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Satoransky's growth coming with opportunity
Tomas Satoransky spent the summer as the Czech Republic national team's top player at the EuroBasket 2017 tournament. Riddled with injuries, the Czechs turned to Satoransky to step up and be the main playmaker and distributor. As the team's only active NBA player, Satoransky became the guy on every opponent's scouting report. The Czechs would not advance out of group play, but Satoransky played against NBA talent in his five games against teams like Spain, Montenegro, and Serbia.
When Satoransky returned from EuroBasket and entered training camp, he received praise from his teammates and coaches for improved play. Everybody noticed the 26-year old was more confident and that his week in Germany with a shooting coach had paid off.
Still, no matter how much better Satoransky looked, there was still going to be competition for minutes with five-time All-Star John Wall and newcomer Tim Frazier. Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA, and Satoransky has learned that in his almost two seasons in the league.
Earlier in the season, Satoransky earned minutes here and there behind John Wall, while Tim Frazier was the main backup. But when Wall went down with knee soreness for a few weeks in late November through mid-December, Satoransky emerged as the team's main backup. Making the most of his opportunities, he earned Scott Brooks' trust and has logged minutes in every game since Wall's first return on December 13. Wall had surgery on his left knee only a few weeks ago, and will be sidelined for at least another month, and Satoransky has started every game since.
Five months after his time with the Czech national team, Satoransky has become one of the main guys again, this time on the Wizards. Alongside Bradley Beal, who was also drafted in 2012 by Washington, Satoransky has joined the starting backcourt in place of Wall. In the eight games since, the Wizards as a team have had to step up to make up for Wall's absence. The other four starters remained the same, but Satoransky had big shoes to fill in place of Wall.
In those eight games, Satoransky is averaging 11.8 points and 5.3 assists in 23.9 minutes per game, all way above his season averages. His ball control - less than one turnover per game on the season and his top 10 assist to turnover ratio - is impressive. He's shooting 56.7% from the field, has made 13-of-19 triples, and all 13 of his free throws. Satoransky's 13.9 Net Rating, meaning the Wizards are outscoring opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, is best on the team in that span. Only Marcin Gortat, one of Satoransky's NBA mentors, has a better Defensive Rating.
"Everything is going well from me from the beginning," Satoransky said about his recent play. "The stuff I'm doing - it's development that comes from those minutes and from the confidence I'm gaining."
In addition to those numbers, Satoransky has had to defend some of the best point guards in the NBA in the last two weeks. He held Russell Westbrook to 5-of-18 shooting and seven turnovers on January 30 and battled with Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving on consecutive Thursdays. His 6'7" frame is tough on smaller guards, while his effort is hard to top.
"For a guy that hasn't really played too much in his career and then he had to step in and start and had to play against (Russell) Westbrook, Kyrie (Irving) and those other guys, he did a hell of a job," Wizards forward Markieff Morris said after the Celtics game on Thursday. "He's still relatively new to the NBA and he did a great job for his first couple starts playing against elite guys."
"There are so many great point guards in this league and there is never a night off but I think he battles," Brooks said. "I love his effort, I love his ability to just stay in plays and keep pursuing and using his length. He is athletic and he uses it."
On Saturday, Satoransky scored a career-high 25 points, the most ever by a player from the Czech Republic in an NBA game. He made 10-of-12 shots from the field, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, to go along with six assists. Despite leaving the game in the fourth quarter after falling hard on a Bobby Portis Flagrant 2 foul, Satoransky had the best game of his young NBA career.
"He continues to improve," Brooks said of Satoransky after Saturday's win. "He cares. His care level is as high as it gets, and I love that about him."
Only in his second season and at age 26, the best of Satoransky is still ahead. As he continues to get confident and works even more on his offensive game, he will be another weapon for Brooks to use in his rotation. Wall's exact timetable is still a work in progress, but Satoransky has given the Wizards another reason to let the five-time All-Star take his time before another playoff push.