- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

Scott Brooks searched for ways to become a better coach during the single-season hiatus from the NBA that was thrust upon him last year. He stopped in at high school practices, watched the national team in Spain, and checked out college games before the Washington Wizards hired him to be their coach.

Tuesday, Brooks stood against a white brick wall in the Verizon Center hallway. He explained that he was not sure when Tomas Satoransky would play, but that he had confidence Satoransky would be ready if summoned. The Wizards had drafted Satoransky in 2012 in the second round. For four years, they let him marinate overseas before bringing him stateside. And yet, there he was, a versatile 6-foot-7 guard sitting on the bench, out of the rotation in the first two games of the season. Brooks‘ words earlier in the week made it sound like that’s where Satoransky would remain for some time.

Instead, there was a pivot. Satoransky was the first substitution in the second half against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday. He played 10 important minutes in the game, five times the amount he played in the first two games combined. The move showed Brooks had learned a couple things in his time away. First, he was willing to make rapid lineup changes in his initial search for proper combinations. Second?

“Well I’ve improved as a coach that I’m tricking you by not telling you what I’m really thinking,” Brooks said.

He smiled. There is some mischief behind that baby face. And, internally, the wheels are turning.

The same day of the misdirection about Satoransky, a reporter led into a question for Brooks by saying he was not “questioning your rotation.” Brooks stopped him to say, “I have.”

Through the first two games, and two quarters Wednesday, the bench play was putrid. To remedy it, Brooks not only turned to Satoransky, he staggered playing time for the 0-3 Wizards in a dramatic way.

Brooks had considered the typical NBA model of bridging starters into playing with the backups. The trouble for him was he also had another personal edict: Limit the total minutes played by his prime young pieces, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall had two knee surgeries in the offseason. Beal has been hurt each of his four seasons in the league. So, how to create a Band-Aid with another possible wound?

Wednesday night, in the 113-103 loss to the Raptors, Brooks went all-in with his distribution of minutes. They read close to what could be expected in a playoff game. All five starters played at least 36 minutes. Wall played 37 minutes. Beal played 39. Last season, Wall averaged 36.2 minutes, which was in line with his career average. Beal played just 31 minutes per game in 2015-16. He played 39 minutes or more just eight times.

Brooks shut down his bench in the second half against Toronto. Backup point guard Trey Burke and backup small forward Kelly Oubre did not play. Early struggles for each have been emphatic. Burke committed two fouls and three turnovers in just more than six minutes on the court Wednesday. Oubre, in his second season, committed two fouls and a turnover in seven minutes, to go with multiple defensive lapses. In his limited minutes, Oubre has twice as many fouls and turnovers (six combined) than field goals made (three).

Satoransky was solid in his first appearance as a member of the rotation: Two points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal. Brooks said keeping Satoransky in the mix is a strong consideration for coming games.

Tomas brings a lot of energy and brings some toughness and has good size and athleticism,” Brooks said. “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.”

Since Brooks has taken his first major steps toward change, figuring out if he is going to maintain the shift or tweak some more will come next. He used three-guard lineups at times on Wednesday. Considering how much the Wizards gave up to acquire Oubre on draft night in 2015, getting the 20-year-old going will be a priority. He also needs to decide if Satoransky is capable of playing well for 14-17 minutes instead of just 10, which would allow both Wall and Beal more rest.

“It’s collectively as a group that we have to figure out how to play,” Brooks said. “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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