The Great Davis Bertans Conundrum

As the NBA’s Feb. 6 trade deadline approaches, the Washington Wizards face a dilemma with sharpshooter Davis Bertans.

The 27-year-old is quickly developing into one of the league’s most valuable role players, but he’s also on a $7 million expiring contract. That puts the Wizards in a tricky spot, as they would risk losing him for nothing in free agency if they can’t sign him to an extension or trade him during the coming weeks.

Heading into Tuesday, Bertans is drilling a career-best 3.8 triples per game on a 45.7 percent clip, which makes him one of the NBA’s most lethal marksmen. He sits behind only James Harden (5.0), Paul George (4.0) and Buddy Hield (3.9) in terms of three-point makes per game, and he’s tied for the second-best three-point percentage among the 61 players averaging at least two treys.

Bertans knocked down a then-career-high 42.9 percent of his 4.4 triples per game with the San Antonio Spurs last season, but the Wizards’ free-flowing offense has empowered him to become far more dangerous this year.

Not only is Bertans making 46.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, but he’s also burying 43.8 percent of his pull-up treys. He has the league’s fourth-most made baskets from 27 feet or beyond (32), trailing only Harden (48), Damian Lillard (36) and Trae Young (35).

During the Wizards’ 114-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 10, Bertans put his long-range aptitude on display while racking up a season-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting (8-of-12 from deep).

Early during the second quarter, he pulled up in transition before the Hornets could get back in position:

Late in the third quarter, he ran a one-man fast break and then pulled up for a 26-foot trey:

He also buried a pull-up triple midway through the fourth quarter before the Hornets defender could even get a hand up to contest it:

And with roughly 30 seconds remaining, he used a Rui Hachimura screen to get free for his career-high eighth trey of the night:

“You just smile,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks told reporters after the game. “He makes it look so easy. (There’s) only maybe a few people in the league that…have the confidence to take and make (those shots).”

Bertans’ quick release and 6’10” frame make it difficult for opponents to successfully contest his shot attempts. As a result, he currently ranks fourth (!) leaguewide in ESPN.com’s offensive real plus-minus, trailing only Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. The Wizards also average 11.9 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (116.4) compared to when he’s on the bench (104.5).

Bertans just turned 27 in mid-November, so he could be a long-term building block for the Wizards alongside Bradley Beal and John Wall. But since he’s on an expiring contract, Washington may have to at least explore his trade value.

One former front office executive told David Aldridge of The Athletic that Bertans is in line for a two-year deal worth between $15-20 million annually this summer. However, another disagreed, noting only a handful of teams are projected to have a sizable amount of salary-cap space to spend on free agents.

Washington could bank on the market squeezing Bertans in July, but his shooting ability should make him one of the most attractive targets in an otherwise weak free-agent class. The Wizards will have his Bird rights if they don’t trade him—which would allow them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him—but they won’t have matching rights since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent rather than restricted.

In other words: If the Wizards keep Bertans beyond Feb. 6, they’ll be gambling on their ability to re-sign him in July. Otherwise, he’ll sign elsewhere as a free agent and they’ll be left empty-handed after having seen firsthand everything he can do.

With an 8-17 record and Wall likely to miss the entire 2019-20 as he continues to recover from the torn Achilles he suffered in February, the Wizards won’t have a playoff push to consider as they weigh whether to trade their big sharpshooter. If they aren’t confident in their ability to retain him during July, trading him ahead of the February deadline may be the prudent approach.

Dec 8, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans (42) shoots a three point shot as Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) defends during the second half at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Considering how many title hopefuls would love to add a shooter of Bertans’ caliber, the Wizards should be able to fetch a first-round pick in exchange for the Latvian Laser. But if they ship him to a contender, they’d likely be getting back a pick in the 20s. Unless they can somehow coerce the Boston Celtics into giving up the Memphis Grizzlies’ top-six-protected 2020 pick, their best hope for a mid-first-round pick may be the Utah Jazz.

The Wizards could always accept a lightly protected first-rounder further down the road, but giving up a productive player in Bertans for a draft pick that won’t help for a few years might send the wrong message to Beal. Although the latter just signed a two-year, $72 million extension heading into the season, he can decline his 2022-23 player option to become an unrestricted free agent during 2022, which means the Wizards can’t embrace a full rebuild with him in tow.

Rather than opt for a mystery-box draft pick, the Wizards could instead prioritize receiving a promising young prospect in exchange for Bertans. Prying away a young wing prospect like Malik Beasley from the Denver Nuggets or Anfernee Simons from the Portland Trail Blazers could give the Wizards a potential building block more aligned age-wise with 2019 No. 9 overall pick Rui Hachimura (21), Moe Wagner (22) and Thomas Bryant (22).

In what was widely presumed to be a lost season sans Wall, the Wizards have been shockingly competitive in large part because of Bertans. Shipping him out ahead of the trade deadline may be the correct move from an asset-management perspective—particularly if the Wizards fear that he’ll leave in free agency—but it could make them far less potent for the final few months of the season while Beal is watching to see which way the franchise heads.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard will have to juggle those competing priorities, but if nothing else, he should at least gauge the sharpshooter’s trade value to see what he fetch in return. Trade him if the price is right, but take your chances on re-signing him if it isn’t.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Early Bird Rights.

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