Davis Bertans once appeared like an ideal fit next to Luka Doncic.
During the 2019-20 season, Bertans shot 42.4 percent on 8.7 three point attempts in only 29.3 minutes per game. That is Stephen Curry like volume and efficiency from a 6’10 stretch forward. In fact, Bertans is the only player besides Curry to shoot above 42 percent from three on at least 8.5 attempts per game in a season he played at least 50 games. He was essentially the extreme version of the floor spacer Rick Carlisle wanted Kristaps Porzingis to be offensively.
That player would be incredibly useful around Luka, and some optimistic people have expressed hope that playing with Luka will result in a return of the Latvian Laser. Unfortunately, Bertans is no longer that player. The basketball gods apparently hate uniquely gifted Latvian big men as Bertans has suffered a myriad of minor ailments which have sapped him of his already limited athleticism. He cannot defend or rebound at an NBA level and as such he is incredibly difficult to find playing time for.
Bertans’ minutes, field goal percentage, three point percentage, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks have all decline each season to their current lows. He is down to 5.7 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game on 35.1 percent shooting from the floor and 31.9 percent shooting from three.
Can he get healthy? Mavericks head athletic trainer Casey Smith was unable to work miracles with Porzingis but he remains one of the most respected trainers in the NBA. If he can get Bertans to a level where he can physically handle 20 minutes every night it would be a minor miracle.
Once he gets to the court, his biggest question is how he fits in to the defensive scheme of coach Jason Kidd. Kidd has made the big men much more active in defending pick and rolls which has really helped both Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber. Both are gifted with incredibly quick feet and hands for big men and thus do a good job of hedging and recovering which is why the Mavericks have become a great pick and roll defensive team.
Bertans is not blessed with the same quick feet which makes him difficult to fit into the rotation. The Mavericks have essentially completely stopped playing Boban Marjanovic which is likely because his defensive limitations have no place in Kidd’s system. Bertans also does not have the length or the lift to play in a drop system and meet people at the rim.
Best Case Scenario
Bertans is this season’s version of 2011 Peja Stojakovic. Bertans has continued to shoot free throws incredibly well (28-of-30 this season) which means he likely retains at least most of his pure shooting skill. He just lacks the ability to get open and a playmaker to get him the ball. He has certainly joined a team with a playmaker to get him the ball.
Stojakovic was an aging 6’10 sniper with defensive issues when he joined the Mavericks. He could no longer move well enough to defend but he still had a well earned reputation as an absolutely lethal shooter. In the first two rounds of the playoffs he lived up to that reputation. He played 23.6 minutes per night against the Portland Trail Blazers in a series which was much closer than people remember. He shot 41.9 percent from three during those minutes and provided 9.5 points per game plus much needed spacing.
He ramped it up a notch, shooting 52.4!!! percent from three and scoring 12.5 points per game in the sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks have been obsessed with finding replacements for each player on the 2011 team and this fit is actually fairly clean.
Bertans is not going to be a star but in a short sample, a shooter with this much size can absolutely change a game or a series with a hot stretch. Would the Mavericks have beaten the Los Angeles Clippers last season if Bertans was around to provide spacing instead of say Nicolo Melli? Maybe. The margins in the playoffs are razor thin, and a couple of threes here or there can change a game and subsequently a series.
Worst Case Scenario
Bertans is a taller version of J.J. Redick. At last season’s trade deadline, the Mavericks traded for an aging shooter with a history of shooting excellence but a present mired by injuries. It did not turn out well. Redick actually shot 39.5 percent from three for Dallas, but he played only 147 total minutes after being acquired and did not play in the playoffs. This is the worst case scenario except that Bertans’ contract is not expiring.
If Bertans’ season concludes the way Redick’s did, the Mavericks would likely have to part with a first round pick in order to get off of Bertans’ contract should they choose to do so. They would also likely have to attach a first round pick to get to neutral value if Bertans’ contract is used for salary matching purposes in a larger trade.
Bertans is a shooter with elite size who should benefit from playing with Luka. Luka is arguably the single best player in basketball at creating open three point looks for his teammates. The taller that teammate is, the better the shot can be as they can see over smaller closeouts. If teams sell out to prevent him from shooting, he will be doing his job without actually having to do anything as Luka can and will take advantage of any extra spacing to bulldoze his way to the rim. Bertans should be able to help, but fans should have extremely modest expectations as Dallas is likely just a stopping point on his journey. Bertans’ primary value is that he should be easier to move, as he only makes roughly half what Porzingis does.