The Washington Wizards are committed to doing everything they can to re-sign unrestricted free agent Davis Bertans for the next few seasons. If he signs elsewhere, it won’t be because the Wizards decide they want somebody else. Their offseason strategy hinges on bringing him back. Whether this is smart or not is an open question.
This season, Bertans established himself as one of the world’s greatest shooters. He was arguably the NBA’s top “Mad Bomber” — on extreme range threes (at least 28 feet), Bertans shot a league-leading 49.5%. Number two (minimum 25 attempts — Bertans had 91) was Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry at 44.4%.
Damian Lillard, who created buzz in the playoffs with his “logo threes,” shot 40.1% on 252 attempts.
How’s this for crazy: on field goal attempts from 30 feet or more, Bertans shot 18-26, according to Basketball-Reference’s Stathead. That’s 69.2%. From more than 30 feet. For context, the league average on at-rim attempts (inside three feet) was 66.7%.
The theory behind Washington’s strategy is that Wall, Beal and Bertans will produce an elite offense. There’s evidence to support the theory. This season, with Beal and Bertans on the floor, the Wizards had an offensive rating of 121.5 points per 100 possessions. Adding Thomas Bryant to the lineup boosted the ortg to 122.7. Mix in Rui Hachimura and it was 123.8.
The theory frays a bit when looking at the defensive end of the court. This group could be one of the best offenses and worst defenses in league history.
Bertans’ shooting is valuable. The challenge for Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards front office is negotiating a contract that keeps him with the team at a salary that doesn’t force them to expand his role beyond his capabilities. He’s been significantly less effective throughout his career as a starter, for example — his four starts for the Wizards last season were disastrous.
Part of what makes this a challenge is that teams covet shooting and have become willing to overpay. And this offseason, several teams are likely to have significant cap space. The pandemic has stressed league finances, which could mean less spending.
But, one of those teams with enough space for a couple maximum salary contracts is the deep-pocketed New York Knicks. Looking at the league landscape, I continue to think it’s unlikely the Wizards re-sign Bertans for a “team friendly” $12-15 million per season. Whatever happens with the cap, it seems likely he’ll end up receiving offers in the same tier that Bojan Bogdanovic got from the Utah Jazz — four years and $73 million.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bertans ends up fielding offers north of $20 million per season.
While I think Bertans is a good player, it’s important to be realistic about how good. This was his best season, but his improvement was almost exclusively taking more threes. Per possession, his production was mostly down a little but within previously established career norms. His three-point attempts went from 10.8 per 100 team possessions with the San Antonio Spurs to 13.9 with the Wizards. And his percentage — .424 — was consistent with his .429 shooting the previous season with the Spurs.
At 6-10, Bertans 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.
His shooting creates spacing, which helps his teammates. 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.
Here’s his PPA season-by-season throughout his career (in PPA, 100 is average and higher is better):
- 2016-17 — SAS — 80
- 2017-18 — SAS — 88
- 2018-19 — SAS — 96
- 2019-20 — WAS — 106
He did not participate in the bubble.
With so much uncertainty about the league’s financial future, an array of possibilities are in play for Bertans and the Wizards. The chatter among agents and front office executives indicates a broad consensus that the league will establish a salary cap for next season that’s around the current $109.14 million. That would give teams the opportunity to pursue “normal” offseason strategies — at least among those teams not suffering heavy financial losses due to the pandemic.
With Bertans, I think the Wizards are more likely than not to re-sign him. I’d guesstimate they have about a 60% chance of bringing him back, but I think it’s going to cost more than the team and its fans would like.