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The entire NBA missed on Davis Bertans. The Wizards are taking advantage

There’s no one quite like Bertans, the Wizards’ 6’10 shooting star.

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You don’t need to actually watch the television to know when Washington Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans is uncorking a three-point shot. All you need to do is listen. They just sound different.

They sound understandably gleeful on Wizards broadcasts, usually with play-by-play man Justin Kucher’s voice rapidly rising as the ball leaves Bertans’ arms. There is childlike wonder that projects from the screen. I can still hear analyst Drew Gooden bellowing “Cash it!” before Bertans nailed a transition trey in Detroit, then both announcers giggling with big ‘I told you so’ energy.

On opposing broadcasts, Bertans’ shots run the gauntlet of emotions. There’s disbelief that he’s really taking that shot (along with its spiritual cousin: mocking when he misses). There’s frustration that, goddammit, how did our team leave him open again? There’s a tint of jealousy combined with backhanded compliments — Damn, he isn’t shy. (This one’s popular with recent former players). There’s hopelessness that comes from getting hit with a Bertans dagger. And above all, there’s lots of appreciation. Begrudging appreciation, stunned appreciation, vividly descriptive appreciation, and sometimes all of the above.

No two Davis Bertans three-point calls sound exactly the same, but they all convey a sense of shock at the audacity of a player who never averaged 22 minutes per game suddenly taking and making so many difficult long three-point shots. They make Bertans sound like an unnatural basketball species that burst onto the scene doing stuff nobody else does. It’s as if he’s the NBA’s Baby Yoda, and everyone who sees him are the many Mandalorian characters that look dumfounded when meeting our beloved 50-year-old force sensitive child for the first time.

On some level, shock and awe is understandable. Bertans really is an experience. What the hell is this?

At the same time, he’s not exactly a new experience, or even a totally unfamiliar one. He’s not a rookie, nor is he suddenly displaying a new skill. He’s a 27-year-old in his fourth NBA season, having already established himself as a sniper off the Spurs’ bench in his first three. Last year, he made 43 percent from downtown on four-and-a-half three-point attempts a game, despite averaging just 22 minutes a contest. He’s always been 6’10 with a lightning-quick release, allowing him to shoot over smaller defenders.

High-volume, accurate three-point shooting is prized by every team, and Bertans is not the first tall, long-distance sniper in league history. So why has he engender this much disbelief?

Blame the Spurs, first and foremost. They were the ones who dumped his $7.25 million salary in a trade with the Wizards, having secured a free-agent deal for a more well-known veteran at his position. (That player, Marcus Morris, didn’t end up coming. Oops). Washington had space to absorb Bertans through a creative use of trade exceptions, allowing them to take on Bertans’ contract while sending nothing back. (The not-super-super-super-dense version: they structured a trade deadline deal involving Markieff Morris and Wesley Johnson as two trades, each for a trade exception equal to their salaries. Morris’ salary is more than Bertans’, so Washington essentially “traded” that exception for Bertans).

Months later, Bertans is widely seen as a key trade piece, thanks to his expiring contract, impending payday, and the Wizards’ state as a rebuilding team. So far, the Wizards don’t seem interested to play along. “We intend to keep him,” general manager Tommy Sheppard said on the team-owned Off the Bench podcast this week, adding that the “chit-chat” is “contrived by the teams that would love to have Davis.” (Worth noting: Sheppard adopted a similar posture while the entire league tried and failed to pluck Bradley Beal away this summer.)

To some degree, Bertans is only in D.C. due to a confluence of unique factors. The Spurs had to clear a certain salary, and the Wizards were the only team with the specific slot to satisfy their desires. Still, if a robust Bertans trade market really does exist, every interested team should take a moment for self reflection. Is Bertans really is a new phenomenon, as all those announcers imply when calling his shots, or is the rest of the league scrambling to correct a player evaluation mistake the Spurs made?

The answer to both questions at once comes in the way the Wizards have used him this season. In San Antonio, Bertans rarely had plays run for him; nearly 56 percent of his points were classified at spot-up shots. He was adept at sliding along the line while someone(s) else did the heavy lifting, be it through a post-up or pick-and-roll.

