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Wizards' sharpshooter Davis Bertans on once being known as a dunker

Wizards' sharpshooter Davis Bertans on once being known as a dunker

Several months ago, in the middle of the NBA regular season, I was talking with a former NBA front office executive who had scouted Davis Bertans back when he was a teenager making a name for himself as a prospect in the European ranks. The former exec went to see Bertans play when he was 17 or 18 years old, so roughly 10 years ago, and still remembers a key part of the scouting report.

"You know, he used to be a dunker," they said.

A dunker. Bertans, who has enjoyed a breakout season for the Wizards by establishing himself as one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, was once known for much more than his perimeter game. He had real hops and apparently also a penchant for throwing down poster slams on his opponents.

This revelation prompted a follow-up conversation with Bertans one day after practice, but I never got around to writing off his quotes. Part of the reason was that there was no real evidence out there of him doing anything spectacular around the rim.

I asked Bertans where to find video of his dunking exploits, and he said the best place to look was YouTube. His agent said the same thing. But I checked YouTube and basically found nothing out of the ordinary.

A dunking Bertans was basically a basketball Big Foot. People swear they saw it, but no one could produce video proof.

Bertans, though, helped me out indirectly months later by surfacing old highlights of his on Instagram. One of the captions read: "back when I was able to do this."

So there you have it, video evidence that Bertans was indeed a high flying dunker at one point. So, what happened? Where did that version of Bertans go?

"I can still jump, I just don't do it so much," he told NBC Sports Washington.

Indeed, he does not. Bertans has dunked 14 times this season, which ranks seventh on the Wizards. Given he's 6-foot-10, that's a relatively low number.

And of those dunks, none truly stood out as rim-rattling jams. Watching him this season, you likely wouldn't expect his history as a noted dunker.

One reason for that, he says, is his style as an NBA player. He is generally stationed about 25 feet away from the basket as a three-point specialist.

"If I'm living at the three-point line, then I'm not getting to the rim so much. I only get a chance when I'm closer in," he said.

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Bertans also has an injury history that plays a role. He tore the ACL in his right knee twice.

And there is also the fact Bertans is a good bit heavier than he was as a teenager. Bertans still has a wiry frame, but he had to gain weight once he got to the pros.

"I could dunk between the legs," he said. "But I also weighed probably only 190 pounds then. So, that was probably easier."

Bertans said he first dunked at the age of 14. And at his peak, his vertical leap was roughly 35-40 inches, he said. 

What it is now, he isn't sure. But he doesn't necessarily miss dunking on people. When he was a teenager, the novelty was still new to him, so he wanted to do it all the time.

He also creates plenty of highlights in his own way, with long range lightning strikes as a three-point marksman. Bertans is shooting 42.4 percent from three this season on 8.7 attempts per game.

His three-point shooting prowess has earned him plenty of adulation, as he became a fan favorite this season among Wizards faithful. Bertans has noticed that and, if it's threes that the people want, that's what the people will get.

"I guess people are starting to like me here. That just says that I've been helping this team and I've been playing good. That's what I love about it. I've been doing a good job helping the team and that's how you earn that," he said. 

Maybe when basketball returns, Bertans will go out and dunk on somebody, for old time's sake.

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How Mark Cuban's proposed regular season and expanded playoff format for NBA's return could benefit the Wizards

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How Mark Cuban's proposed regular season and expanded playoff format for NBA's return could benefit the Wizards

As the NBA continues to work toward resuming the 2019-20 season, one of the biggest questions remaining revolves around what the format of the remaining campaign will be.

When the season was put on hold, most teams had about 17 or 18 regular-season games left on their schedule. With play not set, it's unlikely the new timeframe could accommodate completing the original schedule. Though that won't impact the league's top teams, those fighting for the final playoff spots will lose valuable chances to gain ground.

How can the league hit the ground running and get into the playoffs while also giving almost every team a fair shot? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an idea.

"I want to change things around," Cuban told Mike Tirico on NBC Sports' Lunch Talk Live. “You know me, I’m a mover, shake. I want to experiment.”

Cuban suggested a plan that would include impactful regular season games for a majority of the league and an expanded playoff format. The regular season would have five games for every team, thus giving all 30 squads a chance to move up, or down, in the standings.

