NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.
How last year went
Tomas Satoransky was thrust into a leading role for the Washington Wizards following John Wall's season-ending Achilles injury. Previously a backup to the face of the D.C. franchise, Satoransky started the final 54 games of the regular season beginning Dec. 1, averaging 10.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 32.5 minutes. His shooting splits - 48.6/.40.4/79.8 - were impressive and he committed just 96 turnovers in 1,753 minutes, just 1.77 miscues per game. He accomplished those numbers all while the Wizards were more or less tanking in the wake of Wall's injury; 24 players appeared in a game for the Wizards from Dec. 1 to the end of the season, second most behind the Grizzlies' 27 players.
That solid performance over the final 54 games earned him a three-year, $30 million deal with the Bulls following their sign-and-trade for the 27-year-old point guard.
We'll also add here that Satoransky was a star for the Czech Republic national team in the FIBA World Cup the past three weeks. In eight games, he averaged 15.5 points on 45.7/48.1/90.0 shooting and 8.5 assists, the latter of which was second in the tournament behind Dennis Schroder's 9.4 assists per game for Germany. Satoransky led the charge for the Czechs, who surprisingly advanced to the tournament round and finished sixth, one spot above Team USA. Satoransky didn't make the All-Star Five (Rubio, M. Gasol, Scola, Bogdanovic, Fournier) but certainly had an argument for it.
Expectations for this year's role
It'd be a surprise if Satoransky didn't enter training camp as the starting point guard. If the $30 million weren't enough of a reason, his past performance (and World Cup play) makes him the most accomplished point guard on the roster and, for reasons we'll get into later, a perfect complement to the rest of the Bulls offense. He'll be expected to lead the team in assists, passes, and any other relevant distribution category. Unless Coby White makes significant strides early in his rookie season, Satoransky should carry the bulk of the point guard minutes.
He could also see some time off the ball. Satoransky has actually played the majority of his NBA minutes on the wing (49% at SG, 40% at PG, 11% at SF), only taking on full-time point guard duties last season with the post-Wall Wizards. Whether it's Zach LaVine playing as the primary ball handler or one of Coby White, Kris Dunn or Ryan Arcidiacono getting run with the first team, Satoransky, at 6-foot-7, has the versatility to play either wing spot on both ends of the floor.
Where he excels
Satoransky has never been a high-usage player. His career rate is 13.6% and he peaked at 14.1% last season - to put that in perspective, Denzel Valentine's career usage rate is 16.8%. But while Satoransky isn't going to use many possessions, he's incredibly efficient. That's essentially why the Bulls brought him in. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to affect the game, and when he does take action it comes in the form of the right pass, the right shot selection, the right play. Here are the numbers behind it:
Over the last two seasons, Satoransky is shooting better than 50% from the field (efficient) on 6.0 attempts per game (low usage). He was one of seven players to average 27 or more minutes and attempt fewer than 7 field goal attempts per game last season, but his 48.5% from the field was fifth among guards who played 25 or more minutes per game (Simmons, Brogdon, Harris and Irving were the only ones better). He shot nearly 40% from beyond the arc, a solid mark, though it came on 2.0 attempts per game; 84 guards played 25 minutes per game last season, and only Simmons, DeRozan and Gilgeous-Alexander attempted fewer 3-pointers per game than Satoransky. He's a smart shot taker.
Satoransky had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.50 as a starter, which would have ranked ninth in the NBA over the the course of the season. He was in the top-40 among all players in assist percentage (24.7%) and pushed pace for a Wizards team that ranked ninth in pace. That's excellent efficiency, which is why his 4.5 assists (again, low volume) may not look great on paper but contextually will fit in perfectly with the Bulls. He had two or fewer turnovers in 64 of the 80 games he played in.
The Bulls need efficiency at the point guard position, and it's OK that it'll come on low usage (he'd cost a lot more if he was this efficient with a usage rate in the 20s). That means more touches for Lauri Markkaken, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Wendell Carter. It means fewer turnovers, higher percentage looks and an offense that will keep the ball moving both in transition and in halfcourt sets. Satoransky may not hit many home runs with the Bulls (they don't need him to), but he'll very rarely strike out.
Where he needs work
No team attacked the rim more than Jim Boylen's Bulls, who averaged 55.9 drives per game after Dec. 3. They also attempted a league-high 26.9 field goal attempts on those drives (passing, drawing fouls, turnovers were other options) and go 7.7 free throw attempts per game off those drives, sixth most in the NBA. The Bulls' point guards were a big part of those drives: Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives per game, while Ryan Arcidiacono (5.2) and Cam Payne (4.9) followed behind. In six games, Walt Lemon averaged a comical 17.7 drives per game (Russell Westbrook averaged 18.4 drives per game, third most in the NBA last season).
So how does this affect Satoransky? It isn't exactly his style. Of point guards who averaged 27 minutes per game, Satoransky's 6.1 drives were 40th of 43 players (Ball, Beverley and Forbes were the others who averaged fewer). This isn't necessarily an area Satoransky needs work, but if Boylen wants to continue playing a drive-and-kick offense, Satoransky will need to improve. He only produced points on 40.7% of his drives last season, a well below-average mark.
Defensively, Satoransky isn't a major positive or negative. His 6-foot-7 frame gives him solid length to contest shots and help defend passing lanes, but he's not going to provide anything out of the ordinary. This isn't groundbreaking news. Defensive RPM also puts him middle of the pack. He isn't overly quick but his length makes up for some of that. His versatility is probably more important than his ability to guard opposing point guards, though sharing the floor with LaVine more a large chunk of the game means he'll need to step up at times.
Best case/worst case
In a perfect world, Satoransky remains his low-usage, high efficiency self. That would mean distributing to the talented scorers around him, finding high percentage shots for himself and contributing where possible on the defensive end. He should be able to push pace successfully after doing so in Washington last season, and he hasn't missed a game due to injury in two seasons. The Bulls have needed stability at the point guard position since the Derrick Rose trade. Satoransky could be that player the next three seasons.
In a worst-case scenario, the Bulls aren't able to remain healthy and Satoransky is forced to take on a big role. That's just not the type of player he is. Satoransky had a higher usage rate in losses than wins last season and the Wizards were 4-11 during his 15 highest usage performances of the season and 8-7 in his 15 lowest usage performances as a starter. Health is the Bulls' biggest key this season, and it'll have a direct effect on what Satoransky can provide. If he's asked to do too much, his game will suffer.
One key stat
Just how bad do the Bulls need point guard stability?
Their point guards the last three seasons have been the equivalent of 31-year-old Bob Sura's 2004-05 season with the Houston Rockets.
The Bulls had 8 players start at point guard the last 3 years.— Mark Strotman (@markstrot) May 13, 2019
In those 246 games, they averaged:
41.4% FG (3.96 of 9.58 per game)
30.5% 3FG (0.92 of 3.02 per game)
76.5% FT (1.27 of 1.66 per game)
The Bulls are desperate to find the answer at the point, and gave Satoransky $30 million to prove he's that player.