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Wizards dealing with The Bertans Conundrum

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Washington Wizards
How should the Washington Wizards handle the poor conditioning of Davis Bertans?
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest coaching conundrums was at work in the Wizards’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers last night. Davis Bertans was having a bad night, no question. Bricking threes while getting roasted on defense.

For the night, he was 2-10 from the floor (all three-point attempts) and contributed almost nothing else — 1 rebound, 1 turnovers, 4 fouls in 30 minutes. NBA tracking had Portland shooting 8-16 when he was defending, including 3-4 from three-point range, to allow a team-high 24 points.

He’s also unofficially credited with 6 broken remote controls, flung by fans irate with his penchant for being out of position on defense.

The lack of non-shooting contributions has always been an issue with Bertans. That problem was exacerbated when he arrived to training camp out of shape and has been slow to regain acceptable fitness. This season, he’s averaging (per 100 team possessions) career lows in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks, and a career high fouls.

Explanations for Bertans’ poor conditioning ring hollow. It’s kinda understandable that he couldn’t find enough people to have safe 5-on-5 pickup games. But could he run? Could he lift weights? Could he do pushups, sit-ups, burpees, Pilates, P90X, sled-pulling?

Not a photo of Davis Bertans offseason workouts.

Here’s the coaching conundrum: Bertans is the team’s third highest paid player. The team gave him the five-year, $80 million deal because they consider him a key piece of their roster puzzle. They believe in him and what he can do (namely shoot a high percentage from very long distances).

So, do you stick with Your Guy and have faith that over time he’ll revert to his norm and knock down 42+% on a high volume of threes? Or do you decide he doesn’t have it tonight and sit him?

Most fans would bench him. And much of the time, that decision would be wrong. A good shooter missing several shots in a row doesn’t say a lot about whether he’ll make the next one. Over time, players tend to revert to their career norms. It’s one reason coaches typically favor veterans to youngsters — they have a better sense of what the older player will provide.

Bertans’ poor conditioning is an extra factor in the decision-making process. But, it’s really an “all of basketball operations” decision that needs to be made before the game starts. As a franchise, they could keep Bertans on the sidelines until he gets in sufficient shape to play at an NBA level — perhaps they could set four trips up and down the court without getting winded and maybe some muscle definition in his arms as criteria.

The team’s decision-makers have adjudged Bertans “good enough” to not just play, but to carry his usual minutes load (30 minutes last night). If they’re playing him into shape, they have to shoulder the consequences as well — replacement level performance (and worse) on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, “good enough” is the Wizards’ way.

The Wizards aren’t poorly coached from an Xs and Os perspective. They continue to have the league’s best defensive shot profile, and opponents continue to shoot a high percentage, even when they contest (which they do at an above average rate). Their offensive playbook is cohesive and effective — standard actions are linked to multiple counters that use the opponent’s scouting reports and instinctive reactions against them.

But, the team is being hurt by Brooks’ division of playing time, lineup decisions, and lack of accountability on shot selection and conditioning.

At this point, Bertans should have to earn his minutes. He let the team down by not being in shape to start the season, and still not being in shape six weeks later. Garrison Mathews has been playing better, but last night got half the playing time Bertans received. Flip that until Bertans proves he deserves more.

Four Factors

Below are the four factors that decide who wins and loses in basketball — shooting (efg), rebounding (offensive rebounds), ball handling (turnovers), fouling (free throws made).

I’ve decided to simplify them a bit. While the factors are usually presented as percentages, that’s more useful over a full season. In a single game, the raw numbers in each category are easier to understand.

Four Factors: Trail Blazers at Wizards

EFG 0.574 0.651
OREB 14 6
TOV 9 13
FTM 23 13
PACE 97 97
ORTG 136 124

Player Production Average

Below are Player Production Average (PPA) results from last night’s game. PPA is my overall production metric, which credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, play-making, defending) and dings them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, bad defense, fouls). PPA is a per possession stat that includes accounting for defense. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.

PPA is a per possession stat. The table below is sorted by each player’s total contributions for the game.

Wizards PPA

Rui Hachimura 34 202 -11
Bradley Beal 38 169 -12
Deni Avdija 23 251 4
Russell Westbrook 33 88 -14
Garrison Mathews 15 171 0
Ish Smith 27 79 1
Moritz Wagner 17 91 -6
Alex Len 8 70 13
Robin Lopez 13 27 -14
Cassius Winston 1 0 3
Isaac Bonga 1 0 3
Davis Bertans 30 -97 -22

Trail Blazers PPA

Gary Trent Jr. 40 212 15
Robert Covington 37 184 12
Enes Kanter 36 131 18
Damian Lillard 39 129 22
Carmelo Anthony 26 153 -4
Rodney Hood 35 82 14
Harry Giles III 12 35 -7
Anfernee Simons 14 8 -7
Keljin Blevins 1 0 -3
CJ Elleby 1 -1247 -5