If the name of Chicago Bulls head coaching candidate Wes Unseld Jr. sounds familiar, that is most likely because of his father. Wes Unseld Sr., a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, played 14 seasons for the Baltimore/Washington Bullets and was an NBA champion in 1978. But the younger Unseld has certainly made a name for himself across coaching circles in the NBA.
Even though basketball has always been in his blood, Unseld Jr. did not originally want to have a career in the game and was going to attend graduate school. He decided to give basketball a chance and told himself he would work one year under his father, who was the general manager of the Wizards at the time. The rest, as they say, has been history.
Unseld Jr. has accumulated a comprehensive CV as an assistant NBA coach. He has coached for the Wizards, Warriors, Magic, and Nuggets over the last 15 seasons, with his most recent stay in Denver comprising five of those seasons.
Unseld was tasked with toughening up the Nuggets defense as it’s “defensive coordinator”. The stats show there has been an improvement on the defensive side of the ball, as the Nuggets went from 26th in defensive rating during the 2014-15 season to tenth during the 2018-19 season.
The Nuggets have done a great job defensively in this year’s playoffs too, especially in big-time moments. They held the Jazz to 78 points in game seven of their first-round series and held the Clippers to 89 points in game seven of the Western Conference Semifinals, including a measly 24 points combined from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Unseld, however, was not brought in to only improve the Nuggets’ defensive performances. He has also been praised for his ability to connect with players and develop young talent. His father was a player, leading Jr. to undoubtedly learn many aspects of the game from a player perspective.
One also does not need to look beyond the current young talent on the Nuggets roster that has developed into top-tier talent during Unseld's tenure, namely Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago has also touched upon the praise Unseld has received for his temperament and ability to connect with players while maintaining respect.
It will be interesting to see if Unseld’s connection to Arturas Karnisovas gives him an edge in the interview process. The Bulls' new Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations joined the Nuggets in 2017 and has gotten to know Unseld very well over the last four seasons.
Furthermore, both Nuggets' President of Basketball Ops Tim Connelly and head coach Mike Malone have backed Unseld with ringing endorsements.
One can certainly speculate Unseld Jr. will be one of the finalists for the Bulls' head coaching vacancy. Karnisovas and Marc Eversley have taken their time to make a decision not only because they can, but because some of their serious candidates are most likely still in the bubble. Only Unseld and Dan Craig are top candidates still in the bubble, so there is a good chance Unseld Jr. will be a candidate and receive serious consideration for the job.
Let's also not overlook the below "Woj Bomb", as Adrian Wojnarowski described Unseld as the “architect” of the Nuggets comeback against the Clippers:
Woj certainly knows pieces of info around the league that none of us do, so does this little tidbit lend itself to even more confidence in Unseld’s candidacy? We shall see in the near future as the Bulls will most likely make a hire in the next month and a half due to the NBA Draft being moved to November 18th.