SAN ANTONIO – Spurs fans are going to like rookie forward Davis Bertans, who could potentially become the franchise’s next notable international player.
It’s still early, of course, but Bertans has shown he has the skill set and feel for the game to make an impact this season. A 6-foot-10 sharpshooter with a quick release, Bertans has demonstrated during the preseason that he can be deadly from 3-point range.
He showcased his long-ball shooting skills in Tuesday night’s Silver and Black scrimmage, scoring 18 points while going 6 of 11 from beyond the arc. He finished 6 of 13 from the field overall.
“It was fun,” said Bertans, who hails from Latvia.
Bertans, 23, played the last two seasons (2014-16) with Laboral Kutxa in the First Division of the Spanish League.
Coach Gregg Popovich likes Bertans’ game and so do his teammates. His biggest challenge heading into the season will be adapting to the speed of the NBA game.
“The poor guy, he’s had the two ACLs back to back, so he’s been rehabbing for a couple of years,” Popovich said, referring to knee injuries Bertans sustained in June 2013 and March 2015 while playing in Europe. “We’ve had him overseas in a couple of places playing. It looks like he’s healthy and he’s doing exactly what we thought he could do when we drafted him. He’s been very, very good.”
Actually, Bertans was selected by Indiana in the second round of the 2011 NBA draft with the 42nd overall pick, but he was acquired by the Spurs from the Pacers in a draft-night deal that also brought Kawhi Leonard to San Antonio for George Hill.
While Popovich has said the Spurs knew Bertans had good upside, they didn’t figure he could run the floor as well as he does.
“He’s not a surprise, other than maybe he’s a bit more athletic than we were expecting,” Popovich said. “His speed, quickness is better than one might think, watching film of him. Guys that have gone over to watch him have always been impressed with him.”
Spurs veteran guard Manu Ginobili has seen enough of Bertans in the preseason to be impressed.
“Opponents are going to have to respect his shot,” he said.
Bertans drew laughter from reporters after Tuesday’s scrimmage when he was asked about his game.
“Actually, I want to shoot every time. That’s the truth,” Bertans said. “But you know, yeah, it’s just, you know, keeping it cool and trying to make the right play and looking for an open teammate.”
Bertans knows it’s important to share the ball, especially in a Spurs’ system that puts a premium on unselfish play. For a guy who’s never played in an NBA game, Bertans exudes a quiet confidence that’s palpable. As one reporter said Tuesday night, he has some “swag” and carries himself as though he belongs in the NBA.
Where does that confidence come from?
“I think it’s been a long road, first of all, to get here,” Bertans said. “I’ve gone through some tough, tough injuries, and then coming back I had a really tough coach in Serbia. All that together, I felt the toughest two seasons were in Serbia. I don’t know if I ever practiced that hard in my life, and that much. So going through that, it helps a lot in the future.”
Bertans then was asked if playing for Montenegrin-Serbian coach Dusko Vujosevic in the Serbian League prepared him for Popovich, who is no shrinking violet when it comes to getting in a player’s face.
“Honestly, if you think Pop sometimes gets crazy, it’s not even that bad,” said Bertans, who played for Partizan Belgrade in the Serbian League. “I don’t want to see him, of course, in his worst-case madness. I don’t want to make him mad, but I’ve been through something like that before. So even if the coach (Popovich) yells at me, I know it’s just for the best, that he wants the best out of me.”
Told that Ginobili has said during training camp that the team’s new players have yet to see Popovich at his full-throated best – or worst – Bertans smiled thinly before commenting.
“That might be true, I guess,” he said. “It’s been really calm and I don’t know what people are talking about him getting mad, but we ran a lot of suicides the last practice.”
The Spurs host Houston in their preseason finale Friday night, and open the regular season against two-time defending Western Conference champion Golden State next Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. They play New Orleans in their home opener on Saturday, Oct. 29.
The Silver and Black finished a franchise-best 67-15 last season and lost to Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.