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The dawn of the age of Davis Bertans

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As if the George Hill trade needed to look any better for the Spurs, Davis Bertans is starting to look like a special player.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night, the Indiana Pacers defeated the New York Knicks 123-109. The victory was their fifth in a row, and I hope for their sake it distracted them from what transpired a few hours later in San Antonio. I’ll admit to being something of a Pacers sympathizer since back in the Reggie-Smits-Davis-Davis-Jackson days, and I’d hate to see them or their fans suffer at the sight of another Davis, one “Dah-viss” Bertans, torching the Charlotte Hornets for 21 points on 6 shots.

Why would the Pacers suffer from seeing Davis pummel a key Eastern Conference competitor? Because Bertans, you may recall, was the second player the Spurs received in the...

(I’m sorry, what’s that? ... Yes, yes, you heard that correctly. 6 shots. He scored 21 points while only attempting 6 field goals. ... Yes, that’s getting close to 4 points per shot, which is insanely efficient... And, yes, that’s a season high for him...

What’s that? Yeah, he seems to like playing against the Hornets. He’s averaging 16 points against them and 2.6 against everyone else...

Yes, Pop could possibly play him more than 9 minutes per game... The Spurs are undefeated this year when he scores.

No, I don’t know if he’s this year’s Boban. ...Maybe.

Yeah, the Warriors’ bench helped them blow a 24 point lead at home, while our bench helped the Spurs go +15 in the second half. Can I get back to the rehash now?)

Sorry about that. Anyway, you may recall that, back in the summer of 2011, Bertans was one of three players the Spurs received from the Pacers, along with Erazem Lorbek and Kawhi Leonard, in exchange for George Hill. Last summer, the Pacers traded Hill to Utah in a three team deal which got them Jeff Teague. Since then, Hill has the Jazz looking like a Western Finals dark horse, while Teague is shooting 43% for a team which had to win five straight just to get above .500.

The way Bertans played against Charlotte, you’d have to think disgruntled Pacers fans would consider undoing the last five years worth of point guard deals just to get another crack at a forward who increasingly looks like he can do it all, and who would undoubtedly increase the Latvian population of Indianapolis by a not- insignificant amount.

But transactions like 2011’s Hill deal are such delicate, Butterfly Effect-type situations, that it’s hard to appreciate how different things could have been. Consider another participant in Saturday night’s game who was part of a much more significant (at the time) off-season trade. Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb was traded by Houston to Oklahoma City in 2012, along with Kevin Martin and a bevy of draft picks in exchange for James Harden. At the time, Lamb was considered to be a promising, if raw, prospect out of UConn, and one of the best opportunities long-term for the Thunder to salvage what was considered (even at the time) an obviously horrendous trade. But after years of bouncing in and out of the D-League, Lamb was traded by OKC to Charlotte in 2015 for Luke Ridnour.

The stakes were not quite as high for the Spurs the season before when PATFO made the decision to trade Hill. Hill was not as much of a future - let alone present - cornerstone for the Spurs as Harden was for the Thunder. Back then, SA still revolved around the Big Three. Harden was already part of a Big Three. But there was certainly an element of risk involved in the Spurs’ deal with Indiana. What they were getting back was a promising, if raw, prospect out of San Diego State whose name everybody would probably pronounce wrong, and two other draft-and-stash guys whose names everybody would absolutely pronounce wrong.

In most other systems and for most other coaches, Kawhi Leonard could have become a rich man’s Jeremy Lamb. I’m not saying he would’ve bounced around the D-League and gotten traded for Ridnour, but it’s no great stretch to see someone like Scott Brooks pigeonhole Kawhi as a defensive specialist and sentence him to second unit purgatory the first time he clanked an uncontested three or dribbled off his foot in traffic. Even the most optimistic Spurs observers had a hard time seeing the tremendous potential within Kawhi until it became impossible to ignore, so it’s likely that any number of coaches and development personnel would have missed it as well. In other words, had Indiana horsetraded with any other team on Draft Night 2011, they’d likely possibly be seen as the winners of the transaction.

Then there’s Bertans. Like Kawhi, he flashes a two-way game and can heat up quickly once he knocks down a couple of shots. Unlike Kawhi, he started his NBA career as a great shooter. It remains to be seen how much of that success is repeatable on a nightly basis and how much is due to him catching defenses off guard as the goofy Eastern European who looks like he should be wearing a leather jacket and trading machine gun fire with Bruce Willis. A couple of factors played to Bertans’ advantage Saturday night, including the absence of rotation big David Lee. Charlotte was packing the paint and giving up open threes, so I guess you could say Bertans was just playing within what the defense gave him (although the last of Davis’ four bombs was contested at least five feet beyond the arc, and he did go to the foul line 8 times.)

In any case, as a throw-in to a trade that’s already going down as one of the all-time great highway robberies in NBA history, Bertans requires very few big nights to make good on the risk the Spurs took in acquiring him. On nights like Saturday, where the Spurs turned a tense game at halftime into a laugher against an Eastern Conference playoff team thanks to contributions from bench players like Bertan and Dewayne Dedmon (15 and 10 on 6-6 shooting with a couple of terrific defensive sequences against Kemba Walker), the Pacers will just be one of 29 other teams keeping an eye on what’s going on in San Antonio.

NOTES

  • One day after former Spur and perpetual sandwich enthusiast Matt Bonner retired as a slightly-ahead-of-his-time stretch four, the Spurs’ nominal Bonner replacement looked like Red Mamba 4.0, showing all of his predecessor’s shooting prowess along the ability to jump over more than a pencil and defend the rim. Hmm, what sort of sandwiches do they like in Latvia??
  • The big nights from Bertans and Dedmon helped to overcome substandard efforts from several other Spurs, including starters Danny Green, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker (who each scored in single-digits and missed 16 shots combined) and bench stalwarts Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili (the former missed 4 of 5 threes while the latter had as many points [3] as he did garbage fouls).
  • Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge also had relatively quiet nights. After combining to score 53 in the Spurs’ win in Charlotte six weeks ago, the Spurs’ two studs each scored under 20 points. What particularly hurt Kawhi was his inability to hit the open threes gifted to him by Charlotte, and a lack of production in non-scoring aspects of the game. He was the only Spur to commit multiple turnovers, shot 39 percent from the field, only went to the line twice, and a grabbed a third fewer rebounds than his season average. Aldridge was bottled up by the Hornets imposing interior D, but did pop out for a late jumper in the fourth quarter to informally close out the Spurs’ victory.
  • As a team, the Spurs committed only 7 turnovers for the second straight game.
  • The Spurs’ last seven victories have come by an average margin of 21.3 points. That’s called taking advantage of a “soft” schedule, but it’s also what happens when you don’t let yourself get down by double-digits in the first three quarters.

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