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Inside Davis Bertans's red-hot start
Tuesday night against Charlotte, trailing by 16 late in the third quarter, Davis Bertans hit four 3-pointers and scored 15 points over a three-minute span. Bertans’s hot shooting sparked a 20-2 Washington run to give the Wizards an early fourth quarter lead. Bertans finished the night with a career-high 32 points, shooting 8-12 from 3-point range.
Bertans’s performance on Tuesday was not entirely new – just the best version of something he has shown time and time again over the course of the season.
“The guy is a bucket getter,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said following the game.
Bertans joined the Wizards this offseason from San Antonio in a three-team trade with the Spurs and Nets. In the three seasons Bertans spent in San Antonio, he averaged 6.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 220 career games. During the 2018-19 season, Bertans hit career highs in nearly every statistical category – 8.0 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game and a career-best 42.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range on 4.4 threes per game.
Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard, who classified Bertans as “one of the top 3-point shooters in the league last season” and someone “that will add depth to our frontcourt with his shooting ability, basketball IQ and work ethic” has proven to be spot on in his assessment of the fourth-year shooter.
Through the first month and half of the season, Bertans has taken full advantage of the larger role he has played in Washington. He has improved on his career averages in nearly every statistical category, opened up the court for the teammates and drawn the respect of opposing coaches and players around the league.
Bertans is currently shooting 46.5% from 3-point range on 8.6 3-point attempts per game. Through the season’s first six weeks, no player in the league can match his combination of volume and efficiency. In fact, there is only one case in NBA history that stacks up to it. The only player to ever shoot at least 45% from deep on at least eight attempts per game is Stephen Curry, who shot 45.4% on 11.2 threes per game during his 2015-16 MVP season.
Bertans ranks third in the league in total 3-pointers made (92), trailing only James Harden and Devonte’ Graham. Bertans has 18 games with at least three 3-pointers, 13 games with at least four, nine games with at least five and six games with at least six. Each of those figures ranks second in the league overall and first among bench players by a substantial margin.
Bertans, Harden and Paul George are the only players in the league averaging over four made 3-pointers per game – and Bertans does so averaging one fewer attempt per game than George and five fewer than Harden.
Bertans’s best work of the season has come in the month of December. In the six games the Wizards have played since December 1, he is averaging 23.7 points per game on 51.6% from the field and 50.7% from 3-point range.
After Tuesday night’s performance against the Hornets, Bertans has now scored 20-plus points in five of his last six games. The one game in that stretch without 20 points? A 19-point double-double against Miami that included another five 3-pointers made.
"The hoop is just giant,” Bertans said after his performance against Charlotte. “You just let it fly and you feel like everything you throw in that direction is going in.”
On December 1 against the Clippers, Bertans shot 7-10 from the field and 6-of-9 from three, scoring 20 points in just 28 minutes. Two days later against Orlando, a wave of Wizards injuries forced Bertans into the starting lineup for the first time this season. He responded with 21 points in a season-high 40 minutes. Bertans started the second half hitting triples on three consecutive possessions, sparking a 21-6 Wizards run that erased a 14-point Magic lead in less than four minutes.
Those performances, however, paled in comparison to the show Bertans put on in the first half of Washington’s win over Philadelphia on December 5.
Bertans entered the game midway through the first quarter with the Wizards down 10 and singlehandedly shot Washington back into the game. Bertans hit all six of his 3-pointers in the first half, including 5-5 in the second quarter alone. Down five with just over five minutes left in the half, Bertans hit threes on three consecutive possessions, igniting a 19-4 run in the final minutes that gave Washington a double-digit lead going into halftime.
"You just smile,” Brooks said postgame. “He makes it look so easy. (There’s) only maybe a few people in the league that…have the confidence to take and make (those shots).”
Overall, Bertans shot 8-8 from the field and 6-6 from deep in the first half, becoming the first Wizards player to hit at least six 3-pointers in a half without a miss since Trevor Ariza on March 1, 2014. Bertans went on to finish with 25 points in Washington’s most impressive win of the season.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Moritz Wagner said. “The crazy thing about Davis is he’s 6’9” and you never know when he is going to pull up. He might be at half court. It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun to play with him obviously because it opens the court for you. You love to set screens for someone who knocks it down like that.”
Against Miami, Los Angeles and Charlotte in the days following, Bertans continued a trend as impressive as his high-volume shot making: his ability to consistently swing games the moment he steps on the court.
Versus Philadelphia, Bertans checked in with the Wizards down 10 only to lead them, in a matter of minutes, to a 10-point lead of their own. Against Miami, he checked in with the Wizards down one and hit three consecutive triples to put Washington up 11. Against the Clippers, Washington trailed by 14 before Bertans scored 11 points in five minutes to give the Wizards a one-point lead. And finally, in his career-best performance against Charlotte, his checking into the game swung a 14-point Wizards deficit to a four-point lead.
In today’s NBA, elite 3-point shooting has a way of creating opportunity for everyone on the court. Bertans’s recent hot streak is no different. Over the last handful of games, defenses have been forced to overcompensate for his ability to stretch the floor, and the Wizards have been able to take advantage of the gravitational pull his presence has.
After Bertans hit three triples in the final two minutes of the third quarter against Charlotte and opened the fourth quarter with a mid-range jumper and a four-point play on consecutive possessions, the Hornets were forced to adjust. On the following possession, Charlotte’s P.J. Washington face-guarded Bertans, denying him the ball and leaving everyone else on the court to play 4-on-4. Some simple screen action by the Wizards and Chris Chiozza found himself 15 feet free of any Hornets defender, setting up and easy 3-pointer to give Washington a lead.
View the full sequence here:
Bertans noted postgame that the Wizards have actually worked on those 4-on-4 situations in practice.
“You rarely get stops on those,” Bertans said. “It opens up everything for everybody else.”
The Hornets are not alone. Opponents across the league have taken notice of just how lethal a shooter Bertans has become. Even two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, who played with Bertans in San Antonio and saw action against him in both of their matchups this season, recognized how little can be done once he gets into shooting position.
“Just make sure he doesn’t catch the ball,” Leonard said when asked how best to slow down Bertans.
Bertans, as noted by coaches and teammates alike, plays like a veteran. But with just over three years of NBA experience under his belt, his potential is still relatively unknown. Through the first month and a half of the season, he has put the league on notice, shooting the ball at a historic rate and providing a spark for the best offense in franchise history. How he and the Wizards’ offense will fare over the coming months is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: Bertans will keep shooting.
When asked earlier this season if there was a limit to his range, he replied with a laugh, “I haven’t found out yet.”