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Bertans to cap breakout first half at All-Star Weekend
Last Thursday, the Wizards held practice a day before a home matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. The session broke just after noon. Players went into their normal post-practice routines – some wandered to the weight room, some received treatment, others worked on their free throws. And while all may have appeared as normal, the trade deadline was just three hours away and lingered on the minds of everyone present.
Davis Bertans, the Wizards’ 6’10” long-range shooting extraordinaire, who spent the last four months developing into one of the NBA’s best perimeter threats, was among the many players around the league that heard their name floated in trade rumors for weeks.
“I wished we could have practiced until 3:00 P.M. because then at least I would not have had to think about it,” Bertans said.
Hours later, the deadline passed and Bertans remained a Wizard, despite what GM Tommy Sheppard said were “quite a few” offers from opposing teams.
“It was never a doubt in my mind that we wanted to keep him,” Sheppard said.
Since October 30, when Wizards fans got their first live look at Bertans, he’s become a fan favorite and a key cog in the locker room. That October night, in a 317-point shootout with the Houston Rockets, Bertans scored 21 points on 6-9 (.667) from 3-point range, the first of so many memorably explosive performances this season.
Bertans draws a roar from the crowd the first time he checked into each game. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks recently called him a “gravity pull” that opens up the entire offense. Sunday, after a loss to the Grizzlies, when the Wizards’ offense sputtered down the stretch, Bradley Beal identified a simple fix: “Get D.B. the ball more.”
Bertans has built this good will with fans, coaches and teammates, not just with his avalanche-like runs of threes that flip scripts of entire games, but with his consistency. In between his October performance against the Rockets, his 32-point night against the Hornets and his six threes in one quarter against the Sixers are dozens of other performances that would draw envy from some of the game’s best marksmen.
Bertans is the only player in the league shooting over 40.0% from deep while taking over eight 3-pointers per game. He is the best bench shooter in the league, totaling 19 games with at least four triples off the bench. No other player has more than 10.
He leads the team in 3-pointers made (3.5) and attempted (8.4) per game – as well 3-point percentage (.424). On February 7 against Dallas, a day after the trade deadline and in the Wizards’ 50th game of the season, Bertans made five 3-pointers. The performance pushed his season total to 149 – the most any player in franchise history has hit in the first 50 games of a season. Bertans did so despite missing nine games from late December to early January with a quad strain.
As his red-hot first half of the season comes to a close, Bertans prepares to take the biggest stage the NBA offers its most elite shooters: All-Star Weekend’s 3-Point Contest. On one of the NBA’s most popular nights, all eyes will be on
Bertans as he tries to cram as many 3-pointers into a 70-second span as possible. Despite all the bright lights, attention and pressure, Bertans won’t allow himself to overthink his approach.
“The strategy is to make all of them – that’s the strategy,” Bertans said in an interview on the Off The Bench Podcast earlier this week. “The closer you get to that, the better it is.”
Saturday’s competition will look different than year’s past. This year, contestants will have 70 seconds for 27 shots, up from 60 seconds and 25 shots. Those additional 10 seconds and two shots? The MTN Dew Zone – a pair of pedestals located six feet behind the 3-point line, each holding a ball worth three points. It’s a fitting addition in a year where the league’s collective range continues to grow deeper– and a wrinkle that Bertans certainly welcomes.
“I like (the rule changes),” Bertans said. “There are a couple guys besides me that take a lot of (deep 3-pointers) like [Damian] Lillard and Trae Young. That puts us in a position where we can get an extra six points – I don’t know how easy (they will be), but those two shots can change a lot.”
Bertans noted that those two shots alone match the value of an entire rack. He says his approach to the 3-Point Contest will match the approach for any game: do not miss two in a row.
“If you miss one, you can’t miss two,” Bertans said. “You’ve got to make the next one.”
Eliminate consecutive misses, string together a few makes in a row and Bertans feels he should be in good shape.
For Bertans, All-Star Weekend is a bookend to his breakout campaign. Opposing teams know him well, but the national NBA audience has yet to receive a proper introduction. Saturday night, win or lose, the wider NBA world will know his name. He’ll enter the second half of the season a known commodity, no longer Washington’s secret weapon off the bench that leaves opposing fans wondering where their second-quarter lead went.
Bertans is aware of and values the magnitude of the stage he’s set to perform on. He says he has memories from his childhood in Latvia, waking up early in the morning to watch the All-Star Saturday Night festivities. He remembers Vince Carter winning the dunk contest in 2000 and, more recently, the instant-classic Dunk Contest showdown between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine – and the Skills Challenge win for fellow Latvian Kristaps Porzingis – the year before he entered the league.
Now Bertans has a chance to etch his name – and his native Latvia – in All-Star Weekend history.
“We (already) had Porzingis in the Skills Challenge – my goal is to go out and win the 3-Point Contest,” Bertans said. “Who knows, maybe in five or six years we can have somebody super athletic from Latvia come and win the dunk contest.”