DETROIT – Tomas Satoransky operates at his own pace.
The Wizards drafted Satoransky No. 32 in 2012, when he was playing for Sevilla. He didn’t feel ready for the NBA, so he stayed in Spain. His contract with Sevilla expired in 2014. He still didn’t feel ready and signed with Barcelona. He even signed an extension with Barcelona in 2016.
Later that year, Satoransky thought it was time. Still under contract with Barcelona, his buyout (reportedly about $2 million) was larger than what Washington could pay without it counting against the cap ($650,000). But Satoransky was so certain of his decision, he paid the remainder of the buyout himself. He knew that’d be a possibility and ensured his extension left the option open.
Yet – for all the years he spent timing his jump to the NBA juuust right – he realized his perception of the league was still based on his childhood in the Czech Republic.
“I just saw the stars, the shining moments and everything,” Satoransky said. “Obviously, when you come over, you have to also go through some tough times as a player, especially coming over from Europe, getting used to everything and like that. But once you have a good role in the NBA, you just feel like you’re blessed.”
By that standard, Satoransky is blessed.
And the Wizards might be, too.
Washington has struggled for years whenever John Wall sits. Eric Maynor, Garett Temple, Andre Miller, Ramon Sessions, Trey Burke, Brandon Jennings and Tim Frazier have cycled through as backup point guards. None did the job well enough. Wall called the Wizards’ bench their downfall last postseason, citing it as a reason he ran out of gas.
Satoransky might finally be the answer.
Since Wall’s first playoff season (2014), Washington has played like a 46-win to 54-win team with him on the court. In that same span, the Wizards’ win pace ranged from 16 to 29 whenever he sat. Teams obviously perform worse without their biggest star, but that gap was hard.
Washington has remained strong with Wall this year (52-win pace) – and is far better than usual without him (37-win pace).
Here’s the Wizards win paces the last five years, with Wall (red) and without him (blue):
This chart probably sells Satoransky short. Washington has also used Frazier and Sessions at point guard when Wall sits. But Satoransky has proven most effective. The Wizards play at a 47-win pace with him.
The idea Washington was better without Wall was always silly. But Satoransky’s strong play in his absence helped sparked the discussion – and earned him a larger role in the playoff rotation.
“He’s played well, and he deserves some extra minutes,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.
How is Satoransky flourishing? By continuing to put himself in comfortable positions.
That starts with his role.
“I don’t feel like I need to be a starter or anything,” Satoransky said. “That’s the thing the NBA has. You have to be a starter or a second-unit guy. It doesn’t bother me. And I don’t understand too much. For me, coming from Europe, it makes much more sense that you have 12 players and they all play based on how they play in the game. That’s what I get used to. I understand you cannot have it here, for some reason.”
And it continues on the court, where Satoransky plays so cerebrally.
He ranks sixth in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. The leaderboard with per-game numbers:
Satoransky’s 3-point percentage (47.4) would lead the league – if he shot enough 3s to qualify. He’s just so selective (which obviously contributes to his high efficiency).
Satoransky is also deadly on floaters, but he also passes up too many of them. Even Brooks – who says he mostly likes Satoransky’s methodical style – wants the point guard to take more floaters.
“People around me, they’re always like I should be more aggressive,” Satoransky said. “But it’s just the way I was taught to play the game, right way, in Europe.
“Mentally for me it’s tough, but for sure I think in the NBA, you have to be a little bit – in some moments – a little selfish.”
Satoransky could probably handle it. He doesn’t restrain his game purely out of necessity. At 6-foot-7 with above-the-rim athleticism he only shows in flashes, he could do more.
“I never force anything,” Satoransky said.
Except his way into the Wizards’ playoff rotation.
Washington (42-38) will enter the postseason as the No. 6, No. 7 or No 8 seed. The team has plenty of internal problems. Advancing is more unlikely than likely.
But, for once, backup point guard probably won’t be the primary reason for elimination.