Those little movements created and maximized tight windows needed to score, which was especially important when mid-range artists DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge were the hub of the offense.

Bertans served the function of a floor spacer, though calling him a “floor drifter” is more accurate. His job was to catch defenses when they paid attention elsewhere, and he did it well. But he also didn’t have a fundamentally different role than Stretch 4s of yesteryear.

Bertans still does plenty of spotting up in D.C. You’ll often see him sprinting to and along the line the second his man even looks elsewhere. That explains how he keeps getting open.

And like in San Antonio, his size, speed, balance, and elevation mean he doesn’t need much space to be “open.”

But the Wizards have expanded his role to great effect by running actual plays for him and tailoring their style to his strengths. They slide him off pindown screens like a guard, using bigs, smalls, or both to set picks. Turns out he’s just as good rising and firing on the move as he is in spot-up situations.

Sometimes, he even runs pick-and-roll, which still looks weird given his experience in San Antonio. Though Bertans is no slasher and needs a head start to properly run his man into ball screens, his handle is tighter than expected for someone his size and he has the vision and decisiveness to make the right decision.

Most importantly, the Wizards have given Bertans a neon green light to shoot on the break. Bertans scores an average of 1.65 points per possession on transition sequences, a staggering number bested only by three players in the league. But unlike Tony Snell, he’s not doing that with wide-open looks generated by someone else. He’s doing it with shots like this.

In D.C., Bertans’ shooting creates chaos and inspires terror, rather than just capitalizing on someone else’s heavy lifting. Because of that, the Wizards can leverage the threat of Bertans’ shooting to make life easier for everyone else. In transition, teams give him a version of the old Stephen Curry treatment, flying multiple defenders at him even if it leaves the basket unattended.

You see similar reactions in half-court situations, especially when Bertans is tearing off screens. Rui Hachimura is a common beneficiary.

He owes Bertans for this one.

To put it plainly, the Wizards evolved Bertans from a jitterier Steve Novak to a taller J.J. Redick. Both are useful archetypes, but one’s a whole lot more unique and valuable than the other.

In that sense, Bertans is a new phenomenon. Who else’s game can be described as “taller J.J. Redick?” Of course he elicits some form of wonder from opposing announcers. It’s easy to ask, “who saw this coming?”

But I still think this read is far too charitable to the Spurs and the rest of the league. If this really is an era dominated by deep three-point shooting, there’s not much excuse for undervaluing and failing to maximize a player with Bertans’ skill set. He got plenty of threes up in the limited minutes he did play with the Spurs, and still managed to convert them at an absurd rate. It’s not like he benefited from the hard work of superstars, unless you consider the collective Spurs bench apparatus a superstar.

And there was ample evidence already that his shooting could help a good team succeed. The Spurs outscored teams by 7.6 points per 100 possessions with him in last year and were outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions with him sidelined. The signs of a Bertans breakout when given a greener light were there, and the league should have put those puzzle pieces together.

Instead, the Wizards scooped up found money this summer and are laughing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, the rest of the league will pay for their inattention in the form of dagger threes, if not inflated trade assets and/or a giant summer free-agent contract.


Three-point shooting is essential, yet there’s no good stat that credits defenders for the essential act of preventing a three-pointer from being taken. We must reward these efforts.

Do yourself a favor and watch P.J. Tucker on this defensive possession. Look at all the stuff he does: helping on a pick-and-roll, closing out to Trey Lyles, switching onto DeMar DeRozan, then contesting DeJounte Murray’s floater. Sequences like this aren’t out of the ordinary for Tucker, and that’s the point. They show his extreme importance to the Rockets — as well as the degree to which his blue collar game covers up for the ... let’s say, inattention of two well-known offensive stars.


Last year, I wrote about the rising trend of teammates fighting each other for defensive rebounds. These moments usually end harmlessly, but occasionally, they can cost a team. Here’s to over-aggression!

Anytime we get a rare offensive rebound joust, it deserves special mention. Bradley Beal owes Troy Brown Jr. dinner for that one.