
There'd be an increased focus on defense. They'd look to improve on the offensive end of the floor in their sets and ball movement. There'd be a big focus in helping young players improve. And it seemed reasonable to expect gradual improvement from Unseld and the new-look Wizards.
But through the first 13 games of the season, the Wizards are 10-3, have the fifth-best defensive rating in the league (103.7 points) and are moving the ball better than they did a year ago, even without Bradley Beal scoring 30-plus points per game.
They turned over their roster, pretty significantly, over the offseason and brought in a handful of veterans in a trade that shipped off Russell Westbrook. Leading them all has been Unseld, who has led the Wizards to one of the best starts in franchise history.
“I’ve noticed that he brings the best from everybody,” Deni Avdija said. “That’s a thing that only great, great coaches have. I think if he brings the best from everybody, we can do great things. Nobody expected us to do great things, right? But we just want to keep it going.”
Avdija is slowly becoming one of the Wizards’ best defenders and has been given the most difficult defensive assignments in the fourth quarter through the first month of the season. He’s credited some of his success to Unseld and how he’s inspired confidence in the second-year pro.
Because it’s not just what Unseld is teaching to Avdija and the group, he said, but the way he approaches it.
“It will sound funny, but it’s the way they talk with you,” Avdija said. “There’s a lot beyond that, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot of how the coach approaches you, the team, and it’s something that is very important. All our team is trusting Wes, so that’s good. Trusting Wes and trusting the coaching staff in general. It’s a big part of a winning team.”
After the Wizards fell down by 17 at halftime to the Pelicans on Monday, Unseld didn’t wreak havoc in the locker room. He approached their talk even-keel, as he does no matter the situation.
“He’s not a super demonstrative type of guy,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “It’s not like he comes in there yelling and cursing and stuff like that. He’s very frank. Like, ‘We’re not good enough right now.’ He harped on the fact that like, the last minute (of the first half) they had 14 or so points and that’s what gave them the gap they had going into the second half.”
The Wizards dominated the second half and outscored the Pelicans 64-42 en route to another win, as they continued their hot streak to begin the year.
There will be further lineup decisions to be made, like how to integrate Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant in the lineup and rotation when they return to the floor, or how to handle the rigors of a full 82-game season, but through the first part of his first season, Unseld is making an impression on his team.
“Once you’ve got a guy like that, who’s the head of his snake, as far as his coaching staff and the way things are being ran, you can’t ask for anything any better,” Montrezl Harrell said.