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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