When Tommy Sheppard and his staff collected information on one of the several candidates for their head coaching position, one trend stuck out the Wizards' general manager.
In the case of Wes Unseld Jr., a heavy proportion of the individuals advocating for the longtime assistant coach to get a shot at leading a team were players.
"In the NBA, players talk to players and they were the best advocates of Wes Jr.," Sheppard said at Unseld Jr.'s introductory press conference. "A lot of our players heard from other players that played for Wes, either in Denver or other places that he'd been. So they were very aware of what they were getting as a head coach before [Unseld Jr.] had a chance to reach out and move forward and make those connections with players."
Unseld, who was officially introduced as the Wizards' head coach on Monday, spent the last 16 years as an assistant in Washington, Golden State, Orlando and, most recently, Denver. When you're in the NBA that long you're bound to leave an impression on players, and Unseld Jr.'s reputation in the league appears to be in a great place.
"When you look at his career, not just the time he was in D.C., but he worked with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they were young, with [Nikola] Vucevic, Tobias Harris, [Victor] Oladipo when he was in Orlando," Sheppard said. "And certainly, you look at the MVP season that [Nikola] Jokic had, and Jokic was begging him not to leave Denver."
"When players call you to tell you about, 'you should hire this guy,' unsolicited, that's pretty impressive to me."
Unseld Jr. emphasized the importance of buy-in from the players when discussing his success fixing the Nuggets' defense among other accomplishments he's had over the years. In a league where schemes can only get you so far, getting players to play hard has become a key skill for head coaches.
By the looks of it, the Wizards have found themselves someone who can reach players in different ways and get them all to pull in the same direction.
"A great deal of satisfaction for me was his reputation over 20-plus years as an assistant coach in the NBA," Sheppard said. "Players know, they speak to each other, and that's the best sales job we could possibly want, is when another player from another team tells our players about what is coming through the door."