A miss by Otto Porter Jr. ricocheted off the backboard, then Marcin Gortat’s foot. As the ball rolled dangerously close to the tip-off circle, the only thing standing between a backcourt violation and a saved possession was Satoransky. And so he lunged.
Plays such as that one during the Wizards’ 115-98 win over Orlando explain why Satoransky has recently spent quality time with the Wizards’ athletic performance specialist, Navin Hettiarachchi, following games. The new starting point guard needs extra stretching and a little more attention for his sore muscles.
“Right now, I see how this league is really tough and why other guys don’t practice that much,” Satoransky said recently, smiling ahead of a scheduled postgame visit with Hettiarachchi. “Because you don’t think about it until you’re in that same position.”
Satoransky, a 2012 second-round pick from the Czech Republic, has started four straight games in John Wall’s absence and filled in admirably, matching up against some of the best point guards in the NBA as Washington (30-22) has tied a season high with four straight wins. On Saturday, Satoransky elevated his play even more, scoring a career-high 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including 3 for 3 from beyond the three-point arc.
The new milestone happened inside Amway Center, the same building in which Satoransky made his first NBA start Nov. 5, 2016. On that night, Satoransky, with Wall sitting out the second leg of a back-to-back, played just 21 minutes. This time around, Satoransky surpassed that mark before the end of the third quarter.
Satoransky sat the entire fourth quarter, mimicking Porter’s trademark three-point celebration after his makes and barking out where teammates needed to be during half-court plays. The much-deserved rest came after the most physically demanding stretch of his two-year NBA career.
“It’s a totally different mentality and concentration when you go against the starters,” Satoransky said. “It’s definitely tougher, and all the guys in the starting five are superstars. . . . It’s a tough task for me, but I’m enjoying every challenge.”
Satoransky started the season as an afterthought in the rotation behind Tim Frazier. But Wall’s November stint on the injury list was the catalyst that released Satoransky from the bench.
In 40 games before Jan. 27, he averaged 16.4 minutes. But since taking over for Wall, who underwent left knee surgery this past week, Satoransky has charged headfirst into a murderer’s row of matchups, facing off with former MVP Russell Westbrook one night, then squaring up against four-time all-star Kyle Lowry a few nights later.
“There’s definitely an adjustment by starting,” Coach Scott Brooks said.
Then Brooks, who was a career backup point guard, joked: “I’m glad he didn’t ask me that question because I couldn’t help him on things he has to look for on being a starting point guard. It’s definitely different.”
In Orlando, Satoransky factored once again into the team’s stellar ball movement. By halftime, the Wizards had doubled up the Magic with 18 assists. Washington finished with 35 assists — Satoransky had six, and Frazier, now playing as his backup, dished out seven. In the four games without Wall, the Wizards are averaging 33 assists per game.
“Any time you lose a star player like John Wall, everybody’s kind of on high alert to play their best and pick up the slack,” Magic Coach Frank Vogel said. “I’ve been really impressed, just by watching the tape, of how Bradley [Beal] is letting the game come to him. It’s probably human nature for him to go out and try to score 40 every night with John out, but I think he’s trying to make the right play consistently.”
Beal spent some minutes in the second quarter as the primary ballhandler and continued his playmaking skills even as Satoransky returned to the court. In the closing seconds of the first half, Satoransky stripped the ball from Magic forward Jonathon Simmons and found Satoransky in transition for a dunk to cap a 12-2 run.
Beal scored 18 points but only could flirt with a triple-double (eight assists and eight rebounds) because, like all the starters, he was on the bench in the fourth quarter while the reserves finished the blowout.
“It’s what the team needs,” Beal said of his all-around performances. “With John being out, the teams are just playing me differently. I face a lot more double-teams, a lot more hands on the ball, so they kind of force me to make those type of plays. At the same time, I have to be more of a playmaker with John out.”
Porter led all scorers with 20 points, while frontcourt mate Markieff Morris added 16 on 7-for-10 shooting, and Gortat reached his 12th double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
But the newest starter — with his corner threes, transition dimes and floor burns — likely enjoyed this win, and the additional rest, more than most.
“You’re leading the team every night and you’re the coach on the floor,” Brooks said of Satoransky. “And there are so many athletic, dynamic scoring point guards in the league, and you can’t get frustrated. He’s not going to match point for point, [but] he’s a winner. He wants to do whatever it takes to win.”