The question every Wizards fan seemed to have after the team flipped half their roster in a series of trades (technically one giant one) and drafted Corey Kispert was what it all meant for Davis Bertans.
The Latvian Laser just produced an underwhelming first season of a new contract and, now that the Wizards have added three-point shooting, the theory would be he's now expendable. That, however, might be a bit premature. Yes, the Wizards should be a better three-point shooting team, but arguably not enough so Bertans is now redundant.
Here are five reasons why that isn't the case...
They needed a lot of help
The Wizards appear to have improved their three-point shooting quite a bit this offseason with the additions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. The arrival of Kispert and the impending return of Thomas Bryant from an ACL injury should also help significantly. But consider where they started from, as a team that last season ranked 22nd in the NBA in three-point percentage (35.1%), 28th in makes (10.2/g) and 29th in attempts (29.0/g).
Even with the new players and Bryant's return, it's a fair expectation for the Wizards to be about league average shooting the three, and that's with Bertans. He is still their most accurate three-point shooter (historically), their best volume three-point shooter and their best catch-and-shoot scorer. Despite his numbers dip last season, he still led the NBA in catch-and-shoot threes, knocking down 40.8% on those plays. Remove him from the rotation and all of a sudden it could be a weakness again.
The Wizards have more outside shooters now, but they also have plenty of likely rotation mainstays who aren't consistent threats from long range. Starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie is a career 31.8% shooter from three, Rui Hachimura is 31.3% for his career, Deni Avdija shot 31.5% as a rookie last season, Daniel Gafford has never attempted a three-point shot and Montrezl Harrell hasn't made one in over two years. There's also Bradley Beal, who has been a very good three-point shooter in his career, but last season shot a personal low 34.9%.
All of those guys are probably going to play significant minutes, to varying degrees. Dinwiddie and Hachimura are going to be in the starting lineup and either Gafford or Harrell likely will be, too, at least until Bryant returns. So, new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. will need to find some balance with his lineups and Bertans may be one of the keys to striking it.
Kispert may take time
In Kispert the Wizards landed arguably the best three-point shooter in the 2021 draft class. He was lights-out from three at Gonzaga all the way across the board; in terms of percentage (44.0% last year), in volume and sample size, as he played all four years. With that level of college experience, and at his age (22), Kispert figures to make an impact sooner than later.
Still, he will be a rookie and he plays a position of considerable depth on the Wizards roster. It won't be easy for him to translate his three-point shooting immediately to the next level, because of those factors and also the adjustment required for a deeper three-point line and the length and athleticism of NBA defenses. In the last three years, only five rookies (Desmond Bane, Tyrese Haliburton, Payton Pritchard, Collin Sexton, Landry Shamet) shot 40% or higher from three with at least 1000 minutes played. Kispert has a chance to be one of the best three-point shooters in the league, but it could take him a few years to get there.
He wasn't that bad
Bertans took a lot of grief from Wizards fans last season, especially as the team struggled early and then later in the postseason when he shot inconsistently, then had his season ended early due to injury. It was the first year of his five-year, $80 million contract, so the expectations were raised and that helped shape public opinion of his performance. More money naturally leads to more pressure. It's hard to decipher, though, how much of it was Bertans' fault.
Sure, showing up to training camp not in peak shape was difficult to excuse, but he had a ton of bad luck in the 2020-21 season, most notably with what sounded like the worst bout of the coronavirus for any player during their January outbreak.
The coronavirus affects breathing which means it affects conditioning, which you kind of need to play in the NBA. Bertans also dealt with a series of minor ailments throughout the year to his calf, face and other areas. Still, Bertans shot 39.5% from three and led the Wizards with 3.0 made threes per game. That he managed to put up those numbers during a snakebitten season could be seen as a good sign, as it showed some resiliency to play and perform through discomfort, which isn't always the case with veterans earning big contracts.
Changes could be good
Another explanation for Bertans' relative struggles last season (and Beal's for that matter) could be the collective three-point shooting problems for the team. More three-point shooters could raise the level of Bertans and others, as it could lead to more space in the offense and less localized attention from the defense.
With few three-point threats last season, teams could put some of their best wing defenders on Bertans, but now those decisions may not be as straightforward. It's worth noting Bertans had the best year of his career in 2019-20 when the Wizards were a better three-point shooting team overall, ranking eighth in among 30 NBA teams in percentage and 17th in makes.
Other changes to the Wizards' roster could also benefit Bertans. They have more depth in capable defenders, which could allow Unseld Jr. to build lineups which mitigate Bertans' liabilities on that end. The Wizards also now have more balance to their payroll, which should remove some of the spotlight Bertans had as far-and-away the third-highest paid player on the team last year. Now, if he has an off-night it won't be magnified to the same degree, when the next highest-paid guy was making about half of his salary. Bertans is still the third highest-paid player on the Wizards, but now he's essentially in a tier that includes Dinwiddie, Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma.