The Washington Wizards have seven players under contract for next season and none of them have significant experience as a starting point guard in the NBA. John Wall’s Achilles injury and the Wizards’ bleak salary cap situation makes Tomas Satoransky’s restricted free agency a fascinating one. Before we dive into the options available to the Wizards, let’s briefly discuss the player.
Over the last two seasons, Satoransky started 84 games, most of them as the team’s point guard in place of an unavailable John Wall. The second round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft has turned himself into a competent, effective starting point guard. The team has largely performed better with a healthy Satoransky on the floor than it has with a hobbled Wall.
After permanently taking the starting role on Dec. 28 of last year, the Wizards saw their offensive rating increase from 106.6 (with Wall on the floor) to 114.4 (with Satoransky on the floor). Defensively, the difference was not as staggering, although the team’s rating improved from 112.6 with Wall on the floor to 111.7 with Satoransky on the floor.
There is a lot of context to these numbers. But the essence of it is that Satoransky has played well. His ability to protect the basketball — a career average of 1.8 turnovers per game as a starter — to make open shots and to orchestrate an offense where that ball and he is continually moving (everybody eats!) has allowed the parts around him to perform even in the absence of the team’s five time all-star point guard.
The decision to re-sign Satoransky should be an easy one, right? Not so fast.
The Wizards may not have enough salary cap room to comfortably re-sign Satoransky because of past mistakes
As previously mentioned, the Wizards are in a cap crunch. They have seven players under contract for the ’19-’20 campaign, not including Jabari Parker who has a $20 million team option. The seven players include Ian Mahinmi, who had more DNP-CD than games played, Dwight Howard, who played eight games before being having season ending surgery, former two-way player Jordan McRae and Tarik Phillip (raise your hand if you knew he was on the Wizards), the latter two on non-guaranteed deals.
Those seven players account for approximately $92 million of cap space before cap holds (the cap is projected at $109 million), effectively leaving the Wizards over the cap and once again potentially dancing the luxury tax line again. This would seem to make re-signing Satoransky, who the team can sign with Bird rights and exceed the cap an easy decision; if it were solely up to them.
While his options are limited by restricted free agency, there could be a market for Satoransky, and if an opposing team wants to bid for his services, they could put together a difficult to match offer sheet based on the Wizards cap situation.
They also have to factor in Wall, who is under contract the next four seasons for nearly $170 million. When Wall eventually returns to the floor, will Satoransky be happy moving to a more off ball role and can the team afford to have upward of $50 million annually to the point guard position?
Satoransky is a good player, but he still has trouble creating his own shot
There are also factors to look at with the player. Satoransky played solid basketball as a starter these past two seasons but has limitations. He does not consistently create one on one offense, nor does he shoot off the dribble, as Fred Katz pointed out in The Athletic.
As Katz noted, Satoransky over the course of his entire career has only made four pullup three point field goals in 29 attempts. And as Katz also noted, Satoransky’s reluctance or inability to take and make that shot allows defenders to go underneath screens when defending him.
Some of Satoransky’s limitations put extra stress and workload on a player like Bradley Beal, who teams can build their defensive game plan around, knowing that his ability to ‘make them pay’ is limited. Also while solid, Satoransky didn’t take the leap that many may have hoped he would in his second season getting a heavy workload as the starting point guard. Satoransky had similar Per36 numbers as a starter in 2017-18 vs 2018-19.
It is understandable for some regression in his shooting after posting a blistering true shooting percentage of 64 percent in 2017-18. But across the board, his numbers have been otherwise consistent.
In both seasons where Satoransky has gotten starter minutes, he started strong before settling in to his final product. The optimistic would have hoped that he learned from the adjustments teams made in defending him and was prepared for that this go around. It looked that way at first, but once again, there was a regression to the mean in his overall play and his production remained consistent with the prior season.
Not that consistency is a bad thing, especially on a team as inconsistent as the Wizards. For a team that was criticized publicly as “playing like they’re too cool for school,” Satoransky’s consistent effort is valuable. He will play hard, make the extra pass, and put effort into defending his position and play team defense.
An example of his defensive effort, in 12 games when matched up against Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Trae Young. Satoransky held the quartet to 33.9 percent from the field on 21-of-62 from the floor.
That being said, entering his age 28 season, the expectation should be this is who he is. A decision shouldn’t be made on his future based on the hope that Satoransky will become a shot creating point guard who will be effective taking perimeter shots off the dribble. That’s not who he is.
How will a new Wizards front office executive handle Satoransky’s situation?
We are then back to deciding how much should the Wizards commit to that player. Well, not us, but whomever the new General Manager or President of Basketball Operations is. That decision has to include what the plan is going forward. That includes the cost, Wall’s eventual return and what they might do in this coming draft.
If the Wizards find themselves in a position to draft Darrius Garland or Coby White, it will further complicate the decision — likely from the team and player’s perspective. Satoransky has also made it clear he sees himself as a point guard.
I’m a point guard. I’m definitely a point guard. I will never be agreeing with someone that tells me otherwise. I know how I feel here.
If the new general manager decides that the Wizards will draft a point guard; that dedicates even more resources to the point guard position besides the money they are paying Wall and might pay Satoransky.
If the new general manager decides to rebuild the Wizards, there’s value in having a competent point guard in place to help develop younger players. But Washington will then be locked into a long-term contract on a player whose contract will wind up by the time a rebuilt team is ready to make a deeper playoff run.
The Wizards could always keep Satoransky and continue playing him next to Beal if the decision is made to stay the course. But is that more of rinse-and-repeat move with the team being in denial of their current state?
The Wizards originally executed a draft-and-stash when they drafted Satoransky. To their credit, he has turned into a quality NBA player. But with a franchise in flux, there’s a lot to weigh in considering that Sato’s and the Wizards’ futures may not be totally aligned.