WASHINGTON --- Tomas Satoransky only has faced a former team as a professional one time before---and it wasn’t in the NBA.
“Barcelona playing against Sevilla,” Satoransky said of his two European teams following Wednesday’s morning shootaround at Capital One Arena. “So this is a special occasion.”
“This” is Satoransky playing for the Bulls against the Wizards team that drafted him as a 20-year-old in the second round of the 2012 draft. Four years later, Satoransky left FC Barcelona Lassa to make his NBA debut with the Wizards.
“It’s a great city. Good people in the organization, and I have a lot of friends here,” Satoransky said. “So it’s always great to come back.”
Shortly after the Bulls acquired him in a sign-and-trade transaction with the Wizards, Satoransky said he didn’t know what to expect from his first foray into free agency. The Bulls targeted him to slide into a starting point guard role, and he takes averages of 9.2 points and 5.3 assists into Wednesday’s matchup.
The amiable native of Czech Republic said he enjoyed playing for the Wizards.
“It gave me mental strength. I think I got much better in terms of NBA basketball,” Satoransky said. “I learned how to play, how to be efficient in NBA basketball. So it’s some good memories.”
Satoransky’s breakout season came last season, when he averaged 10.7 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range in his 54 starts for the injured John Wall. Overall, Satoransky averaged 8.9 points and 5 assists last season.
Satoransky always has complimented Wall for helping with his transition to the NBA.
“He’s a tough guy to guard in practices,” Satoransky said. “You don’t practice that much in the NBA, so that kinda saved me sometimes because he’s a very tough competitor. He was injured a lot of my time in DC, but he always helped me when we talked with advice during the games. And I think that was a huge help for me.”
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The Washington Wizards are having a fire sale and their star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall stand as their most attractive trade assets. The Bulls have their 2019 offseason plan of picking up a max-contract caliber player to add to their young and exciting core, but acquiring a player via trade is the best way to get an asset that is under a control long-term.
Obviously, the Wizards aren’t giving up Beal or Wall without a solid long-term asset coming back, and that is when the question becomes is it worth it for Chicago to give up a blue-chip prospect to add Wall to the core? And do the Wizards consider the Bulls with Wall a playoff team in the short term?
For the Bulls the rationale is that they are still years away from being a playoff contender but making this trade makes them a legitimate playoff contender through the duration of Wall’s deal, a playoff hopeful with the ability to be much more with a few rotation pieces sprinkled in.
Wall is under contract through the 2022-23 season and has a 15 percent trade kicker that would make his yearly contract more than the $42 million a year he is due now. The contract is massive but the payoff would be worth it if Wall’s playmaking prowess could take the games of Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine to an even higher level.
As of now, LaVine has a usage rate (32 percent) on par with that of James Harden (34 percent) but the difference is that LaVine doesn’t have that secondary, high-usage player that can allow LaVine to take a few possessions off on offense.
Antonio Blakeney and Jabari Parker have failed in that role in the absence of Markkanen. Dunn is capable of controlling the offense but doesn’t provide the same upside as Wall in terms of driving to the rim. Wall is third in the league in drives per game (16.9) and fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game off of drives. In Hoiberg’s offense, his ability to get downhill would open up opportunities for Markkanen and Carter, all who offer more in terms of pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop ability than anyone currently in the Wizards big man rotation.
The offense would have a bit of a my turn, your turn-feel to it. But it could work for the Bulls as long as they continue to pick up shooters to space the floor for inevitable Wall-Markkanen pick-and-pops (or PnR).
Defensively this trade offers a ton of upside as well. Hoiberg and the front office would have to go through a bit of a rough patch with the rotation as he figures out how to make up for having one SF after this deal.
Rawle Alkins could be called up from the G League and the free agent market could be explored as Hutchison receives a ton of valuable playing time. Hoiberg would also be able to experiment with three-guard lineups that actually provide some semblance of perimeter defense.
The lineup of Felicio, Parker, Blakeney, Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison has a massive 41.2 net rating. That is not truly representative of the effectiveness of the lineup because it comes in such a small sample size. But the reason it’s interesting is because that lineup did so well is the presence of three-guards and the fact that it was one of the Bulls better lineups in terms of pushing the pace.
A lineup including Wall and Dunn on the floor together would allow defenses to shrink the floor, but the issue can be mitigated by the Bulls cluster of 3-point shooting bigs and occasionally playing LaVine at the small forward spot.
Ultimately, this trade would give the Bulls a solid core of Wall, LaVine, Markkanen, Carter--and potentially Dunn and Parker depending on what the front office decides--that could develop into one of the more balanced lineups in the league.
For Washington, this trade allows them to unload the massive contract of Wall, which may make him harder to move than Beal.
There aren’t a ton of point guard-hungry teams in the NBA. And even the guard-needy teams will likely want to wait until the 2019 offseason to see if they have a shot at players like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic or Terry Rozier; all who come with less baggage than Wall. The Suns, Magic and Lakers all could arguably make better cases for Wall trades depending on what assets they were willing to give up. But being willing to give up multiple future 1st round picks and/or their 2019 pick could separate the Bulls from the pack.
The main competitor would be fellow Klutch Sports client LeBron James’ Lakers but the fact they think they have a shot in the Jimmy Butler/Kawhi Leonard/Klay Thompson sweepstakes could make them hesitant to make a long-term commitment to Wall.
There are very few windows when a legitimate All-NBA caliber player is available. While the Bulls may think waiting to the offseason to add talent is the best course of action, their low success rate in recent free agency periods suggests that they definitely should reach out to the Wizards and feel out what type of package they are looking for.
John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.
But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.
"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."
That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.
It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.
"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."
There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.
"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."
Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.
"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."
Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.