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More minutes for Tomas Satoransky could help turn the Wizards' season around

More minutes for Tomas Satoransky could help turn the Wizards' season around

Here's a question that might sound familiar to Wizards fans: Why do Tomas Satoransky’s minutes remain inconsistent in the early part of the season? It’s not a new question: This role topic is something of a staple for the 2012 second-round pick since arriving stateside ahead of the 2016-17 season.

Not everybody on the Wizards roster can play heavy minutes.  But as the Wizards look to rebound from a tough start to the season against Orlando on Friday, could he see more playing time? Wizards coach Scott Brooks often talked about the need for lineup and rotation alterations during last season’s frustrations. This season, he had a similar tune following last Friday’s 24-point home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We have to figure out ways to play better in all the 48 minutes we're on the floor, whether it's going with a smaller rotation or it's playing other guys,” Brooks said. Before Washington’s next game, Sunday’s win over the New York Knicks, Brooks was asked more about changes and if there were any player he’d like to use more. The head coach answered following a contemplative pause.

“I’d like to get Tomas more minutes,” Brooks said without further explanation.

Satoransky began last season playing behind fellow point guards Wall and Tim Frazier. He entered the rotation only when Wall suffered a shoulder injury Thanksgiving Eve. His impressive work over the next nine games vaulted him past Frazier. Around this time, opposing coaches consistently praised him during pre-game chats without prompting.

When knee issues sidelined Wall for a long stretch during the second half of the campaign, Satoransky played a significant role in the Wizards surviving without the five-time All-Star. When Wall returned, Satoransky resumed his backup duties, but with a twist. Washington coach Scott Brooks often talked up the 6-foot-7 guard’s positional versatility and then used him across the perimeter accordingly.

When the playoffs began, and Washington signed veteran Ty Lawson following his stint in China, Satoransky fell back out of the rotation. He entered this season as Wall’s primary backup, but a clear fourth in the guard hierarchy behind Wall, Bradley Beal and Rivers, an offseason acquisition with point guard skills.

Though his raw statistics are down this season – 3.7 points, 2.2 assists and 12.5 minutes compared to 7.2, 3.9 and 22.5 – Satoransky’s per 36 numbers are nearly identical. He’s also made precisely half of his minimal amount of 3-point attempts (3 of 6) after sinking 46.5 percent of his tries last season. Satoransky developed into a sneaky good defender even against quicker guards.

Against New York, Satoransky played 14 minutes, a length in line with his season average. With Washington blitzed early by Dallas in Tuesday’s 119-100 loss, his minutes shrunk to six. That matched his season-low set three games prior.

The Wizards are searching for answers heading into Friday’s game at Orlando. Brooks played Wall and Beal heavy minutes during the comeback attempt against the Mavericks, which limited Satoransky’s chances. Rivers received at least 19 minutes in every game this season. Not everyone can receive steady work. Satoransky is the odd man out at times. Considering the situation, that can seem strange at times.

Ball movement flowed with the pass-first Satoransky last season. The Wizards currently rank 24th in assists per game (22.3) after finishing fourth last season (25.2). Washington’s lower shooting percentage accounts for some of the drop-off, but the Wizards are also averaging 273 passes per game compared to 293 last season.

Wall dominates possession as much as any player in the league while Rivers is among the league’s best on isolation plays. Washington needs both guards shining. It also requires the ball moving.

One potential consideration is using Satoransky more with Beal, which would double as a way for Brooks to keep a starter on the court. The pair has a +13.6 net rating (points per 100 possessions) in 17 minutes this season - Beal’s best with any teammate - after a solid +4.5 in 1200 minutes last season. Satoransky's net rating with Rivers, a dismal -22.9 in 114 minutes.

Whatever the solution, a fix is required to get Satoransky going. Keeping his minutes steady and changing partners might not be the only solutions, but it’s a start.  

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Yes, Bobby Portis once bowled a 285 and that's another reason to strike up affection for the new Wizard

Yes, Bobby Portis once bowled a 285 and that's another reason to strike up affection for the new Wizard

WASHINGTON -- Spare your outrage upon hearing Bobby Portis’ take. 

The Wizards power forward believes his game, one honed in Chicago that includes a striking hook shot, is the NBA’s best. 

“I want to say I am. I’m pretty damn good. I’m not cocky at all about anything," Portis said, “but bowling is one thing I’m really confident with.”

Don’t split after that lede. At least wait until finding out more about an honor the Arkansas native received during the All-Star break that frames his high school career forever. There’s also the potential with the Wizards just two weeks after a trade X’d out the stretch-4’s time with the Bulls.

That deal also interrupted league play. 

Portis showed up every Wednesday to Diversey River Bowl in the Logan Square section of Chicago, at least when the Bulls’ schedule permitted.  At first, Portis just wanted to keep his skills sharp. You don’t roll a 285 by accident. 

“I’m a very active bowler. I loooove bowling,” Portis explained to NBC Sports Washington. “It’s something I do each and every day in the summer.”

The former University of Arkansas standout fell hard for the game back in his native Little Rock. He and a group of friends would battle with push-ups at stake.

He arrives at the alley with a 14-pound, bowling ball. The trusty multi-colored orb helps the NBA big man do damage in the lane.

