How Davis Bertans crafted one of the best shooting seasons in NBA history coming off the bench
“Davis (Bertans) is a player that will add depth to our frontcourt with his shooting ability, basketball IQ and work ethic.”
That was Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard on July 6, 2019, the day the team announced the acquisition of the sharp-shooting stretch forward from the Spurs. Just over one calendar year later, Bertans has burst onto the scene as one of the best 3-point shooters in the league coming off one of the most prolific off-the-bench shooting seasons of all time.
Bertans, who will not participate in the season’s restart in Orlando, finished the season with exactly 200 3-pointers made, which ranks seventh in the league, but first among all reserve players. Most of the players that Bertans trails in total threes far exceed his usage and volume. Only a select group can match Bertans’ accuracy and efficiency. He ranked fourth in the league in 3-pointers made per game (3.7) and second in 3-pointers made per 100 possessions (5.9).
The Latvian Laser put himself on the map this season, even going shot-for-shot with the league’s best sharpshooters at NBA All-Star Weekend, the league’s biggest stage, finishing third in 2020 MTN DEW 3-Point Contest.
Bertans was a fixture in the Wizards’ offensive success from beginning to end this season. His breakout run began in a two-game stretch in late October, hitting 5-5 (1.000) from deep against San Antonio, his former team, before shooting 6-9 (.667) from 3-point range four days later against Houston, helping Washington keep pace in a 159-158 shootout. Bertans came off the bench in both games, as he did in all but four games this season when the Wizards’ rotation was severely depleted by injury.
Turns out, Bertans was just getting started. From November 17 through December 18, he hit at least four 3-pointers in 12 of 16 games, shooting 48.4% from beyond the arc on nearly 10 attempts per game.
The red-hot shooting continued all the way up until the season’s suspension in early March. Bertans hit at least three 3-pointers in each of his final six games of the season, including a pair of games with eight 3-pointers made, making him one of just nine players this season with multiple games with at least eight 3-pointers.
"You just smile,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said of Bertans after hitting seven 3-pointers against Philadelphia in December. “He makes it look so easy, but those...It's only maybe a few people in the league, that can take those shots and have the confidence to take and make them. I thought the ball movement, his ability to space the floor is like the best in the league at that position. But he is way more than a shooter. He plays with a lot of passion, he plays with toughness, he chases down loose balls, he chases down rebounds, he contests shots. I think he's a complete basketball player."
In three seasons with the Spurs, he averaged just 16.0 minutes and 6.2 points per game. This season, he hit career highs in minutes (29.3), points (15.4), rebounds (4.5), and assists (1.7) per game. Much of those new highs can be attributed to a larger role – but that role had to be earned – and it was earned by bringing it on both ends of the court.
“(Bertans) is as good as any defender we have,” Brooks said after a December matchup with the Clippers. “He pursues, he contests, he plays with a passion, he plays with some toughness.”
At the end of the day, though, Bertans’ 2019-20 season will be remembered for the game-changing 3-point runs and unfathomably deep shot attempts that hushed a road crowd or sent Capital One Arena into hysterics.
Bertans’ finished the 2019-20 season 24 threes short of breaking Bradley Beal’s franchise record for threes in a season set in 2016-17, though Beal did so playing 77 games that year and averaging 2.9 threes per game. At 3.7 threes per game, Bertans will become, by a wide margin, the first player in franchise history to average over 3.0 3-pointers made per game. Despite appearing in just 53 games, Bertans set a new franchise record for games with at least five 3-pointers through 70 games (16).
With a 42.4% 3-point shooting rate, Bertans became just the second player in league history, joining Stephen Curry, to shoot over 40.0% from beyond the arc while attempting at least 8.5 threes per game.
More specifically to his role as a sixth man, Bertans notched 25 games this season hitting at least four 3-pointers, the most in the league by nine games and just three such games shy of setting a new NBA record – a record he likely would have cleared with ease in Orlando.
That sort of shooting production puts an unbelievable strain on defenses, changing the opponent’s entire game plan the moment he steps on the court.
“Just make sure he doesn’t catch the ball,” said five-time All-Defensive Team forward and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard of Bertans.
“Bertans checked in and the whole game plan was to keep him from shooting, but there are some times when you think it’s a good contest, but it’s just not,” said Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. after Bertans shot 4-8 (.500) from three against the Cavaliers in late January. “He’ll shoot it right in your face.”
For all the dread Bertans causes opposing defenses, it may be surpassed by positive impact he has on his teammates when he comes off the bench. The instant threat he poses the moment he checks into the game, either to dig Washington out of a hole or bury an opponent in just a few minutes has turned Bertans into one of the league’s premiere bench weapons this season – and one of the most prolific bench shooters of all time.
“He brings so much energy,” said Thomas Bryant after a November matchup with Charlotte. “I didn’t even know he was like that, really. He can drive to the basket, he has floaters. Of course he can shoot threes, but he can also defend, block shots and rebound. He brings so much to the table for us that we need out there.”
“It’s fun as hell – excuse my language,” Moritz Wagner said of playing with Bertans. “When in doubt, pass it to Davis.”