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Tomas Satoransky discusses NBA restart, first Bulls season, ‘Last Dance’

Tomas Satoransky discusses NBA restart, first Bulls season, ‘Last Dance’

Just like the rest of us, Tomas Satoransky is awaiting the NBA’s decision on the fate of the 2019-20 campaign. And just like the rest of us, he’s not sure which avenue the league will take. 

In a wide-ranging interview with Dionysis Aravantinos on Euro Hoops’ Instagram Live, Satoransky broke down the pros and cons of the season returning — both from his and the Bulls’ perspective — and opened up about his first season with the team. Understandably, Satoransky said there would be greater incentive for players to compete in a playoff format, as opposed to working all the way back for a handful of inconsequential regular season games.

“There’s a few scenarios, if we would actually be able to play for something as a playoff, that kind of changes everything because it gives you some motivation,” Satoransky told Aravantinos. “It’s tough for a player, especially a player with family. Imagine being two months separated from your family, just playing five or six games and be done with it.”

At the same time, not playing at all presents its own set of challenges, given burgeoning buzz that the 2020-21 season will tip off on Christmas Day. A nine-month layoff for a young team with a fresh-faced front office seems appealing on the surface, but at the end of the day, NBA players are competitors. And competitors thirst to compete.

“I think it’s difficult to imagine being without a game until December, this year basically being without games. That kind of changes your perspective also on being able to come back to finish the season,” Satoransky told Aravantinos. “We are competitors and we want to compete against everyone. It’s tough, but I think basically they decided to do that because they want to bring safely the fans into arenas, and they are the biggest part of our game and I think it’s logical. But it could be very tough for each player to prepare for this season.”

Satoransky, specifically, will be itching to right the ship in 2020-21 after a tumultuous first season with the Bulls. While he established himself as an affable vet in the locker room and savvy distributor on the court, Satoransky’s overall production waxed and waned, especially shooting the ball. Even underwhelming 43/32.2/87.6 shooting splits for the season belie a 45-game stretch from December through March in which he shot just 26.8% from 3-point range. 

For someone who attributed his ascension — from Wizards reserve, to reliable starter (in an injured John Wall’s stead), to $10 million per year Bulls signee — to his steady improvements as a jump shooter, that’s an alarming trend. But Satoransky doesn’t run from it.

“It was a lot of ups and downs,” Satoransky told Aravantinos when asked to evaluate his first season with the Bulls. “I’m never very satisfied after my years, and it was a lot, actually, for my first year. It was amazing, the kind of role I had from the beginning. They really took me as a vet — I’m second-oldest guy on the team, 28 years old — so that was great, the kind of respect I had from coaches and from the players. 

“I really enjoyed that, but I wasn’t that effective like I was with D.C. I had a very tough summer before that — I don’t want to sound like those are excuses — but it was tough because the whole team was new, too. So, a lot of up and downs, a very young team. I really believe the second year we’ll be much better, but I can’t be fully happy with my performances this year.”

On the flip side, if the current Bulls rebuild has taught us anything, it’s that availability is an ability, and Satoransky was certainly that; he and Coby White were the only players on the team to appear in all 65 games before the season was suspended. White usurped Satoransky in the starting lineup in the team’s final game before the pause — a decision made on the basis of White’s scalding hot post-All-Star break play, and Satoransky’s swoon.

At the time, Satoransky handled that demotion with grace and candor. He did the same when asked about it by Aravantinos.

“I’m always about the team,” Satoransky said when asked about the decision to swap him out of the starting lineup in favor of White. “Obviously, I would be lying if I said that I don’t want to start (next season), because everyone wants to start, everyone wants to have a big role. But I think, you know, he (White) is very young, he’s a good guy, he was drafted very high and fans love him.

“He (White) was playing unbelievably after All-Star break, and the last game before, actually, the coronavirus outbreak, and I was OK with that because I struggled at the time.”

The Bulls might yet have basketball to play this season, but it’s never too early to establish goals moving forward. Satoransky pinpointed the playoffs as a target for the 2020-21 campaign (as they are every year, he added), and expressed confidence in the direction of the franchise.

“The project looks really good and really bright,” Satoransky told Aravantinos. “We had some new changes in the front office that I love, both very successful guys. I know Arturas from (when Satoransky played in) Spain, as well, when I was drafted he actually worked for Houston if I’m not mistaken. And I really believe that they can give us new push, new fire.

“I do believe that we will play much better (next season), because it was typical for a young team. You know, when it looked like we could go on a run and play better, it came a bad game and it took all the confidence from us. But I think I like the way we progressed in practices, the way we learned new stuff, so hopefully this will give the confidence to the group.

Aravantinos also asked Satoransky for his thoughts on playing with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen’s potential and his experience watching “The Last Dance.”

On Zach LaVine:

“He surprised me a lot, from the beginning. I didn’t know much about him, what kind of person he is, but he always seemed to me on the court, well, I will say ‘arrogant superstar.’ But he’s such a nice guy, he’s funny. And I think we had a good relationship from the beginning. You know, he’s not only an athlete or dunker, he can do a lot of things, he still works on his game, you know, he still can make better reads. But he had an exceptional season, All-Star level for me. And fortunately for me, we had a good relationship on the court, we had a lot of backdoor cuts, we had a lot of two-man situations where we kind of had a good chemistry there, and I love playing with him.

On Lauri Markkanen:

“I think it was a tough season for Lauri. He got injured after a little bit, he had some good stretches, but his performance was a little bit up and down, as well, because I think, like myself, he was struggling with the shot. But he has so much potential. Tall guy, strong, who can dribble, he can rebound actually, go coast-to-coast. Like all of us, you know, he’s very young and needs to work on some decision-making on the court, but like I said, his potential is amazing. 

