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San Antonio Spurs: Davis Bertans should be getting more minutes

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 07: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket against Kelly Olynyk #9 of the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on November 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 07: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket against Kelly Olynyk #9 of the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on November 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – OCTOBER 24: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs looks for room around Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers during an NBA game on October 24, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Indiana Pacers won 116-96. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – OCTOBER 24: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs looks for room around Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers during an NBA game on October 24, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Indiana Pacers won 116-96. (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs have a budding young talent in Davis Bertans, but they aren’t giving him the playing time he deserves.

Davis Bertans has always been a tantalizing figure for San Antonio Spurs fans ever since he joined the team in 2016.

The just-turned-26-year-old Latvian has shown plenty of flashes of brilliance during his three-year tenure with the Spurs, but he’s never consistently put together a full season of high level play.

Bertans is off to a great start this year as the game finally looks like it’s slowing down for a player who has as much talent as anyone in the Spurs’ rotation outside of their two All-NBA superstars.

Still, Gregg Popovich doesn’t seem to trust Bertans enough to give him significant playing time as Bertans is only averaging 15.5 minutes per game this season.

In the following slides I’ll present a case why Pop should finally unleash Bertans and give him a more prominent role on this team.

Next: Offense

MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 07: Derrick Jones Jr. #5 of the Miami Heat battles for a rebound with Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena on November 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 07: Derrick Jones Jr. #5 of the Miami Heat battles for a rebound with Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena on November 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Offense

While 14 games isn’t an enormous sample size, we’ve seen enough from Bertans to know that he’s a much-improved offensive player this season.

His box score numbers don’t look fantastic because of his low minute total, but his advanced numbers tell the story of just how effective Bertans has been when he’s on the floor.

Bertans’ three-point field goal percentage of 44.7% ranks just outside of the top 20 in the entire NBA, and that has contributed to a scorching hot true shooting percentage of 66.1%. Bertans would rank in the top 10 in the league in true shooting percentage if he had enough minutes to qualify for the list.

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According to Cleaning the Glass, Bertans is scoring 137.7 points per 100 shot attempts, which is better than 94% of players they consider to be “bigs.”

He is also in the 75th percentile or above in assist-to-usage ratio and turnover percentage at his position.

Bertans has been lethal when he’s been given the ball this year. I’d love to see if he could continue that efficiency with an increase in playing time.

Next: Defense

SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 10: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on November 10, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 10: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on November 10, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)

Defense

Davis Bertans isn’t thought of as an above-average defender, but European players are often assumed to be bad on that end of the floor until they prove otherwise.

Defensive metrics should always be taken with a grain of salt, but ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus does the best job of isolating an individual player’s defensive performance.

Bertans ranked 17th among 75 small forwards in that statistic last year. He has fallen off a bit this season (48th among 83 small forwards), but we’re dealing with a small sample size and the Spurs’ entire team has struggled on the defensive end this year (21st in defensive rating).

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Bertans has great length at 6-feet 10-inches, and he can move his feet better than many other players his size. He has the athleticism to be an above-average defender, and Bertans should know Pop’s system well after two full years in San Antonio.

Pop may be seeing something I don’t see when he breaks down the film, but I think Bertans’ defense is good enough to warrant more minutes.

Next: Competition on the roster

OAKLAND, CA – APRIL 16: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs boxes out against Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – APRIL 16: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs boxes out against Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Competition on the roster

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Even if you don’t believe Bertans’ early-season success is sustainable, it’s worth taking a look at his upside compared to other players on the roster.

Dante Cunningham has played pretty well on both ends of the floor this year and Pop seems to trust the ten-year veteran more than Bertans. However, we know what Cunningham is at 31 years old, and it’s worth giving some of his minutes to Bertans to help the Latvian develop his skill set in game action.

Outside of Rudy Gay, the Spurs don’t have many reliable and healthy wings on the roster, and Betrtans could be an answer to that issue. He is even capable of playing center in super small lineups if Pop wants to get creative.

There are many different ways to get Bertans on the floor more this year, and I’d like to see Popovich increase his minutes as the season wears on.

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I may be wrong and Bertans’ effectiveness may go down if he plays over 20 minutes per game, but with the way the Spurs’ season is going right now it’s worth taking a chance on a player with his kind of upside.

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