Bulls

Bulls player preview: Tomas Satoransky could finally provide point guard stability

Bulls player preview: Tomas Satoransky could finally provide point guard stability

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio

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 are desperate to find the answer at the point, and gave Satoransky $30 million to prove he's that player.

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprise leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well. Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason — including Lowe's League Pass Rankings — it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

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Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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