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Jul
17

Unseld Jr. Named Wizards HC, Hopes to Write Own Legacy

It’s been a long wait, but the Wizards have finally chosen their next head coach.

Tommy Sheppard and company have finalized a four-year contract agreement with Wes Unseld Jr. – the son of one of the best players in franchise history. Unseld will be formally introduced as head coach in a press conference on Monday at 3:30 p.m. ET. 

It’s often difficult for NBA fans to know how qualified a first-time head coach is. Media narratives – and particularly the ideas that become popular on social media – can be misleading. That seems particularly true for Unseld, who is much more than his father’s son.

Credentials

Although the young Unseld has never been a head coach, he’s been an assistant for 16 years, and his NBA experience began long before that.

At the conclusion of his four-year playing career at Johns Hopkins, he joined Washington’s organization as a scout – serving under his father, who was the General Manager.

After eight years in his role of personnel and advance scouting, Unseld was promoted to assistant coach, a role in which he stayed from 2005–11. He initially served under Eddie Jordan, followed by Ed Tapscott (interim) and Flip Saunders. Throughout much of his time in Washington (including as a scout), he was credited with formulating the team’s offensive game plan. He also held a secondary coaching/scouting role with the Mystics of the WNBA.

When the Wizards opted to not promote him to a higher assistant position, Unseld departed to join the Golden State Warriors staff. He was on Mark Jackson’s first season at the helm – the first, strike-shortened year of the “Splash Brothers” era (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson).

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Jul
16

Buy or Sell: The Unanswerable Question For Washington

At 42-47, you probably wouldn’t think we’d be having a conversation about the Nationals being in the playoff hunt, since for much of this season, they haven’t looked like a particularly good team.

Yet Washington is only six games behind the Mets for the NL East lead, and Ronald Jr.’s ACL injury effectively removes the Braves from the discussion – Thursday night's acquisition of Joc Pederson notwithstanding.

The margin for error is still relatively thin, especially considering that a Wild Card bid seems almost completely out of reach – the Nats are nine games behind the Padres for the No. 5 seed.

Still, this team won the World Series two short years ago, their upside increases tremendously with Stephen Strasburg and Kyle Schwarber, plus Mike Rizzo rarely sells and almost always buys at the Trade Deadline.

Suffice it to say, the Nationals will return from the All-Star break with their eyes on a playoff chase. So, what does that mean for them in the near future?

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Jul
12

Washington Nationals Stars Will Be On Display in Colorado

The Washington Nationals didn’t have a spectacular first half of their season, but a few of their players were rewarded individually, as Juan Soto will compete in the Home Run Derby tonight, and Soto, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer will each participate in the All-Star game tomorrow night.

Home Run Derby

Soto was one of the final players to accept an invite to the derby, which makes sense, considering he’d only hit 10 home runs at the time of the announcement.

There might be a reason why others with similar qualifications decided to not participate, though – and not just the theory that swinging for the fences can negatively impact a hitter’s swing.

Soto will be the No. 8 seed in the tournament-style event. His first opponent will be Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, who enters the break with a league-high 33 home runs.

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Jul
11

Brady House Finds New Home In Nationals Organization

With the No. 11 pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Washington Nationals selected shortstop Brady House from Winder-Barrow High School in Georgia.

House, a University of Tennessee commit, doesn’t fit the description of the typical Mike Rizzo first-round pick – a right-handed college pitcher who throws hard and has tons of upside. Perhaps they made an active effort to steer away from a negative trend with those types of prospects, but regardless, House is an intriguing talent.

In their early years, the Nationals had a lot of picks near the top of the draft, which makes their track record somewhat deceiving. They selected Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010) with No. 1 overall picks, followed by Anthony Rendon at No. 6 ten years ago. Since then, they’ve been unable to draft star players.

Here’s a look at Washington’s first-round selections since Rendon:

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Jul
05

Decision Day Is Rapidly Approaching For DC Teams

Two teams in Washington find themselves reaching a critical point toward the future of their organizations.

