The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The rise of Tomas Satoransky could send Trey Burke to the bench

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Trey Burke’s last play Wednesday night looked similar to many of his shaky moments as the Washington Wizards‘ backup point guard.

It happened early in the second quarter of a 113-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the team’s home opener. Burke, who has been designated to play behind point guard John Wall, made a jump pass. However by leaving his feet, Burke forced himself into making a bad decision and the pass landed in the hands of Raptors wing Terrence Ross.

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In just six minutes of action, Burke committed three of the team’s first eight turnovers, scored no points and assisted on no field goals while the Wizards were outscored by 11. That was the last of Burke for the night — and it might be the last of him for a while.

Before the game, Coach Scott Brooks had strongly dropped hints about including rookie Tomas Satoransky. By the third quarter against Toronto, Satoransky had replaced Burke in the rotation.

“I kind of expected that I might play in the second half,” Satoransky said, “and I was getting just ready and [staying] focused on the bench.”

Satoransky played 9 minutes 53 seconds, second among Wizards reserves on Wednesday, and received praise from his coach and teammates after his first meaningful stretch of the season. Moving forward, Satoransky may just have earned a promotion to backup point guard.

“It’s definitely something that’s going to be considered,” Brooks said. “Tomas brings a lot of energy and brings some toughness and has good size and athleticism. He’s played that position his entire life. I thought he’s had some great moments in exhibition. I’m not giving up on anybody on our team, but I’m going to have to continue to search for and find the second unit that’s going to continue to move the scoreboard and compete on the defensive end.”

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If Satoransky indeed assumes more minutes, it would bring an abrupt end to Washington’s Trey Burke experiment.

In July, the Wizards sent a 2021 second-round draft pick to Utah in exchange for Burke, a former 2013 lottery pick who had fallen out of the team’s rotation. Burke came to Washington with the desire to start over, and even more appealing to the Wizards, he carried an expiring contract. However through the early season, Burke has struggled to run the Wizards’ second unit and at times, has not looked comfortable.

Against the Raptors, Burke entered the game with the Wizards leading by 10 points in the first quarter. On the team’s first possession, Burke slowly dribbled up court, then dumped the ball off with 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Burke floated to the wing as Markieff Morris initiated a play that produced nothing. In fact, when Burke wasn’t turning the ball over, he often drifted to the corner while the rest of the Wizards tried to make something out of dribbling and passing around the perimeter.

Through three games, Burke has averaged 3.7 points and 1.0 assists compared to 1.7 turnovers.

“Trey had some rough moments tonight, he turned the ball over. We had a decent lead, it wasn’t his fault,” Brooks said. “We missed two easy layups, we gave up a lot of open threes. It’s collectively as a group that we have to figure out how to play. It’s not a first-unit, second-unit team. We’re the Wizards and we all have to stay together to figure out what combinations that works best. That’s going to be my job.”

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Satoransky had some jumpy moments — for example, in the third quarter, he missed an opportunity for a steal and the second chance for the Raptors led to an open jumper by Ross — but, in contrast to Burke, he brought energy to the floor and ensured the Wizards didn’t have to play 4-on-5 offensively.

Early in the fourth quarter, Satoransky found Otto Porter Jr. for a hoop. Later, Satoransky was on the receiving end of a Wall assist after he aggressively cut to the basket for a layup. By the time Satoransky returned the bench, the Wizards had trimmed a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit by half.

“I told him, just play hard,” Marcus Thornton said of Satoransky. “[Your] shot might not go down but just go out there and play hard. First thing I told him, ‘Be ready when your number is called and go out and pick up 94 [feet]. You’re young, athletic, go out there and pick up,’ and that’s what he did. That allowed us to get back into the game.”

Still, the Wizards do not want to cast aside other reserve players on their bench. While Wall did not specifically call Burke by name, he made a point of trying to boost his confidence.

“We’re not going to give up on those guys,” Wall said of the bench. “We just tell them you’ve got to play with more of a sense of urgency. We told them to play the same way they play us in practice.

“We’re trusting in those guys and believing in them,” Wall continued. “We just got to find the right opportunity, find the right niche and get those guys going.”