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“Spacing, Spacing, Spacing.” If NBA coaches talked like real estate agents, that is what they would be saying. Nowadays, offense revolves around how much spacing you can create. It opens up driving lanes, prevents double teams, and creates open shots for everyone. Everyone needs spacing, and Davis Bertans can provide it. He is an elite three-point shooter with a high release point that allows him to get shots off easily. One season after being traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Washington Wizards in a salary dump, he is in line for a major payday.
Elite Three-Point Shooting
Davis Bertans can make shots at a high rate from anywhere inside half-court. Last season, he finished sixth in the league among qualified players with a 42.4 three-point field goal percentage on 8.7 attempts per game. They were not cheap either, as most came from above the break (8.0 attempts per game with 41.3% efficiency). At 6-foot-10, Bertans releases the ball so high that it is hard for defenders to bother his shot, evidenced by his shooting 39.7% from three on 2.7 shots per game with the closest defender within four feet, according to NBA Advanced Stats.
Bertans is primarily a catch-and-shoot weapon. He excels at moving off-ball, and led the NBA with 7.4 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game (85% of his three-point attempts), shooting 43.1%. This accounted for almost all of his offensive production.
Interestingly, the Wizards did not run many pick-and-pops for him, only using it 39 times in 55 games and scoring at a rate of 1.05 points per possession. His shooting carries so much gravity that running this more could be an effective way to use him going forward.
While he is an incredible shooter, Bertans does not provide much else. He is not a good playmaker (8.1 assist percentage and 0.48 assist-to-usage ratio, both below average for a forward), and as indicated by almost all of his shots coming from catch-and-shoot opportunities, he does not create his own shots off the dribble. Despite his size, he is not effective at blocking shots (0.9 block percentage) or rebounding (8.5 rebound percentage). He is not quick enough to hang with fast players on the perimeter, nor is he strong enough to bang with post players. In short, he is someone who needs to be hidden on defense.
Positive Overall Impact
Despite his warts, Bertans’ teams have performed well with him on the court, a testament to how awesome his shooting is. Defenders have to stick tight to him, or he will make them pay from deep. This opens up lots of space for others. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Wizards last season were 8.2 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Bertans on the court, and the Spurs were 10.4 better the previous season. Meanwhile, both the Wizards last season (0.1 points per 100 possessions worse) and the Spurs the season before (0.5 worse) were roughly the same defensively with Bertans on the court as with him off.
Bertans’ positive on/off numbers may be due to the fact that he has been a bench player throughout his career. Last season, he only started four games and averaged 29.3 minutes per game for the Wizards. It is easier to hide him on defense against opposing bench units than it would be in the starting lineup. He can make a difference offensively, but teams need to be careful not to overextend him.
Fits for Next Season
The Wizards have said they want to bring Bertans back. “We have every intention of retaining him. He’s the exact type of player we want to have in our organization. I think he wants to be here. Business will take care of itself,” General Manager Tommy Sheppard told the ‘Off the Bench’ podcast in December. That was not just posturing; Washington held on to Bertans at the trade deadline despite his upcoming free agency. They can go over the salary cap to re-sign him, giving them an advantage, but Bertans’ market will be competitive.
Even though Bertans struggles to impact the game in other ways than shooting, elite, 6-foot-10 shooters do not grow on trees. The New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks are two teams with cap room expected to go after Bertans, while the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Denver Nuggets were all interested in Bertans at the trade deadline. There are rumors that he will receive a deal topping $15 million annually, though this could be impacted by the pandemic.
$15 million is a steep price for such a limited player, even if the one skill he does provide is incredibly valuable. Bertans helps you a lot on offense, but he is no star. Teams will target him on defense, much like the Lakers have been doing to Duncan Robinson in the Finals. If some team really goes above $15 million to sign him, they will likely regret the deal in a couple years.