The Nationals are in the midst of a tough seven-game West Coast road trip, after having lost four straight home games to the Dodgers. And of course, they’re also riddled with injuries

As for the Wizards, the NBA Draft is drawing near, but they haven’t hired a new head coach yet. It’s tough to imagine they’ll let this drag out much longer, but it isn’t entirely clear what direction they’re leaning.

The National Disaster

Let’s start with some quick good news: Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Juan Soto were each named first-time All-Stars earlier this weekend. Max Scherzer was a noticeable omission, despite posting a 7-4 record, 2.10 ERA and 127 strikeouts through his first 16 starts of this season. Keep in mind there is a rule that grants every team in the league at least one All-Star, and the benefactors from that stipulation were disproportionally pitchers. Taking them (particularly German Marquez of the Rockies) out of the equation, Scherzer’s “snub” isn’t egregious, and he’ll certainly make his way onto the roster – as either an injury replacement or a substitute for someone who pitches the day before the All-Star break, which a couple guys always do.

Now for the on-field stuff: As discussed late last week, the injury rat – as Scherzer so eloquently described it – has struck the Nationals, and it feels like it’s still hiding somewhere in the attic. Schwarber and backup catcher Alex Avila were both placed on the 10-day Injured List, and Washington was forced to turn to Yadiel Hernandez, Tres Barrera and journeyman shortstop Alcides Escobar – who started in place of Trea Turner (finger) after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals and replacing Humberto Arteaga (designated for assignment) on the active roster.

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Jul
03

Injuries Highlight Nationals’ Depth, Roster Construction

Even with as well as June went for the Nationals, adversity was bound to strike them at some point.

It now has. The surprising aspect, however, is how quickly it came.

In addition to a quartet of high-leverage relief pitchers who are already on the Injured List, Trea Turner (finger) and Kyle Schwarber (hamstring) are currently day-to-day, and Jordy Mercer (quadriceps) will be sidelined for a longer period. Although injuries of such magnitude are difficult to withstand, they also raise questions about roster construction – specifically, whether the Nats have the right types of players on their team.

For most of this season, Washington has been carrying 14 pitchers (nine relievers) and 12 position players (four bench bats). That’s one more pitcher and one fewer hitter than most teams keep at a given time.

Although that probably seems negligible, it’s compounded by some other variables. For example, the Nationals also have two players (Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman) who can only play one position (first base), and obviously catchers are catchers. That leaves two bench players (Mercer and the fourth outfielder – a rotation of Andrew Stevenson, Yadiel Hernandez and Gerardo Parra) who can provide some degree of versatility, although Josh Harrison can also play in the outfield if needed.

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Jun
29

Schwarber, Starting Staff, And The Status Of The System

Not long ago, the Nationals’ offense was starving for production from anyone other than Trea Turner and Juan Soto. The pro-Max Scherzer trade crowd was also gaining some legitimacy, and even the minor league system was barely treading water – providing no contingency plans for big league ballplayers that seemed to keep getting injured.

The season was slowly slipping away from them.

But all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, Washington starting winning games left and right – 12 of their last 15, to be precise. In a lot of ways, it makes no sense, but in others, it’s exactly like it always goes: predictably unpredictable.

Clearly, the Nationals have transformed themselves into a different team recently. Is it sustainable, though?

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Jun
27

Morrison, Mosley Emerge As Candidates For Wizards HC

So far, four NBA teams have hired a new head coach since their seasons ended.

The Washington Wizards, on the other hand, have been fairly quiet since moving on from Scott Brooks.

That was true until Friday. With Ime Udoka, Rick Carlisle, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups – all of whom were among my initial candidates for the job in Washington – each agreeing to terms as head coaches with other teams, the Wizards have reportedly ramped up their search. Scott Morrison of the Boston Celtics has interviewed with Washington (first reported by Peter Yannopoulos of Réseau des sports in Canada), and Jamahl Mosley (pictured at right) of the Dallas Mavericks has also received an interview request (per Marc Stein of The New York Times).

As recently as Wednesday, Sports Betting Dime viewed Sam Cassell, Wes Unseld Jr. and Kenny Atkinson as the frontrunners for the Wizards.

