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In the summer of 2011, the team rolled the dice on a draft-night trade that sent guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to the 15th overall pick. The player they took, of course, was future franchise superstar Kawhi Leonard. Yet, the Spurs front office’s reluctance to make the move has since been well-documented; Hill, after all, had grown into one of Gregg Popovich’s favorite players and was still only 24-years old. Pop and Spurs GM R.C. Buford were so squeamish, in fact, that they made sure the Pacers included two more assets: the rights to Slovenian Erzam Lorbek and the 42nd pick in the draft.
Reportedly, Lorbek was the more coveted trade chip, a mobile big man with nice touch playing for European powerhouse Barcelona. Still, the team had a history of hitting on second-round picks, so acquiring one in the low 40s indeed had value.
As they’ve been known to do, the front office used the pick on an overseas prospect they had no intention of bringing over the next season, another draft-and-stash guy who would (hopefully) continue his development and make an impact years down the line. It’s what happened with Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, along with a number of players you’ve probably never heard of. The group includes a long list of names called out on draft day that never see the back of a Spurs jersey, for one reason or another.
The name called out in the second round of the 2011 draft was Davis Bertans, and it’s a name Spurs fans will likely be hearing a lot of in the near future.
A pair of devastating injuries prevented Bertans from making the jump to the NBA sooner and, at times, seemed to jeopardize it altogether. Although he’s still only 23 (he turns 24 next month), the 6’10’’ Latvian suffered ACL tears in the same knee in 2013 and, again, in 2015. The injury is known to end careers and can, in the least, be a major complication for an athlete looking to make the move to the most competitive league in the world.
"When the second came along, for five minutes I was upset a little bit,” Bertans has said. “But then I said, 'It's going to take me another 10 months, I'll do it.'" That’s a fairly sober attitude towards such a serious setback, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise from Bertans, who didn’t let a childhood accident that cost him a finger (on his shooting hand, no less) prevent him from becoming a pro basketball player.
Now here he is in San Antonio, a new face in a sea of new faces, and looking like one of the first-year players most prepared to make an impact this season.
Bertans' ability to shoot the three ball was no secret coming in. He shot 46 percent from deep over 30 games last season playing in Europe's best league. That he pairs that accuracy with his size, mobility and lightning-quick release will make him playable from day one, especially as a floor-stretching power forward. We've already seen it in summer league and preseason, and he impressed again by knocking down 6 of his 13 three-point attempts in Tuesday night's open scrimmage.
“I won’t have to tell him to shoot when he’s open, which is great,” Gregg Popovich said afterward.
That can be read as guarded praise from the Spurs coach, who likes guys who understand and fulfill their roles, but perhaps teammate Manu Ginobili had a more telling statement about Bertans' potential impact: “He’s going to play. Pop likes his game a lot.”
In speaking with the media, Bertans seems as cool and confident as they come, so that quote may not come as much news to him. But for fans still getting their heads around the team’s new-look roster, it’s another reason to get excited about the upcoming season.