Wes Unseld Jr. Emerges as Frontrunner in Wizards Head Coaching Search

It appears as if the Washington Wizards are well on their way to finding a new head coach to lead their promising roster.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Denver Nuggets’ associate head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has emerged as the likely candidate to fill the role, with Unseld gaining steam in Washington’s coaching race over the past week.

Unseld — and his family — have deep roots in Washington. His father, Wes Unseld Sr., was an electrifying player for the Washington Bullets, his storied career eventually culminating in a Hall of Fame nomination and his number 41 being retired by the organization. The younger Unseld spent 15 years working for the Wizards organization, starting as a scout in 1997 and eventually became an assistant coach with Washington in 2005, where he would remain until the 2011-12 season.

From there, Unseld Jr. then spent one season as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors and three seasons with the Orlando Magic before landing a role as the associate head coach of the Nuggets.

Unseld Jr. is known for his defensive acumen — especially with his work in helping turn the Nuggets (with players like Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. who are known more for their propensity to score rather than defend) into a serviceable defensive team.

Per The Athletic’s Charania and Fred Katz, one person who worked closely with Unseld said, “You got guys like [Jokic], Jamal Murry, Michael Porter Jr., where their strength is not defense. … The fact that he makes them even average defenders in this league is an impressive feat.”

With the Wizards, Unseld will inherit a veteran, albeit disjointed team in the Wizards; one coming off a 34-38 season that ended in a first-round playoff exit to the Philadelphia 76ers. The franchise has not finished inside the top-10 in points allowed since 2015, and their veteran stars Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook have not figured out yet how to operate as a cohesive unit.

Unseld has the ability to rejuvenate this team and turn them into a defensive-minded squad. Nonetheless, their success will still largely revolve around the play and drive of their star backcourt.