Interestingly, their odds closely resemble my initial predictions. Their top four were my finalists, and the only coach they included that I did not was Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing, a heavy long shot for the job.

This, however, was prior to the release of the news regarding Morrison and Mosley. It’s not entirely clear how seriously they are being considered, but the fact that they have received interviews should not be cast aside.

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Jun
21

Have the Nationals Rediscovered the Magic?

After we’ve all experienced a global pandemic, this year is undeniably much different than 2019. However, things on the baseball diamond are beginning to look much like they did two years ago for the Washington Nationals.

Following a series-opening loss to the San Francisco Giants on June 11, the Nationals found themselves sitting nine games below .500. Stephen Strasburg was on the IL, Max Scherzer and Daniel Hudson had suffered injuries and were also heading to the IL, and the Nationals appeared to have a very difficult road ahead of them.

Miraculously, Washington won eight of its next 10 games, its starting rotation looked like one of the best in the league, and they began to add reinforcements to their roster.

Much like 2019, it’s difficult to understand exactly what sparked this turnaround, but with players suddenly firing on all cylinders, the future looks much brighter than it did less than two weeks ago.

The Pitchers Are Performing

Erick Fedde hasn’t allowed a run since Scherzer went down. In fact, dating back to mid-May, Fedde has thrown 20 consecutive scoreless innings. He’s lowered his ERA to 3.33, and it’s as low as 2.54 if you exclude his first start of the season.

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Jun
20

Who Will Replace Scott Brooks As Wizards Head Coach?

After two weeks of pondering which direction to go, the Wizards finally decided to move on from head coach Scott Brooks.

Now comes the hard part: Who do the Wizards replace him with?

At this stage, the team hasn’t offered a list of candidates to replace Brooks. My impression is that they want to undergo a thorough interview process before deciding on anyone – or even narrowing the field considerably.

When it comes to predicting who the next coach might be, all I can do is guess. So, rather than guessing, I’ll offer up what I believe to be a fairly all-inclusive list of any possibilities.

Once the team provides any clarity on who they’re most interested in, I will provide any and all updates.

Kenny Atkinson

Playing Career: 14 seasons (mostly overseas)

Coaching Career: Paris assistant (2004–06), New York Knicks assistant (2008–12), Atlanta Hawks assistant (2012–16), Brooklyn Nets head coach (2016–20), Los Angeles Clippers assistant (2020–present)

Profile: For four years, Atkinson was the head coach of the Nets. Although his win/loss record as their leader was less than desirable at face value, the roster he was working with didn’t have much talent. Player development is considered a strength for Atkinson, and it showed itself in his third season at the helm in Brooklyn, when he guided the D’Angelo Russell-led Nets to a 42–40 season and the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Currently, Atkinson is an assistant under Tyronn Lue with the Clippers. How far they go this postseason may dictate how much attention Atkinson gets. However, he’s definitely qualified. It wouldn’t hurt the Wizards’ potential pursuit of Clippers forward Paul George, either.

Prediction: Gets an interview, dark horse for the job

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Jun
15

The Time is Now for Cade Cavalli, Nationals

There might not be a hotter prospect in professional baseball right now than right-handed pitcher Cade Cavalli, and it comes at a very opportune moment for himself and the Washington Nationals.

As everyone knows by now, the 22-year-old righty was Washington’s first round selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, and through seven starts in High-A Wilmington this year, he’s been nothing short of filthy.

Saturday, his dominance was on full display, as he tossed seven no-hit innings and struck out a whopping 15 batters. That outing dropped his ERA to 1.77 and his hits allowed per nine innings to just over five, while his strikeouts per nine innings rose to just below 16. For context, the highest season-season rate of Max Scherzer’s big league career is only 12.7.

Just over a week ago, in their most recent round of updates, Cavalli was upgraded to Baseball America’s No. 33 overall prospect – a leap of 49 spots since their preseason rankings. Following his most masterful performance yet on Saturday, he was named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week and – more importantly – was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg.

While his promotion was certainly deserved based on his performance, it was also necessary for the immediate well being of the Nationals.

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