Satoranský: Coby White ‘deserves’ starting point guard spot originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Tomáš Satoranský sees a different Coby White than this time last season.
“I see the confidence and the lessons he learned. That stretch he had after All-Star break definitely has helped him,” Satoranský told reporters over Zoom as part of his media week availability session. “He’s been great on decision-making. Everybody talking about him being the scorer, but I think he’s a great decision-maker and he should be still trying to work on it. He does. He competes in every practice. That’s the way how you should approach that. He is doing a good job.”
Combine that with Lauri Markkanen saying that White has been noticeably more vocal, and a theme begins to emerge around White’s maturation: It’s happening in real time.
Is that sentiment enough to earn the Bulls’ starting point guard spot out of camp? It’s certainly trending in that direction. Earlier in media week -- while declining to yet declare an opening night starting five -- Billy Donovan said he envisions White being the team’s “primary ball-handler.”
White insisted he’s not operating as if he is, or is certain to be, named the starter. But he confirmed that Donovan relayed that sentiment, saying he’s spent the offseason honing his pick-and-roll decision-making and that he wants to be the team’s “head point guard.”
Again, no declarations have been made. But Satoranský acknowledged White being the opening night starter as a likely -- and deserved -- outcome.
“I think he deserves that,” Satoranský said. “I really like the progress that he did last season, especially how he ended up the year. After the All-Star break he had an unbelievable run. Even after I saw him after nine months, he had huge progress and you could tell he was working out a lot. I can see the difference also from mental standpoint, just from conversation with each other that he really matured over that year. And I think he deservedly should be in this role."
Satoranský and White are competitors by nature, but both report to having a strong relationship amid said competition. That shone through in Satoranský's comments.
“I like what he said the other day that it’s all about us competing and helping each other in practices," he said. "Our relationship is really good. It’s always been that way. And I’m happy for him and ready just to help him with anything he needs.”
This is all has to be a little awkward for Satoranský, who won and held the Bulls’ starting point guard spot for 64 of 65 games last season before White usurped him in their final game on the heels of a 10-game stretch averaging 25.2 points on 47.4-41.8-90.9 shooting splits.
But his words echo the steadfastly supportive approach he took to falling into a reserve role back in March, and should serve all parties well. Satoranský knows well the rigors of acclimating to the NBA.
“It’s a huge difference,” Satoranský said of the difference between Years 1 and 2 in the NBA. “Just being on one team the second season is great. You have the confidence of knowing players, knowing your teammates, knowing the organization, already experiencing playing in the NBA -- that helps you for that second year. I remember I didn’t play that much my first year (with the Wizards) in D.C, but that second year I was mentally much more ready and I took advantage of it.”
And it’s not as if the 29-year-old lead guard is exiting stage left entirely. In addition to his mentorship, Satoranský’s skillset would still be invaluable in a prominent reserve role for a Bulls team that’s offense will be more movement-based this season. He’s arguably the best passer on the roster, can defend across multiple positions and has historically boasted a reliable jump shot. The three-guard lineup of Satoranský, White and Zach LaVine, in fact, sported the best offensive rating of any three-man grouping on the team last season (min. 50 minutes played).
Satoranský did stress he worked on his shooting this offseason in pursuit of a bounceback campaign. Though he entered his first year with the Bulls a 40 percent career 3-point shooter and 44.5 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, in 2019-20, he logged respective 32.2 percent and 32.9 percent marks in each category.
With looser COVID-19-related restrictions surrounding his home in the Czech Republic, Satoranský said he was able to stay sharp by playing 5-on-5 and training with his old club, USK Praha, throughout the hiatus, adding later that he worked intensively with the shooting coach that spurred a 22-percent jump in 3-point percentage between his first and second NBA seasons.
“I tried to use this time off to work with my shooting coach overseas who really helped me three years ago,” he said. “I actually had a lot of time to work with him. I feel very confident. I changed my shot a little bit to be a little quicker and feel confident about going to this new season. Hopefully that is going to pay off.”
If the Bulls are to translate offseason optimism to the win-loss column, though, Satoranský said late-game execution will be the determining factor.
“What we did last season was competing, but we just weren’t able to finish those games,” he said. “We were so close all the time. I think at one point, we stopped believing in us that we can do that. I think the first message from the coach (Donovan) was we should be having a mentality like a winning team. And that’s what we focus on.
“I think we have a great group of guys. That was the most challenging and frustrating part about losing last year. Because I think this team and this group has a lot of talent, and they put a lot of work in. I think that’s going to be the biggest goal to do for next year.”
We found out Friday that the Bulls’ season tips off Dec. 23 with a home bout against the Atlanta Hawks, a team they handled last season to the tune of a 3-0 record and 29.7 average margin of victory. Satoranský, specifically, had his best outing of the season against them on Nov. 6, 2019, posting 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting (4-for-5 from 3) along with eight rebounds and seven assists.
Those same 20-47 Hawks won’t be the won’t flapping into the United Center later this month after a busy free agency. But the Bulls enter the campaign bolstered by optimism of their own.
“Going into training camp, the most important is everybody is here, everybody is excited,” Satoranský said. “So I’m really looking forward to have this new season.