The five matchups become more important for those in the bottom half of the conferences when Cuban's playoff plans are taken into consideration. In this format, the field would be expanded from 16 teams to 20, with 10 coming from the East Conference and 10 from the West Conference. Teams outside of the eighth seeds would now have five games to secure one of the extra seeds in the postseason, and plenty of teams would be part of the race.

“If we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance, at least, of making the playoffs," Cuban said. "All but two in the Western Conference would do it.” 

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The innovation doesn't end there, the 17-20 seeds in the playoffs would play in a one-game elimination-style matchup. The winners then take on the eight seed from each conference in a best-of-five series, while the top two teams from each side have a first round bye. After that, the playoffs resort back to the normal format the NBA has followed for years.

Cuban feel his idea works not only because it brings more teams into the mix, but because it also ramps up the intensity and playoff-like feel of every matchup once the season resumes. It's something new for the league, but he thinks the unique situation of the season calls for just that.

“That gives us a chance to have some more playoff games, some more excitement, some more meaningful games," Cuban said. "That gives almost every team a chance  when we come back for whatever’s going to be left of our regular season to do something interesting and compete for something.”

“I think we gotta change it up some. We can’t just go the tried and true way," he added. 

For the Wizards, Cuban's idea would change everything, specifically the expanded playoff format. As it stands now, Washington is ninth in the Eastern Conference, but 5.5 games back of the Orlando Magic for the eighth spot. Even with five regular-season games, a perfect record combined with an 0-5 showing from the Magic would leave the Wizards a half-game short. But with 10 teams allowed, Washington could easily find its way into the four-team playoff with a chance to play a full series.

The 2019-20 season comes with unique circumstances. In standard times, the Wizards would have had 18 games to try and catch Orlando and others. But with that off the table, the extra seeds is the most appealing option. 

Besides giving more teams a chance in the shortened season, Cuban also believes that his idea could be a beneficial trial as the NBA continuously tries to adapt and improve the game. As someone who has had plenty of experiences with implementing new business ideas, he knows that the only way to see if something works is to try it out and see how the consumers react.

“Like a shark tank, we'll test it out first," Cuban said. "We'll see how the market responds.”

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Bradley Beal says 2017 version of him was 'trash' and 'F the analytics'

Bradley Beal says 2017 version of him was 'trash' and 'F the analytics'

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has recently incorporated some 2017 playoff games into his film sessions, in part to show the team's younger players what John Wall was like in his prime. It is one way for them to prepare for playing with Wall once he returns from injury, which is likely to be next season.

Bradley Beal has been watching those games and offering commentary to his teammates and, apparently, isn't impressed with the old version of himself. He joined Showtime's 'All the Smoke' this week and had some harsh words for the player he used to be.

Keep in mind Beal averaged 23.1 points and shot 40.4 percent from three that year, in the 2016-17 season.

"It's amazing to watch. I hate watching it because it's like 'I am f---ing trash.' I'm watching it and I'm like 'why are you hesitating on your shots? Why you ain't shooting? Why you ain't pass it right there?'... That dude from three or four years ago, that is not me today. I know that for sure," he said.

Beal spoke at length about his development into a multi-time All-Star. He said his constant improvement year-to-year has a lot to do with him watching players like James Harden, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson continue to ascend, and realizing "it's either get with the program or you get left behind."

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As for what he's focused on, Beal said it is being a consistent scorer "with efficiency." He wants to increase his volume as a scorer without leaving his shooting percentages to suffer.

He has been able to achieve that for the most part, this season averaging 30.5 points while holding a 52.0 effective field goal percentage. That is not easy to do, especially as a guard.

But don't let the efficiency talk lead you to thinking Beal is poring over the numbers, especially the advanced metrics. He also dropped a line on the show that may raise some eyebrows.

"Honestly, I'm not an analytical guy. I say F the analytics, just go hoop," he said.

That may be surprising to some, especially given Beal happens to show up well in advanced statistics. He's an efficient player who makes a lot of threes.

But it's also not surprising given many NBA players have shared the same opinions. Analytics have changed basketball in many ways, but they still aren't widely embraced by a lot of the players they benefit.

You can listen to Beal's full interview right here:

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