NBA Daily: Is Joe Johnson’s Return Viable?

The Chicago Bulls are close…to something.

They aren’t close to contention – they won 22 games last season. They may not even be close to a playoff berth, as most oddsmakers put the Bulls’ wins projection around 32 (FiveThirtyEight’s model does give them a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs, however).

What they are close to is a semblance of competency, of excitement.

Sure, a 32-50 finish wouldn’t exactly scream competency. But solid years from veterans and further development from the young core would signal to the rest of the league that Chicago is relevant again. More importantly, it would send a message to impending free agents: “You’re the missing piece to our championship puzzle.”

This “missing piece” mentality is why the Clippers and Nets won the summer and the Knicks lost. You could argue New York’s offseason was successful; it would be impossible to argue it wasn’t disappointing, again. 

Sure, destination matters. But the top guys want to step into competitive situations. They want a history of good decision-making from front offices and winning cultures instilled in the locker rooms. They want to see talented rosters. Los Angeles and Brooklyn check those boxes. New York does not. 

Chicago has a genuine opportunity to stack its market with a talented roster and a winning culture – to be more LA and Brooklyn, less New York.

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, Jr. are the centerpieces. Health permitting, LaVine and Markkanen can be All-Stars, and Carter should make a second-year jump. Otto Porter Jr., while expensive, is as dependable as they come. He and newly-acquired Thaddeus Young provide stability. Further down the line, sophomore Chandler Hutchinson looks to improve on a tough year one and rookie Daniel Gafford had an encouraging summer league. 

All of these improvements matter. There’s another that’s important, though – and just as important as any LaVine-Markkanen-Carter development – Coby White, and specifically what he learns from Tomas Satoransky.

White, a blue-blood bred in the ACC, is Chicago’s point guard of the future. His maturation into the fourth guy behind LaVine, Markkanen and Carter raises the Bulls’ ceiling. Even signs over the next few seasons that he can blossom into an above-average player make Chicago:

1) Good right now

2) Signal to stars that they’re one player away from being contenders. (Hello, Anthony Davis!) 

The problem is, the point guard position is the toughest to adjust to, and Chicago doesn’t want to wait.

Enter Tomas Satoransky, the basketball journeyman from the Czech Republic.

White is, in some ways, the antithesis to Satoransky. Where Coby White is dynamic, Tomas Satoransky is steady. White is quick, aggressive and shoots from everywhere. Satoransky plays with deliberation to get to his spots and is careful with the basketball and his shot selection. While White is a 19-year-old guard whose aggressiveness is both a blessing and a curse, Satoransky is an 11-year pro who refuses to get sped up.

But because they’re so different, they complement one another. Satoransky is an ideal bridge because he excels where White struggles, and White brings what he can’t.

Learning from Satoransky can fast-track White’s development while simultaneously tempering his first-season expectations. Equally as important, it allows Chicago to be competitive in the meantime. 

Pace

Satoransky plays with great pace. Here, he gets a double-high screen as soon as crosses half-court.

He does an excellent job of slowing down to get Deng Adel on his back, causing Adel to call for a switch. The switch forces Kevin Love to quit backpedaling, and as soon as Love’s feet are planted, Satoransky accelerates for a split second to get by. Once Love is on his hip, it’s over.

This play does not happen if Satoransky comes off the second screen at full-speed or flattens out towards the wing. White is fast, and learning to navigate the floor this way lets him use his speed to make that quick acceleration. Now, he is blowing by defenders instead of getting out of control, as he tends to do.

White also gets sped up in transition, where he has the most opportunity to take advantage of his quickness. He would benefit from staying poised, as Satoransky does below.

Satoransky is in semi-transition; all five of Milwaukee’s players are in front of him. But he still pushes the ball ahead, getting another high screen. Eric Bledsoe, an incredible athlete, sees the drag screen coming and jumps forward to get above it. Again, Satoransky uses the defender’s dead feet against them and accelerates. Brook Lopez stays low, so instead of barreling to the rim, Satoransky sits in the open area. Bledsoe flies back to try and recover, but because he is under control, Satoransky simply ball-fakes and takes an easy jumper.

White often forces the issue at the rim whenever he has a chance. He likely would have crashed into Lopez there. He would have gotten there fast, yes – but taking what the defense gives will serve him much better at the next level.

Decision-Making

Satoransky’s pace helps him consistently make correct reads. The Wizards set another double-high screen, and Satoransky gets to the free throw line unabated. He pauses, then throws a bounce pass to Thomas Bryant for a dunk.

Now, there was some confusion for Detroit in terms of who was guarding who. But as Kara Lawson correctly points out, it was Satoransky’s hesitation that baited Zaza Pachulia. Pachulia is 6-foot-11 with the same length as his wingspan. His arms are long. If Satoransky does not bait him and immediately tries to pass, Pachulia may get a hand on the ball. Instead, he freezes, and Bryant gets two easy points.

In this January game in Cleveland, Satoransky gets another double-high screen (Washington sure does love this action!). Unlike the previous sets that featured a spread floor from shooters in the corners or an empty weak side, this time Trevor Ariza cuts to the strong corner. Based on Jeff Green, it appears this was to open up the left side for Bradley Beal – until Satoransky sees the Cavs defender on Beal’s high side:

Satoransky throws the lob before Beal even realizes it’s there, and the combination of Beal’s athleticism with a perfect pass gives the Wizards another easy bucket. Both of these plays started out of pick and roll, but they both required completely different reads and approaches. Having White see Satoransky use his pace to aid his decision-making will do wonders for the rookie.

Off-Ball Ability

Satoransky is good at blending in and remaining a threat away from ball. This is something White was good at in college and would project to be so again in the NBA. Regardless, the reason it is worth mentioning is twofold: off-ball ability will keep White viable on the floor whether he is useful on the ball or not. Secondly, Zach LaVine acts as a very poor man’s James Harden in Chicago’s offense. Playing off LaVine’s penetration will be huge for White’s success. Satoransky, a starting point guard whose career NBA usage is only 13.6 percent per Basketball Reference, is at home off-ball as much as he is on.

The set below is as basic as it gets. Satoransky gets to the wing to create room for a Beal pick-and-roll. Beal slithers around the screen, sees Satoransky’s man a step too deep, and kicks it out.

Satoransky knocks it down. 

Below is a little different. Satoransky spaces to the corner when he sees Beal get a head of steam out front. Beal makes his way down to the rim and throws a pass underneath to Satoransky on the baseline.

Seeing Russell Westbrook is out of position, Satoransky makes a quick decision to attack. He follows that with another cerebral decision to take a floater instead of challenging Terrence Ferguson at the rim. Satoransky is very good at knowing when to pull-up and when to finish at the rim; White can take notes.

Again – simple plays, but pertinent ones. White will have many opportunities for shots like this with LaVine (and Satoransky himself) running pick-and-roll. He will have just as many chances with the ball in his own hands; White seeing and learning from Satoransky, and how he uses his pace to drive his decision-making will do wonders for the rookie.

Coby White’s education in NBA basketball began months ago. It will reach new heights if the rookie takes advantage of an unlikely source.

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