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Just how good is Davis Bertans?

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New York Knicks v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Wizards’ acquisition of Davis Bertans was classic Tommy Sheppard networking. The San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets needed to clear some cap space, and Sheppard wedged himself into the negotiations to help make things happen.

The Nets gave up DeMarre Carroll and ended up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. And Aaron White — a “maybe someday, but probably never” prospect.

The Spurs gave up Davis Bertans and Nemanja Dangubic to get Carroll from the Nets and the salary space to sign free agent Marcus Morris. Except, Morris begged out because he wanted to sign with the Knicks instead — a sure sign of how badly the Spurs have slipped in recent years.

The Wizards swapped White (who will probably never play in the NBA) and got Bertans — one of the best shooters on the planet. Not bad work for an interim general manager.

When the deal was announced, I figured Bertans would be gone by the trade deadline. He was established as a great shooter, but there wasn’t much else to his game. But, shooting is much coveted in today’s NBA so I thought a bad Wizards team would flip him for a mid-to-late first round pick to help rebuild for the future.

Then he started popping threes from crazy distance with hands in his face, and I wrote about how the Wizards needed to get him even more shots — which they did. And then, instead of making Bertans’ hot shooting the prize of the trade market, Sheppard and the Wizards said early and often they had no interest in trading him at all. On the contrary, they wanted to re-sign him. What’s more, they meant it.

And now, they have a problem. Because upon further review, Bertans is indeed an elite shooter...and there isn’t much else to his game. At 6-10, he moves well without the ball, has a quick shot action and a high release, which means he can pull up on anyone. He’s a genuine asset on offense.

But, he doesn’t rebound or defend effectively and he’s not a playmaker in any sense of the word — even for a power forward.

That shooting, though, has a real impact. Two seasons ago, the Spurs were +9.5 per 100 possessions on offense when he was on the floor. This season in Washington, the Wizards were +7.4. The defense was basically unchanged.

While a player who adds 7+ points per 100 possessions is quite valuable, my analysis is a bit more dubious. His overall rating hit a career high at slightly above average — my metric (Player Production Average — PPA) loves the efficiency but isn’t as thrilled with below average rebounding, assists and defense. And, his rating reflects the reality that he comes off the bench, which means his life if a bit easier than it would be if he was starting and a bigger part of opposition game plans.

With Bertans, there may be another factor contributing to his popularity with fans and the Wizards front office. As shown in his performance EKG (below), his play swings from extreme highs to extreme lows. This season, he played 54 games. In 10 of them, his PPA was 200 or higher — the score of an MVP candidate. In nine games, his PPA was negative. There’s palpable excitement when Bertans goes off — it’s fun to watch him light opponents up from long range. His bad games were largely ignored, perhaps a luxury afforded to being modestly paid on a team expected to lose.

How good is Davis Bertans?
Kevin Broom

In the EKG, the orange line is his PPA for the season after each game. The blue line is the 10-game moving average.Don’t get too wrapped up in the midseason crater. Bertans got hurt, played a couple very bad games and then missed a few weeks to heal.

His best stretch was a six-game binge that started with a PPA 247 in a 25-point loss at the Clippers and culminated in his best game of year — a PPA 327 in a 7-point loss at the Hornets. His PPA for the stretch was a 197, which would be in the running for All-NBA if he could do it all season.

The problem for Bertans and the Wizards is that his new contract is likely to be expensive. In the league’s current salary environment (which is likely to be revised by the pandemic), he’s likely to get a three- or four-year contract starting at a minimum of $15 million. My guess is he’ll field offers similar to the four years and $73.1 million Bojan Bogdanovic got from the Utah Jazz last summer.

With so many players still on their rookie contracts, a deal for Bertans starting around $17 million would leave the Wizards with enough space under the luxury tax to use their cap exceptions this offseason. But, at that price tag they’ll also likely need him to play a bigger role than he has in his NBA career.

With John Wall and Bradley Beal consuming nearly 60% of the salary cap between them, Washington will be limited in their ability to acquire additional help — especially since Bertans’ trade value is likely to decline as his salary goes up.

It could work, if Wall can return to action at or near his best, if Beal continues to play like an All-NBA candidate, and if the Wizards can get a breakout performer or two or three from the group of Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown, Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and whoever they land in the draft.