Bertans’ Decision First Sign of a Complicated Free Agency
This past Tuesday, Wizards forward Davis Bertans dropped a bombshell on the NBA universe by announcing that he will sit out the NBA restart in Orlando this Summer. In doing so, he became the first player to publicly opt-out and started a wave that has since included Trevor Ariza and Avery Bradley. At first glance, this is a disappointing development, since Bertans had proven to be a key contributor for a Wizards team desperately trying to keep their head above water and remain a relevant force in a race towards the playoffs. When the league paused back in March, they were 5.5 games back of the 8th seeded Orlando Magic. His absence will make cutting into that deficit all the more challenging. It is pretty difficult to overstate his importance to Washington and their undoubtedly stout offense.
How Lethal is the Latvian?
His value stems from his unique gift as a dual threat sniper. He is one of only a few players in the league that can pair a blistering rate of fire along with elite efficiency from beyond the arc. In the Cleaning the Glass shot frequency profile for Bertans, 77% of his shot attempts came from three, which ranked in the 97th percentile for all players at his position. Additionally, he posted a 43% conversion rate from three point range, which also ranks among the best of the league in the 94th percentile. The On/Off numbers there paint a similar picture. The Wizards offense generates 8.2 more points per 100 when he’s in the game as opposed to off. That efficiency differential puts him in the 96th percentile among his peers.
When you see him in action, his ability to demoralize defenses with a outside air raid is pretty much unfair.
Oh you need more film? Well then how about a compilation of all his long range hits:
Not only are his numbers (and highlights!!) impressive in a vacuum, he also brings a real, quantifiable boost to the teams‘ scoring numbers.
Consider this: Bertans has logged 1,584 minutes of action this season. When he was on the court, the Wizards had an offensive efficiency mark of 115.9 points per 100 possessions, along with an effective field goal percentage of 54.7. That offensive efficiency mark over the course of the entire season would rank second among all 30 teams, just behind the historic Dallas Mavericks. During the 1,505 minutes he spent off the court, the Wizards were only able to muster up 108.5 points per 100 possessions and their effective field goal percentage dropped by almost four percent to 50.9. Obviously, Bertans means a great deal to Washington's ability to get a high quality shot. For reference, the Wizards rank 12th in offense as a team (111.9).
His raw numbers and subsequent impact are indicative of a player who is commanding a large salary from his team, especially since he has several years of experience and in the midst of his prime at age 27. That will surely be the case soon, but for this season, he turned his near mid-level contract into a major bargain. In 2018, he signed a two year deal worth $14.5 million. That was actually a nice raise from the previous season, where he only made $543,000.
When you look at the fact that Bertans ranked towards the top of the league in so many important statistics and came from a minimum contract just a few years ago, a case can be made that Bertans has emerged as one of the best surprises of the 2019-2020 season. He has done very well to put himself in a position to secure a career defining payday in October when Free Agency finally kicks off. Due to the nature of his profession though, security is tough to come by. If he were to rejoin the Wizards in Orlando in a few weeks, he’d be putting that security and relative certainty in jeopardy. The 22 teams reporting to Summer training camp will only have a couple weeks of scrimmaging and workouts, plus eight regular season games (or 10 less games than they would have played if the season continued as normal) to get back into playoff shape. Not exhibition shape, playoff shape. That is a different animal entirely.
The risk factor increases tenfold then when you add in his injury history. Bertans has dealt with two ACL injuries in the past, which isn’t something to take lightly. In his mind, his reasoning probably goes a little something like this. What’s the point of risking major injury to put up 20 points per game on 40% outside shooting for a team already over five games out from the last playoff seed? The odds of even forcing a play in game against Orlando or Brooklyn would be slim to none if he participated.
Now that it’s been established that he would be taking a huge risk to get back to playing professional basketball, what would he be putting on the line? Well in simple terms, a long-term payday with huge annual earnings. It isn’t a perfect comparison, but Buddy Hield‘s production from last season would be a good reference point when trying to determine Bertans’ value on the open market.
Hield played more minutes and occupies a primary scorer role unlike Bertans, so it makes sense that Hield would have a higher point per game total. However, things become much more similar in regards to their shooting numbers. Their three point attempts per game are within one and their percentages from there are basically identical. All things considered these are both some of the best long range shooting seasons in the history of the NBA.
As Sacramento found out later that year, legendary doesn’t come cheap. Hield and his agent pushed for a max contract, and that’s exactly what happened. His rookie scale deal ballooned into a four year monster worth $94 million. While we can’t expect Bertans to gather quite that much on his next deal, since he will probably never function as a first or second scoring option on a winning team, he is still an unbelievable floor spacer with the ability to create for himself and play off of others. The majority of his three point baskets are of the catch and shoot variety, but he still pulled up 11.5% of the time, and it didn’t have a negative impact on his efficiency (40%).
So where does that leave him value wise? Well, a 3-4 year contract worth $18m-$20m annually would be a good start. Still shy of the $24m+ Hield will get starting next season, but that’s the idea. Bertans will almost certainly be looking for long-term security given his age and injury risk, so he'll probably push for that four year mark as hard as possible. The risk of a drop off towards the end of the deal is 50/50 since he'll only be 31 years old and doesn't rely very heavily on athleticism to get his points. On the other hand, he could end up with another knee injury down the line. To offset that risk, the Wizards could introduce a deal with a declining earning structure, similar to the one Aaron Gordon signed back in 2018. Another option would be to add a team option in the final year. Bertans probably wouldn't be a huge fan of that scenario, but if that's what it takes to get 4th year, he might be willing to compromise there.
