Bertans, smiling but still in sniper mode, fired off one more at his former coach.
“I was just saying he’s got to put some defense on me,” Bertans said, sharing the friendly trash-talk with reporters afterward.
In fairness to Borrego, no defense has been able to extinguish Bertans on his current hot streak. Over a six-game stretch, he has averaged 23.7 points while making a blistering 50.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
“The guy, he is a bucket-getter,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said after Bertans’s performance in Charlotte. “He can get buckets all throughout the floor. Every shot is a great shot. It’s always squared up. It’s great release. And he has such a high release.”
In 23 games, Bertans, arguably the best offseason pick up by the Wizards, has averaged 15.7 points on 47.4 percent shooting overall and 46.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc, the sixth-highest percentage in the NBA. He also leads the league in scoring 10.3 points off catch-and-shoot plays, according to statistics on NBA.com.
Over the past six games, however, his production has ticked even more. On Dec. 5, Bertans became only the second bench player this season to score at least 20 points in a half, helping Washington surprise the favored Philadelphia 76ers. That night, Bertans also set a new career high with seven three-pointers. Then in Charlotte, Bertans topped himself and even completed a pair of four-point plays, becoming the first Wizards player since Gilbert Arenas (March 17, 2007) to make two such plays in a game.
Unlike during his first three seasons spent in San Antonio, Bertans no longer camps in the corner. (He was rather good from that spot, making 59.6 percent of corner threes in 2018-19.) In Washington, Bertans is running off screens and making defenders give chase. Even if there’s a hand in his face, he steps further back and still lets it fly — just as he did on his second four-point play against Charlotte early in the final quarter.
Borrego was aware of these abilities, though Bertans admitted he didn’t showcase them in Spurs games.
“I think [Borrego has] seen a few of those things during practice but not so much during the games,” Bertans said.
The change in his role from San Antonio to Washington has led to a breakout year.
“I’m just playing the way I used to when I was playing overseas and coming off a lot of screens,” said Bertans, a Latvian-born player who spent time in Serbia. “I think me making the shots, I just kind of have guys trusting me more. They’re looking for me every second on the court if I’m even slightly open.”
The Wizards received Bertans in a three-team trade over the summer to boost the team’s three-point shooting, and he has done that and more. He’s not just Washington’s top three-point threat, he’s the best shooter all-star guard Bradley Beal has paired with in his pro career.
Just ask Beal.
“Let’s see — probably No. 1, honestly,” Beal said after a thoughtful pause while considering whether Bertans is indeed the best shooting teammate he has had. “I think Trev [Ariza] had a really good year. Martell [Webster] had a good year one year, but in terms of the way [Bertans] shoots it, he’s No. 1, for sure.”