Back in 2011, PAFTO, at their mischievous best, nabbed Kawhi Leonard in exchange for George Hill. In that same deal, the Spurs also acquired the 42nd pick, and the rights to Erzam Lorbek, the 46th pick from the 2005 draft. Many considered those additional picks as throwaways, the types of chips that result from front office bartering and help grease the wheels of the main transaction.
But in a serendipitous turn, that 42nd pick resulted in Davis Bertans, a Latvian 3-point-missile-launcher, who has steadily morphed into one of the best shooters in the European game. Though trials and tribulations have hit Bertans, in the form of two knee injuries over the last few years, he recovered strongly this past season and turned in a solid campaign for his Spanish club, Laboral Kutxa.
Here's how Bertans figures to potentially fit into Pop's rotation.
Bertans' primary role will come as a shooting wing
In the fallout of the LaMarcus Aldridge Sweepstakes, most Spurs observers will readily agree that the team lost some much needed shooting. The Spurs added very specific types of players into their rotation -- Aldridge, David West and Kyle Anderson -- which significantly altered their makeup, and resulted in a heavy deluge of midrange shots. There was just a ton of pressure on Danny Green to be that 3-point release valve.
In Bertans, the Spurs have a reasonable facsimile of the old Gary Neal/Marco Belinelli-type of player. Whilst Bertans doesn't have the same pedigree of secondary playmaking as those two, he's just as good at moving without the ball as well as connecting in spot-up situations. Not only will he help open up room for his teammates by simply standing behind the three-point line but his ability to hurl fire from deep while on the move will allow Gregg Popovich to dust off parts of the playbook that went largely unused since Belinelli left.
Across all competitions this season, Bertans shot 42.6 percent from deep, including a 47.5 percent clip in the cauldron of the Euroleague. The man can shoot. As we saw against the Thunder in the conference semi-finals, the value of three-point shooting is worth its weight in gold. Spurs possessions will be able to breathe easier when you add in that caliber of marksmanship.
On defense, Bertans will have to show that he can survive against opposing quicker wings. He isn't slow by any measure, and seems to slide his feet well, but the level of speed and athleticism rises a few notches in the NBA. That said, checking bench wings shouldn't be too onerous, and if that task proves too difficult, Bertans can always cross-match with the least threatening opposing player.
Having Bertans on the floor means that the likes of Anderson, Simmons and new draft pick, Dejounte Murray, won't be called upon to stretch their skill set beyond their capabilities. Instead, they'll likely have space to attack the basket and make plays, things they're actually good at doing.
How does he fit in small-ball lineups?
Whilst it's conceivable that Bertans can orbit around Aldridge/Leonard-centric action, it's more likely that he plays primarily with the second unit. Last season, the Spurs' most-used bench configurations often involved Mills, Manu, Kyle Anderson, Boris Diaw and David West.
Aside from Patty, and the streaky Manu, that group really struggled to space the floor. To compound things, Bonner just was out of the rotation, Jonathan Simmons was a non-threat from deep, and the other ragtag additions never fully gained Pop's trust. It wasn't so much of a concern during the grind of a regular season but during the playoffs, when opponents could gameplan specifically against their weaknesses, it came back to haunt them.
With West now with the Warriors and Diaw with the Jazz, Bertans could provide immediate flexibility and unleash the possibility of super-stretchy line-ups by moving up to power forward on occasion. But can he do that at the NBA level?
Bertans isn't the most physical of players, and he was also a mediocre rebounder in the Euro-game. He sported a defensive rebound rate of 10.49 percent this past season, numbers that aren't too far off his career norm. That figure would have him nestled somewhere between Tyler Johnson and Jerian Grant, among regular rotation players, per NBA.com, not exactly inspiring numbers. It also illustrates that despite his size, Bertans is a true wing.
Still, he exhibits fundamentals that show he can be helpful within a team defense and rebounding context. He's also on point with his rotations, and displays a general alertness that is critical to survive in Pop's system. He's also super diligent in searching for the closest opposition body, and keeping that human off the glass, a team-first ethos that can easily translate to his NBA game. Think Matt Bonner, but more athletic.
Is Bertans here to replace Kyle Anderson?
It's possible. In his sophomore season, Slow-Mo developed into a fringe rotation piece for Pop, but his long-term future in the organization is not secure at this time. Yet it's more intriguing to consider how Anderson and Bertans could help each other than it is to consider them to be in competition with one another.
Anderson's not the cleanest of fits in any system because he doesn't have any particular elite skill. Despite that, he remains an interesting tool in Pop's back pocket because of his playmaking, burgeoning post game and rebounding. He's too slow to be able to consistently defend wings, and also too small to defend power forwards but so far he's managed to find ways to contribute.
The most damning flaw in his game is his inability to stretch the floor. Anderson doesn't have a reliable jumper beyond 15 feet and he doesn't feel comfortable pulling the trigger even if he's open. The arrival of Bertans, however, could potentially take that pressure of Anderson, as unlike Slow-mo he's at his best without the ball. If Pop plays the two together in small units, Bertans could stretch the floor, and provide Anderson with a passing target when opponents clog the lane.
The youth movement is starting and Bertans skill set could come in handy when it comes to unlocking the full potential of all the other young pieces in the roster, including Anderson.