“I throw the hook, man,” Portis proudly stated. “Bowling takes a lot of skill and exercise and a lot of relaxation. You can’t just go out there and throw it hard.”

Portis moved to Chicago after the Bulls selected him 22nd overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. After he settled into his new professional life, he went searching for a game.

The initial plan involved an incognito approach that was a real gutter ball.

“I tried to have my hood on the first time I went so nobody would notice me,” the 6-foot-11 NBA player admitted, “but after that, it was a wrap. Taking pictures all damn night.”

Portis got to know some of those picture takers. “Just random dudes,” he said. 

Soon Rajon Rondo and Lauri Markkanen weren’t his only teammates. 

“I would go just practice my game and found these dudes I was cool with,” Portis said. “I exchanged numbers with them. We starting hanging out a lot. Started bowling. Then they invited me to their little league. I was bowling in their league ever since.

His now famous “crazy eyes” bulged during the reminiscing.

“It’s a really cool league,” Portis said. “You see a lot of old people there. They’re really good. They bring their balls. I never really knew people loved bowling like that until I joined their league.”

The trade to Washington put the bowling league on hold. 

Portis did not quite know what to make of the deal initially. He entered his fourth season with a goal of being named Sixth Man of the Year. Suffering a right knee injury during Chicago’s fourth game derailed those hopes. Portis missed the next 23 games, returned for five and then sat out an extended stretch with an ankle issue.

The 2019 restricted free agent found his touch in January, averaging 14.2 points while shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. The trade occurred three days after Portis scored 33 points on Feb. 3 and moments before Chicago hosted New Orleans.

 “It was a crazy experience,” Portis said. “Had my jersey on, was ready to play.”

With time for reflection, Portis now sees the positives with Washington.

“I get more time on the court, show what I can do,” Portis said. “I’m just happy to be a Wizard. …Trades happen. I’m over it now. Have a chance to fight for the playoffs.”

Portis made quite the impression on his new team after four games, averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 29.3 minutes off the bench while sinking a staggering 54.5 percent of his 3-pointers.

“He surprised me how good of a 3-point shooter he is for his size and his position,” Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky said. “I think it’s going to be fun also playing pick-and-roll, pick-and-pops with him.”

That fun could continue into next season if the Wizards retain Satoransky, another RFA, and Portis, who plays minutes at center with Washington.

“I can’t predict the future, whether I’ll be here or whether I’ll be somewhere else,” Portis said. “I know I can control the now. Now is me putting the work in each and every day.”

Back in the day Portis first gained notoriety playing for Little Rock’s Hall High School. He led the Warrior to four state championships. Those accomplishments plus his subsequent work in college and the NBA led to the school retiring Portis’ jersey during the All-Star break.

“When you’re a kid growing up playing the game of basketball, you’re just playing for the love of the game,” Portis said. “I never knew I would get my high school jersey retired. Man, it was a surreal moment for me and my family.”

Despite the honor, Portis is not the school’s most notable basketball alum.

“I think Sidney Moncrief is more famous than I am,” Portis said about the five-time NBA All-Star currently up for nomination to the Basketball Hall of Fame. 

More famous than Portis, sure. Better bowler, probably not. 

Among current NBA players, Portis only imagines another known bowling fanatic, Rockets guard Chris Paul, as competition. 

Perhaps someone should organize a game of one-on-one.

“Might have to,” Portis said, “especially since the All-Star game is in Chicago next year.” 

If that happens, expect a bunch of random dudes to spare some time for a former teammate back in town. 

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Wizards come out of All-Star break facing Hornets with playoff stakes on the line

Wizards come out of All-Star break facing Hornets with playoff stakes on the line

Eight full days will have passed between games for the Wizards when they tip off against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night (7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington). That week-plus gave plenty of time for the Wizards to rest up and reset for the final 24 games of the season.

It also offered time for reflection and for where they currently stand in the playoff race to set in. While the game-by-game churn before the All-Star break allowed the team and their observers to get lost in the rhythm of the season, the reality is they have lost seven of 10 and are three games out of a playoff spot.

The Wizards will come out of the break hoping the time off shifted their momentum in the other direction. While teams that were on winning streaks aim to keep it rolling despite they layoff, the Wizards will look for a fresh start.

It won't be easy to make up the necessary ground in time before the regular season runs out, but they have a real opportunity against the Hornets. Charlotte is seventh in the Eastern Conference and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards in the postseason hunt. 

A win against the Hornets would allow the Wizards to inch closer in the standings and give them a second victory against Charlotte this season. Head-to-head records can determine playoff tiebreakers and the Wizards won the first of four meetings between the teams back on Dec. 29.

There are four total games between the Wizards and Hornets this season. The final two are both in March. If the Wizards win on Friday, they will have two chances to take the tiebreaker.

There is some irony in the timing of the Wizards' match-up with the Hornets. It was this Charlotte team that Washington began their initial surge without John Wall against.

They learned Wall would be done for the season the day of their first meeting with the Hornets. That night, they beat Charlotte and went on to win eight of 12 games. 

The Wizards will need at least one more run like that if they are to climb back into the playoff race. They have to get hot and sooner than later.

Working in their favor will be the return of Tomas Satoransky to the starting lineup. The point guard missed the final two games before the break due to the birth of his first child

Perhaps they can get things going once again by starting with the Hornets, just like they did nearly two months ago.

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