After one of his big buckets Friday night in a game against the Detroit Pistons filled with such moments, Tomas Satoransky pumped his fist and exclaimed something that bordered on animated and angry. Satoransky knows he said something in his native language, but can’t recall what he screamed after beating everyone to the offensive rebound, then scoring while getting fouled.
“Some excited words,” Satoransky recalled with a laugh. “Probably not words they would put on Czech television.”
Although Satoransky, the 26-year-old in his second season in the NBA, can speak three languages, when he emotes on the court his instincts tell him to stick to what’s comfortable. While playing in Spain, Satoransky celebrated big shots in Spanish. But into his second season with the Washington Wizards, Satoransky hasn’t quite found his go-to American exhortation.
“I don’t have it yet to scream things in English,” Satoransky said.
While John Wall remains out of the lineup to heal his left knee, Satoransky will have more time to improve his fluency in exultation. It seems that since Satoransky started receiving consistent minutes, he has had several big moments to celebrate.
Promoted to the rotation as the Wizards’ backup point guard, Satoransky has taken the opportunity to play the best basketball of his young NBA career. Through the four-game stretch without Wall, Satoransky is averaging 10 points and 5.5 assists while leading the regular rotation players with a plus-minus rating of 13. He has yet to commit a turnover in 88 minutes.
As a 6-foot-7 point guard who shows no fear in paint — evidenced by his crashing of the glass for that rebound Friday night — Satoransky also tops his teammates with a 63.6 field goal percentage. In the Wizards’ 109-91 win over the Detroit Pistons, Satoransky made 5 of 6 shots from the floor for 17 points — the second straight matchup in which he set his single-game career high — and also tallied four assists, four rebounds and a steal.
“Tomas is a hard worker. He’s put the time in. He’s taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given since John has been out; hopefully that continues,” Coach Scott Brooks said, describing how a player can step up and shine after long stretches out of the rotation. “Sometimes it happens and the player is not prepared. … The last couple games with Tomas you knew that he was going to be prepared.”
As the Wizards’ third point guard, Satoransky played only scattered time. He logged 22 minutes during an early November win in Toronto, but did not exceed 10 minutes total over the next three games. Though Satoransky stayed diligent during practices, he found it difficult to catch fire in the sporadic runs he was afforded. On Nov. 19, when Wall missed his second game of the season, Satoransky played as the backup but committed three turnovers in an abbreviated 12-minute stint as the Wizards lost to the Raptors.
“You struggle with that. You don’t want to lose that confidence,” Satoransky said about floating in and out of the rotation. “Obviously when you’re not playing, it’s tougher each game to get there and be effective immediately. But right here in the NBA, I’m understanding what it means to be ready in every moment. You have to be mentally very strong to do that.”
Satoransky looked at teammate Jason Smith as an example. Smith, praised by Brooks for his energy although Brooks doesn’t play him, does not have a natural spot in the rotation. Games can pass by and ‘DNPs’ (Did Not Play) can stack up, but anytime Smith is called upon he infuses the team with his hustle.
“He’s just a good guy to follow in these things,” Satoransky said of Smith.
With Wall out for at least another week, Satoransky’s confidence has quickly grown. Knowing that he will play has helped, and Satoransky has looked more comfortable than in his previous stints. On Friday, Satoransky knocked down two three-pointers — an element of his game that he has worked on but has not consistently shown.
“A lot of things are just clicking for me,” Satoransky said. “When you start to play good and start to play better as a unit, and you’re playing defense, good things happen.”
Since coming over to the NBA, Satoransky’s stature has taken off in the Czech Republic since he’s the only player from his country currently in the league. In November, he graced the cover of the Czech edition of Elle MAN, even though soccer and hockey dominate in his country. Attention has picked up during this current stretch of increased play.
“My phone received a lot of messages since then,” Satoransky said of his Friday night performance. “I’m trying not to be focused on that, you know? . . . I’m just trying to do my routine, focus on each game but it’s obviously nice to see recognition in your country especially.”
While fans back home might have read his lips and figured out what Satoransky said after getting fired up from the bucket, it’s still a mystery to him.
“I really don’t know. I tried to watch it and remember what did I yell. I think I was in the moment,” Satoransky said. “I had a blackout a little bit. I was just excited.”
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