The Davis Bertans Revolution Is Upon Us

In the middle of Davis Bertans’ record-setting night, Bradley Beal had to be resuscitated. Bertans had just made his sixth 3-pointer of the evening, while being fouled in the act, and the Washington Wizards bench lost its collective mind, and evidently, its pulse.

The Wizards were perhaps the most depressing team in the NBA to watch last season. They lost John Wall to a season-ending injury, had a trade derailed by mistaken identity, dumped two of their core young players, and played out the end of the year with a roster full of ball hogs. This season projected to be nearly as dispiriting, but instead, Washington leaned into one end of the floor and has been one of the most exciting offenses in the league. At the heart of that unexpected transformation is one of the breakout players of the year, Bertans.

Bertans was somewhat of an afterthought among the Wizards’ offseason acquisitions, which is par for the course for how his NBA career has transpired. He was ostensibly a throw-in with Kawhi Leonard when Indiana traded both of their draft rights to San Antonio for George Hill on 2011 draft night. This offseason, he came to Washington in a salary dump from the Spurs, who needed to clear space to sign Marcus Morris. Morris ended up reneging and joining the New York Knicks, so the Spurs were down two forwards for their trouble. But at this point, Bertans’ play begs the question: should San Antonio have prioritized him over Morris in the first place?

Bertans has been a literal framethrower over the past few weeks. His eight 3-pointers against the Hornets Tuesday were a career-high, along with his 32 points, but Bertans has been inching towards those marks for a month. Since Nov. 17, he has scored double digits in 12 of 13 games, including seven outings of at least 20 points. His game isn’t that complicated โ€“ he takes threes. A lot of them.

Look at the pure goodness of this shot chart.

Via Positive Residual

What’s crazy is that Bertans’ looks are getting more and more open as the year goes on. Through Nov. 16, 55% of Bertans’ shots were classified as open or wide open. That number has jumped to 63% over his last 13 games. Even as his profile increases and his shot-making improves, defenses still make the mistake of collapsing into the paint and leaving him open. The number of defenders who continue to go under on screens and fail to close out hard on Bertans is staggering.

That’s a problem, because Bertans can do it all. His 3-point diet includes run-of-the-mill transition threes as the trailer, kick-outs from offensive rebounds, pull-ups over smaller defenders, and everything in between. Against the Hornets, Devonte’ Graham stayed tight on Bertans and almost stripped him, but Bertans’ stepback wizardry still created enough space for the three, and the foul.

A personal favorite Bertans moment came against the Clippers in Los Angeles. He collected an offensive rebound in the paint, met no resistance, and simply dribbled out to the corner for a swish over the meek contest from Patrick Beverley.

After surrendering six threes in that matchup, the Clippers attempted to wisen up in their second meeting against the Wizards Sunday by putting arguably the best defender in the NBA, Leonard, on Bertans. The problem with that approach is that Leonard is used to acting as a help defender in the Clippers’ scheme, and Bertans may be the worst player to help off of in the league. Sorry, Kawhi, but this ain’t it.

Bertans was always a very good shooter in in San Antonio, knocking down 40.4% of his 3-pointers over three seasons on 3.5 attempts per game. But Scott Brooks has given Bertans the green light in Washington, and as Bertans’ volume has jumped, so has his efficiency. He is shooting over 50% on threes in the month of December, he has multiple halves with at least six made threes this year, and he is one pace to hit 300 threes this season, a mark only ever reached by Stephen Curry and James Harden.

Bertans isn’t simply collecting individual stats โ€“ he meaningfully impacts the Wizards’ performance. Washington’s offensive rating improves 13.1 points per 100 possessions to 117.7 when Bertans is on the floor. His shooting helps open up space for his teammates.

The Wizards are clearly enjoying the Davis Bertans experience, but as Dec. 15 approaches, the trade offers will start to roll in. On an expiring contract valued at $7 million, Bertans is certainly more movable than, say, Andre Igudoala. He brings a clearly definable skill to any playoff roster, even if his defense is suspect, and the prudent strategy may be to move Bertans for future assets.

Then again, Washington already has Beal, and Wall will come back next year. Bertans is as good of a complement as any to those two All-Star guards, and in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards could return to contention sooner than later. At the very least, Bertans’ play has vaulted him near the top of a bleak free agent class in 2020, and he’s just getting started.