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Davis Bertans might scorch the nets in Washington

SB Nation logo SB Nation 10/9/2019 Matt Silich
a man swinging a baseball bat: Bold take: this shot probably went in. © Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images Bold take: this shot probably went in.

Who will be the Wizards’ second-best player in 2019? Some might guess it will be Thomas Bryant, who has showed potential to evolve into one of the more efficient scoring big men in the game. Others might optimistically say Isaiah Thomas or even Rui Hachimura.

For my money though, the best bet to be Washington’s second-best player this season is none other than the Latvian forward Davis Bertans.

How good is Davis Bertans?

For what it’s worth, my bold assertion about Bertans has at least some basis in fact. Though far from a perfect metric, ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM) attempts to offer an encapsulating look at the degree to which a player negatively or positively affects his team when he’s on the floor.

Among all qualifying NBAers, Bertans ranked a shocking 34th in RPM, indicating that only 33 players had a more positive per-minute impact on their team than the former Spurs’ sharpshooter. Bertans’ value comes primarily from his offensive impact, which ranked 28th in the league. His defense came in just slightly above average, but that was enough to land him among the league’s best players.

Now, some caveats: It’s entirely possible that Bertans’ ultra-high ranking is in part due to some sort of statistical fluke. Perhaps Bertans’ numbers are inflated because the Spurs’ bench units are almost always among the best in the league, leading to a more favorable rating relative to the team’s less dominant starters. Bertans ranked 69th in the metric last season as well, and other Spurs bench players such as Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson have regularly ranked higher than one might expect in past years.

That said, it isn’t so hard to believe that a top-10 shooter in the game — which Bertans is, ranking 6th last year in three-point percentage at nearly 43% — might provide enough spacing to have an outsized impact on his teammates’ offensive performance. The hope is that Bertans, who posted a better per-minute RPM than any Wizard last season (Bradley Beal finished 77th), can bring whatever magic he used in San Antonio to the Wizards this year.

Why is Bertans important to the Wizards?

In Washington, Bertans’s shooting may very well be essential to the Wizards having a functioning offense. This was evident even in the team’s first preseason game against the New York Knicks: Bertans went 3-for-9 from beyond the arc in that game, with his nine attempts a purposeful team-high. The Wizards sent the former Spur around screens constantly, and his presence as a floor-spacer was hugely useful in opening up room for Justin Robinson and others.

The Wizards will need Bertans to fire off as many shots as possible because he is one of very few regular rotation players that projects as an excellent shooter. Only Beal can otherwise stake that claim — Ish Smith, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura and Mo Wagner are all completely unproven shooters at the NBA level, while Thomas Bryant, CJ Miles and Isaiah Thomas can fairly be labeled question marks heading into the season.

With Bertans and Beal firing threes off screens, Smith and Brown Jr. cutting and driving, and Bryant rolling to the rim, there is hope that Washington could put up real numbers on the offensive end this season. It’s worth noting as well that Bertans is absolutely lethal from the corners — he hit an absurd 58.3% of his corner threes last season and tops in the league among players who attempted at least 25 shots from that distance.

Ironically, the ideal two-way-ish stretch four that the Wizards have long sought to accompany John Wall may have arrived just after Wall suffered a season-ending injury. The only recent Wizard who could rival Bertans’ efficiency last season was Otto Porter Jr. — not coincidentally, Porter also regularly rated exceptionally in efficiency stats such as RPM.

Given the utility of his skillset, I am tentatively expecting Bertans to start over Hachimura at power forward for the Wizards, at least to begin the season. Scott Brooks’ opening preseason lineup may suggest otherwise, but I just think it will be too difficult to keep Bertans off the floor once Brooks sees how the offense operates with him in there.

For no more than the low, low price of former draft pick Aaron White, Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards smartly acquired Davis Bertans for at least one season. Given how important his craft may prove for this team, don’t be surprised if Bertans earns himself a few more years in Washington.

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