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San Antonio Spurs: Breaking down Davis Bertans’ off-ball motion

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 7: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 7, 2018 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 7: Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 7, 2018 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Fresh off of his third-best scoring performance of the young season, Davis Bertans has opened up the San Antonio Spurs offense with his off-ball motion.

When 6-foot-10 forward Davis Bertans re-signed on a two-year deal in July, San Antonio Spurs fans were mostly underwhelmed because of his mediocre production in limited minutes last season. His shot was solid but streaky at times and he couldn’t quite figure out how to adequately defend natural power forwards.

As the league trends toward a faster-paced style of play, Bertans has emerged as a crucial bench scorer and natural fit alongside the offseason acquisitions of All-NBA shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and third-year center Jakob Poeltl. That trio was largely responsible for San Antonio’s fourth quarter comeback against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 7.

Even before that, Bertans has been playing some of his best basketball in the silver and black. Though he won’t command the ball and requires a playmaker to set him, Bertans uses off-ball motion to command defensive attention and create open shots for himself.

Coach Pop: “Defensively, We’ve got a little more rhyme and reason.”

Pop said on offense the team is starting to find mismatches and go from there.

On Bertans’ play, here’s Pop: “He’s rebounding, he’s guarding, making me put him on the floor.”

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) December 18, 2018

In San Antonio’s 123-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Bertans proved that his off-ball motion and aggressiveness results in highly-efficient scoring. He hit 3-of-4 attempts from range in the contest, all of which were assisted by a different Spurs guard. He finished 4-of-6 from the field and managed to score all four of his field goals without dribbling the ball.

His first bucket of the game was a trey-ball in transition assisted by veteran point guard Patty Mills. Bertans leaked out on the fastbreak and spotted up on the elbow for the easy jumper. This seemed like a calculated decision from Bertans, who noticed Philly guard T.J. McConnell sagging off in transition. We’ve seen Bertans become one of the more comfortable sharpshooters on the team, so this shot was a piece of cake.

Davis.B3rtans. pic.twitter.com/qkSXDGtlev

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 18, 2018

Early in the second quarter, Bertans flashed up to the top of the key from the corner as All Star Jimmy Butler got caught off guard. He corralled a pass from an off-balance Bryn Forbes, spotted up to the right and splashed his second triple of the contest. This is a great example of how Bertans can read his defender and time his movements. In this instance, Bertans waited for Butler to become distracted before gunning his way to the three-point line.

Bertans’ final three-ball of the night came later in the second quarter off of a pick-and-pop from far beyond the line. As DeRozan drew both Butler and shooting guard J.J. Redick toward the basket and found an open Bertans, who ran across to the opposite elbow for an easy shot. This time, Bertans showed off his superb range by spotting up from roughly three feet from behind arc.

This kind of off-ball motion is key to a fluent San Antonio offense, especially in the half court. By anticipating his defenders and motioning around the floor, Bertans opens up the offense for his teammates and draws help away from the mid-range, where DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge do most of their work.

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It’s not all about shooting for Bertans, who hit all five of his free throw attempts in the contest. Using his long arms and soft touch, Bertans is far from afraid to attack the basket. He never shies away from contact and will be the first man to take a hit for the good of the team. Throughout the gritty contest, Bertans shook off shots from two very brawny foes in Butler and Joel Embiid. Any player so willing to put his body on the line fits the Spurs’ mold of passionate, calculated and dedicated personnel.

For his final field goal of the contest, Bertans cut to the basket off of a mismatch. With Redick anticipating a motion toward the three-point line, the Latvian Laser made a quick drive to the rim and received a delicate pass from Aldridge in the triple-threat. In one of his best outings of the young season, Bertans finished with 16 points and tied his season-high of six boards. Needless to say, this is the kind of effort that head coach Gregg Popovich would love to get from Davis nightly.

LA dishin' pic.twitter.com/tTAk4hdsnN

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 18, 2018

While his execution against Philly exemplified the sharpshooter at his best, this off-ball motion is a constant for Bertans and its shown through his shooting stats. Over his last eight games, Bertans has connected on 62.5 percent of 32 attempts from behind the arc in what’s been a dazzling display of three-point mastery. With the team clicking, Bertans has grown confident in his ability to contribute heavy minutes.

It’s easy to say that Aldridge and DeRozan are responsible for San Antonio’s up-and-down start to the year, but the honest truth is that Spurs basketball is team-based. No single entity can surge this team back into postseason contention, but a balanced effort from the whole lineup will show up in the win column.

Next. Orchestrating a San Antonio Spurs trade for Nikola Vucevic

Going forward, Bertans should be seriously considered for the starting lineup. His effort, hustle and smarts are crucially important to San Antonio’s ability to score.

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