“It’s tough, you know, what? He is 23, 22 years old, it was his third season in NBA, fourth maybe, and everyone had so much expectation from him because he had an unbelievable season before. And it’s tough sometimes, you have to go through a season where you don’t play like you would imagine or like you would expect from yourself. But I think he’ll be fine. He’s a hard worker, he’s in the gym a lot, so he’ll be fine.”

On “The Last Dance”:

“As everyone who loves basketball, I was so excited for every episode. And probably also in this time even more people were so excited because no games were on TV. And so everyone probably was just enjoying every minute of the documentary, and it’s pretty amazing. As one of the biggest Michael Jordan fans, I knew a lot of stuff about him, but still there were some stories that would just amaze you.

What Bulls’ Coby White must do to maximize tantalizing potential moving forward

What Bulls’ Coby White must do to maximize tantalizing potential moving forward

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. Next up is Coby White.

Past: Zach LaVine

2019-20 Stats

13.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 APG | 39.4% FG, 35.4% 3P, 79.1% FT | 23.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

June 2019: Signed 2-year, $10,879,800 rookie-scale contract (one year, plus two team option years remaining for total value of $18,824,395)

2020-21: $5,572,680 | 2021-22: $5,837,760 (team option) | 2022-23: $7,413,955 (team option) | 2023-24: RFA (QO: $9,942,114)

Strengths

Electricity runs through Coby White. It shows in his blinding end-to-end speed, and dances off his fingertips when jumpers are falling. Distilled simply, those are White’s two greatest NBA strengths: He can really run, and he can really shoot it.

His rookie season with the Bulls was a bit uneven (read: everything before the All-Star break) as he acclimated to sporadic playing time and an off-ball role he hadn’t been asked to play in high school and college. But the stretch run validated all those who stood by his scoring prowess. In 10 games post-All-Star-break, White’s minutes bumped to 33.7 per game, and production followed. He averaged 24.7 points and 4.3 assists over that span and shot the air out of the ball, canning 40.7% of 8.6 3s per game (44.8% on 2.9 pull-up 3s per). 

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That torrid shooting was an outlier, but White’s work off the catch was steady all season — he finished the year a 37% marksman on 3.7 3-point attempts per game in that context; he gets his jumper off quickly — and post-All-Star, the Bulls averaged 103.41 possessions with him on the floor and 97.84 with him off, roughly the equivalent difference between the sixth- and 29th-ranked paces in the league. In general, the offense cratered in minutes he sat over that span. All of which is to say, White’s strengths are conducive to the run-and-gun style the Bulls want to play, and he’s liable to catch fire at an instant. 

That White was able to vault the rookie wall he self-admittedly hit is a testament to his work ethic and maturity, which teammates and coaches past and present are quick to laud him for. Those intangibles should only amplify his on-court talents throughout his career. (Oh, he was also one of two Bulls to appear in all 65 of the team’s games this season — for this group, no small feat.)

Areas to Improve

White will enter Year 2 with a number of questions looming over him. Can he man true point guard duties for the Bulls moving forward? Do he and LaVine comprise a tenable starting backcourt defensively? Can White once and for all kick the microwave scorer rep and be a reliable option on a nightly basis, regardless of whether the jumper is falling? What’s his role if the Bulls draft a lead guard with their upcoming lottery pick?

Unfortunately, evaluation on all those fronts was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted the NBA season with White fresh off his first career start, and LaVine sidelined with a quad injury. What we do know is that White’s dynamism and off-ball adaptability make him an exciting backcourt mate for LaVine on the offensive end if he finds consistency. Underwhelming season-long shooting numbers (39.4% FG) are a reminder that’s not a guarantee yet, but, man...

 

An average athlete with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, White will also have a hill to climb to be an above-average defender at either guard spot, and an above-average finisher around the cup. His speed and shooting ability grant him gravitational pull on the offensive end, but he’s still unproven as a facilitator, logging just a 13th percentile assist-to-usage ratio (0.67) in Year 1. To be an ideal partner for LaVine, his defending and playmaking will have to trend upwards.

White is unquestionably a bucket, and with how hard he works, it’s reasonable to expect continued progression on all those fronts — in his rookie season, his restricted area field goal percentage ticked up every month, he competed hard on the defensive end and passing lanes opened up as the game slowed down for him over time. A larger sample size will tell us more, but optimism is warranted.

Ceiling Projection

White’s speed is truly unnatural, and if his jumpshot steadies out, he has the tricks in his bag to be a 20-point scorer and game-breaking transition threat. That alone would make him a quality starter in the league for many years. While his defense will likely always be a question mark, bumping his assist average into the five-to-seven range would be the key to unlocking All-Star level potential.

But if we’re being real, it’s silly to slap a ceiling on a just-turned 20-year-old who improved so markedly in his first season. The sky’s the limit for Coby.

RELATED: Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports on mechanics of NBA bubble

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USA Today

Bulls Talk Podcast: Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports on mechanics of NBA bubble

The NBA bubble in Orlando is underway, but how are Disney and the NBA handling it? Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, Real GM — and the first to speculate about the idea of the bubble in Disney World — joins Jason Goff to discuss how the bubble is functioning, how the players are adapting to their new environment, and what is Disney doing to accommodate. Smith provides all the details you want and need to know about what is going on in Orlando.

(5:10) - Coming up with the idea of the Bubble at Disney World

(16:40) - Is there worry about the uptick in Coronavirus cases in the Bubble

(22:00) - Life in the Bubble for the players

(30:00) - Fan reaction to the Bubble`

(38:40) - A lot of the players want to finish the season

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Bulls Talk Podcast

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