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2017-18 Spurs Player Reviews: Davis Bertans

The Latvian forward was pretty much the same player as last season. Is that good or bad?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2017-18 season player reviews, where we will be rehashing the performance of all 15 Spurs from this season (excluding two-way players Darrun Hilliard and Matt Costello) and looking towards the future. If you’ve missed any you can click here to catch up.

Davis Bertans

2017-18 stats: 5.9 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 37.3% 3FG

2017-18 salary: $1.31 million

Contract: restricted free agent

Age: 26

Entering the season, Davis Bertans was expected to take a leap forward from last year. In some ways he did, and in some ways he didn’t. His advanced and per 36 minutes stats are almost identical to his rookie season. His field goal percentage remained the same (44%) with his two-point shooting percentage slightly rising and three-point percentage taking a dip from nearly 40% a year ago.

His defensive stats are roughly the same, although he appeared to have a better knowledge of the system. Rebounding rate (perhaps his biggest weakness from his rookies season) improved slightly — from grabbing just 10.4% of available defensive rebounds last season to 13.9% this year — but was still only tenth on the team and the lowest of all Spurs taller than 6’6”. So is this who Bertans is: a meh defender but decent three-point shooter who can stretch the floor when needed, or is his true potential yet to be unlocked?

In some ways Gregg Popovich’s use of Bertans remains a mystery. He predictably got most of his minutes when either Kyle Anderson (December) or Rudy Gay (February) missed extended time and the Spurs were in need of a back-up three or stretch-four. Bertans’ best chance to shine was the latter month. He started 8 of 11 games spanning from Feb. 3 through March 3, but coincidentally or not that was the Spurs’ worst stretch of the season as they went 3-11 and only 1-7 with Bertans starting.

That can’t be entirely blamed on him — his numbers during that month were slightly above his season average, and this included the Rodeo Road trip when the Spurs’ road woes (a problem that extended all season) made their true presence felt — but it might partially explain his significant drop in playing time after that, along with Gay’s return and later Pau Gasol moving back to a bench role.

While all of this factored into Bertans getting pushed even further down the depth chart as the season progressed, there were other chances that he arguably should have gotten but didn’t receive. Those 200+ minutes of Bryn Forbes at small-forward for this season immediately come to mind. Nothing against Forbes (as previously mentioned he did what he was told no matter what kind of disadvantage it put him or the team at), but it made little-to-no sense having three players listed as 6’3” or under on the floor when Pop had a more-than-capable a 6’10” three-point shooter waiting in the wings.

Ultimately Bertans’ lack of overall improvement this season can be contributed to multiple factors, including an undefined role, inconsistent playing time (not helpful for a shooter), difficulty cracking the rotation on a team with a deep trove of forwards, etc. He didn’t suffer a sophomore slump, but there was also no second-year explosion. He simply had a decent season as a 9th or 10th man and has proven to be a true NBA player at a time when stretch bigs are highly desired, but it still feels like there is plenty more he can bring to the table.

Looking Forward

As a restricted free agent, expect the Spurs to extend a qualifying offer (around $1.63 million) and get a feel of the market for Bertans. What becomes of Gay (player option) and Anderson (restricted free agent) will likely play a role in how high the Spurs are willing to go to match other offers, although if their goal was to hide his true potential this season to keep the offers low then mission was probably accomplished.

Still, if Bertans does return, the Spurs will need to do more if they want the same player we saw burning up the Euros (even post-knee injury). As Jesus Gomez noted a couple of weeks ago, for his strengths to truly be utilized, he’s better off in a motion offense coming off screens, not as a stand-still, spot-up shooter. If the Spurs can get a motion-heavy bench unit going again, there is still plenty of potential for Bertans on this squad.

He’s an exciting player with plenty of upside, so hopefully Pop can find a way to get the most out of him in the future.

Top Performance

Jan. 8 vs. Kings: 28 points, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 6-9 3FG

Final Grade: C+

Up next: Danny Green