Wes Unseld Jr. took over a Washington Wizards roster that was completely revamped over the offseason. In his first-ever game as the head coach of an NBA team, Unseld stomped into Toronto — a city that hadn’t hosted a game since Feb. 28, 2020 — and led his team to a 98-83 victory on Wednesday night.
While the win did spark a fresh conversation about the new-look Wizards and what their trajectory might be this season, the previous trend of coaches winning in their debuts is not favorable.
Unseld Jr. became the fifth Wizards coach out of the last six to win their debut game in charge of the team. All five of those coaches who won their inaugural game ended up missing the playoffs that season. Strangely enough, Scott Brooks was the only Wizards coach of the last six who made the postseason in his first year in charge — and also the only one to lose his debut game.
Here’s how it breaks down: Brooks lost his first game and ended up taking the Wizards to the Eastern Conference semifinals, the team’s best season over the last five years, in his first season in charge. Randy Wittman won his first game but the team would finish 20-46 in a lockout-shortened year. Before Wittman, Flip Saunders, Ed Tapscott and Eddie Jordan would all win their first game as Washington’s HC, but fail to make the playoffs in their first year.
It should be noted, too, that most newly anointed head coaches inherit rosters that are somewhat decimated or underwhelming. With Unseld Jr. and the 2021-22 Wizards, that isn't quite the case.
Washington’s roster is now deeper and younger thanks to the Russell Westbrook trade and looked very, very good in their first game as a unit. Kyle Kuzma led the team with 15 rebounds. Montrezl Harrell was the team’s highest-energy player and battled down low for every dunk, layup and loose ball. Spencer Dinwiddie commanded the offense with ease and allowed Bradley Beal to lead the team with 23 points.
But fans shouldn’t get superstitious quite yet. There are still 81 games left this season. That’s a ton of basketball. There’s obviously no reason to become overconfident after 48 minutes of play, especially with the trend of new head coach’s debut wins. But if Washington can play as they did on Wednesday for even half of the season, they’d have a decent shot to buck that trend and make the playoffs.