Other players who will be sweating out Summer
That is a fair amount of technical jargon to review for one player in a very specific situation. Just imagine how much more complicated things will become when the variables are multiplied several times in the midst of the most uncertain time in the history of the NBA. As it stands, 210 players will either have a team/player option for next season, or be up for restricted/unrestricted free agency. Additionally, a select few will have much to gain or lose from the resumption of the season. Bertans may merely be the first domino to fall in a
Here is a list of four players that might be assuming a high level of risk if they decide to travel to Orlando for the restart:
These players were chosen because they have had strong seasons and have earned a fairly substantial new contract if the offseason were to begin today. There are a few more that could be in similar positions, but only the top four are listed here. The list is subjective, of course and in no particular order. Let's briefly look at why each player could have some reservations about getting back on the court this season.
Whiteside: In the aftermath of the devastating leg injury Jusuf Nurkic sustained last season, the Blazers were in desperate need of a big body that could protect the paint and dominate the glass at any given moment. That need lead them to the doorstep of the Miami Heat front office and a trade proposal came to fruition. They netted the towering Whiteside in exchange for Meyers Leonard. Whiteside was yarning for an increased role and responded very well when his wish was granted. His averages on the season stand at 16.3ppg, 14.2reb, and 3.1blk on 61% shooting. He is second in the league in rebounds per game and first in blocks per game. He's also been extremely reliable, only missing five games out of 66 so far. Unfortunately, he is clearly into the 2nd half of his career now, as he just hit 31 years old a couple weeks ago. This offseason will probably be his last chance at long term guaranteed money. Due to his size and offensive limitations, he could be schemed off the floor in critical games and he has never dealt with being benched very well. Also, Nurkic is reported to be healthy, so he could eat into Whiteside's minutes even further. More court time could work against him when it's time to talk business in a few months.
Gallinari: What a couple of years it's been for Gallo. After suffering through what seemed to be an endless stream of injuries in Denver, he came back with a vengeance after the trade to the Clippers. He has followed that up with an incredible campaign for the surprising Oklahoma City Thunder. He's putting up just a shade under 20 points per game on 61% true shooting from the field. This makes the second straight season that he's been above 60% true shooting. His height allows him to get a shot off against almost anyone and more often that not, it goes in. That gives him an impressive degree of versatility on the offensive end. Much like Bertans though, he has suffered through his fair share of tough injuries. With the understanding that it could come up again at anytime, a quick ramp up in Orlando could be risky for him. Add in the fact that he is also 31 years old and several teams could be lining up to sign him in a weak free agency class, and it would be understandable if he decided to skip the action come July.
Clarkson: Jordan Clarkson found salvation from endless losses when the Utah Jazz brought him aboard in a trade back in December. He's always been a gifted scorer, but his impact never really translated to wins in Los Angeles or Cleveland. Once he hit Salt Lake however, everything changed for him. He was seamlessly incorporated into the Jazz system that is known to put players in perfect positions to succeed. Clarkson took on a bench role for Utah and they instantly went on a winning streak, going 14-1 during one stretch. The magic wasn't in his three point shooting like many may think. He actually hit a career high in two point percentage at 57.9. The Jazz have always been light on creators, so he fulfilled a need for them in short order. His contributions will be needed even more in the aftermath of Bojan's injury, but he could end up looking out for guaranteed money while he's in the middle of his prime instead. He's only one year older than Bertans.
Harrell: No one could have predicted that Harrell would go on to become one of the best reserve players in the entire organization when he was first traded to the Clippers three years ago this month. He was able to form a deadly one-two punch with Lou Williams by muscling and scraping his way to loose balls, rebounds, and excellent weak side blocks. Many hustle stats confirm that he is one of the grittiest players around. He currently ranks 9th in contested shots per game, tied for first in charges drawn (30), and third in box outs per game. Due to his unrelenting energy, the opponent can't take their eyes off of him for a second, and that is pretty significant for a team that features two superstars and several more dangerous scorers looking for openings. His field goal and free throw percentages have taken a small dip, but that doesn't come close to offsetting his ability to roll strong to the rim, do the dirty work, and hold his own against bigger defenders down low for a contender. Harrell only made $12 million combined over the previous two seasons, so he should see a nice raise on his next contract, unlike the other names on this list. At age 26, he's just entering the prime of his career and a weak showing in Florida or an untimely injury would definitely cost him millions.
One other factor that will make the already choppy waters of free agency even more volatile is the uncertain salary cap situation. The league is considering several options and one that makes a lot of sense would be utilizing a smoothing effect to avoid any sudden dips or jumps in the cap number in the coming years. Whether they do that or just increase escrow withholdings to make up for a shortfall in revenue, money will certainly be tighter than ever for teams looking to make roster moves, especially the small market teams. Players that were already on teams' radars before the stoppage will probably be safe from any major drop off in their upcoming paydays, but there is still much to resolve before they can get to that point. (For more info on the what the league is considering and impacts on BRI for 20-21, be sure to check out Jeff Siegel's article on the matter).
Nothing about this upcoming free agency is normal, and Davis Bertans' decision to sit out the action is just a precursor to a chain of events that could change the landscape of the NBA forever.