It's Time To #FreeSato | Wizards Blog Truth About

It’s Time To #FreeSato

Updated: December 1, 2017

This really should not be a debate. I already told you this over a year ago: Tomas Satoransky is the best backup point guard on the Wizards. He was better than Trey Burke last season and he is better than Tim Frazier now.

Yet for some reason, Scott Brooks does not see it. In fact, Brooks and Ernie Grunfeld refuse to even acknowledge that Satoransky is a point guard. It’s like they suffer from position dysmorphia when they look at Satoransky.

From the very first day he arrived in Washington, Tomas has taken a back seat to lesser point guards. On the same day Satoransky signed his three-year, $9 million contract, Ernie Grunfeld traded for Trey Burke, an undersized shooting guard, and immediately anointed him the Wizards primary backup point guard – despite the fact that Burke was neither a point guard nor was he any good, which explains why he’s currently not on an NBA roster.

With John Wall recovering from two off-season knee surgeries last year, Burke and Satoransky played significant preseason minutes at point guard. Burke could not run a set offense or manufacture looks for teammates. Satoransky, on the other hand, pushed the ball up court and made it his priority – almost to a fault – to create for his teammates.

In short, as I wrote over a year ago, “Satoransky showed in six preseason games that he is already a better pure point guard than Trey Burke.” But none of that mattered. When the real games began, it was Burke, not Satoransky, backing up Wall. And Burke was bad right from the jump.

Here’s where it gets weird. Scott Brooks appeared to recognize early on that the Trey Burke experiment was not working. When John Wall sat out the fifth game of the season on the second night of a back-to-back, Brooks started Satoransky at point guard.

When Wall missed his second game one week later, Brooks once again started Satoransky. Tomas played well in over 30 minutes each game, but his opportunity was short-lived. Satoransky’s minutes per game gradually diminished and when he did see the floor he played primarily as a wing.

In a way, Satoransky was a victim of his own versatility. At 6-foot-7, Tomas has the size to cover three positions and the basketball IQ to play off the ball. He is a savvy cutter and a willing rebounder, especially on the offensive glass.

Because the Wizards’ 2016 free agent class was so bad and barely productive, simply being a smart player who hustles was enough to make Satoransky the best shooting guard and small forward option off the bench during the first half of the 2016-17 season. Brooks used Tomas like a utility infielder and the idea of Satoransky as a wing somehow stuck.

But just because Satoransky can play small forward, does not mean that he should. It’s a complete misuse of his skills.

Satoransky is good at pushing the ball up court, creating passing lanes with pick and rolls and encouraging teammates to run a set offense–in other words, he’s a point guard.Satoransky is not so good at several things: catch and shoot jumpers, three-point shooting and guarding players who can outmuscle and outquick him. Simply put, playing point guard accentuates his positives while playing small forward highlights his flaws.

Nevertheless, last season Brooks chose to endure 58 astonishingly bad games from Trey Burke and 35 mediocre games from Brandon Jennings (who was signed shortly after the All-Star break) rather than hand the backup point guard reins over to Satoransky. Even when they shared the court, Satoransky was not the designated point guard.

When Burke and Jennings were not retained in the off-season, some, including Satoransky himself, thought he might finally get an opportunity. I suspected otherwise.

Back in late June I joined Ben Standig’s Locked On Wizards podcast to discuss, among other things, Satoransky’s future with the Wizards and it gave me no pleasure to opine that Satoransky would not get a chance to backup John Wall next year because Washington would acquire a more experienced point guard in the off-season.  That inevitable signing would leave Tomas in the same position he was in his rookie year:  The third point guard on a team with only enough minutes for two.

Sure enough, the Wizards traded for Tim Frazier the day before the NBA draft and he was immediately anointed the backup point guard – like Trey Burke and Brandon Jennings before him.

As a result, Satoransky’s second season started much like his first ended. In the first 19 games, he had nine DNPs and five games of fewer than six minutes. His only extended run came in blowouts. Then John Wall got injured.

In the last three games without Wall, Tomas was finally given a second chance to prove what has been true all along: Satoransky is a point guard who needs more minutes to flex his skills

Tomas played 66 minutes during that three-game stretch, including a team-high 29 minutes against Philadelphia. His stats were phenomenal —  56.2 FG% (9-of-16), 18 assists, ZERO turnovers, plus/minus +38 in 66 minutes (h/t @benstandig) – but even more impressive was his command and control of the offense. He pushed the pace in transition and kept the ball moving in the half-court.

He also unveiled a dependable floater that he can get off over smaller guards.

Overall, Satoransky was more confident and aggressive on the offensive end – two important attributes that were often lacking in his rookie year.

Scott Brooks certainly took notice. He played Satoransky more minutes than Frazier in the last two games and Tomas ran with the starters at the end of the first half in Minnesota before playing the entire fourth quarter in the Wizards’ wild comeback versus Philadelphia.

Another factor in the Satoransky vs. Frazier debate is Brooks’ use of Beal as the primary ball-handler with Wall out of the game. When Beal is the primary ball handler, there is simply no space for Frazier on the court. He cannot stretch the defense with three-point shooting, he is not a threat to cut off the ball and sometimes he appears as if he lacks confidence in his shot. Opponents have been sagging off him, essentially forcing Washington’s offense to play four-on-five. While Satoransky is not much of  a three-point threat, he’s more aggressive on offense,  he is a much more dangerous off-ball cutter and he’s a more versatile defender.

It is too early to tell if Satoransky’s minutes advantage over Frazier the last two games signals a permanent rotation change. As Ben Standig wrote, Wall’s absence has forced Brooks into some creative and unorthodox lineups and he has been known to make temporary changes only to go right back to his comfortable, trusted lineups in the past.

Whatever the reason for Satoransky’s recent surge in minutes, the results are clear: Tomas is playing better than Frazier and he deserves a shot as the back-up point guard.

It is time, Scott. Set him free.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.