With Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay missing games due to injury, playing time has opened up for second-year forward Davis Bertans, who’s taking advantage of it and making a contribution with dead-eye shooting from three-point land.
HoopsHype recently caught up with him to discuss a bevy of subjects.
Is Gregg Popovich the way you expected him to be before coming over to the NBA?
Davis Bertans: I definitely knew he ran one of the best basketball organizations and a style that’s the closest you can find in the NBA to European basketball. It’s not about having one guy scoring, some games it’s going to be 6-7 guys in double digits and sharing the ball and that’s the way it should be.
You were selected in the second round (42nd pick) a few years back, which was probably a little lower than you expected, but I guess as far as fit San Antonio was a good situation for you.
DB: Actually my draft position was not that far off from what we expected it to be. We were hoping late first round and actually we hoped the Spurs would draft me with a first-round pick, but things happen for a reason, I guess. San Antonio was indeed a good situation and the position didn’t really matter that much.
Is Popovich similar to any coach you’ve had in Europe as far as character and the way he interacts with players?
DB: I’ve played for a bunch of coaches and there’s no one similar. I think he’s one of a kind. In Europe, there’s some who don’t want you to play your game and can’t live with the other team scoring a single basket in a game (laughs). There’s often this situation where the other team scores 1-2-3 in a row and the coach is is super unhappy about it. Here, with the experience coach Pop has, he knows preventing the other team from scoring all the time is not possible. Defensively, he wants us to do the best we can and as long as we do that, it’s fine. It’s just “stay in front of your guys and make his shot the toughest possible and hopefully it doesn’t go in.”
You had a pretty interesting guy as head coach in Partizan Belgrade in Dule Vujosevic, who we have seen do pretty crazy things. Do you have any crazy story about him?
DB: (Laughs) That’s another one-of-a-kind coach. Me and (Kings guard Bogdan) Bogdanovic spent a looooooot of extra hours after practices with coach Dule. At that age, it really helped a lot. The former Yugoslavia countries’ mentality has some craziness in it. He’s definitely a character, but all he did was care for his players a lot and you kind of look at it that way. When he’s yelling at you, of course you’re not happy about it, but he did care about his players. He would have us stay after practice shooting shots coming off screens and we couldn’t leave without making 10 threes in a row sometimes. Other times you would have to shoot wearing garden gloves, there was stuff like that (laughs). There were a lot of different things, but at the end of the day, it helped us a lot.
You’re doing quite well in the NBA now, but you had difficult times dealing with injuries in the past. You had two ACL injuries. How were those times for you?
DB: First of all, it was really tough at that age… I think I was 19 the first time… It was tough to go through that when you’re starting to show yourself in European basketball. I had my first season in the Euroleague and it was a promising season and getting that injury knowing that players in the past have not been able to come back the same or even play at all… I think in the end it helped to become mentally stronger and I realized that all the things that happen you have to take them the best you can. I kind of used it to improve and get better at some other parts of my game.
Which one was harder to deal with: the first or the second injury?
DB: Definitely the first one because I didn’t know what was coming. I didn’t know what I was going to do, what the rehab was going to be like. I didn’t know about the surgery. I pretty much didn’t know anything about what was coming in those nine months. Then I came back and I was feeling great… until it happened again. And when it happened, I was like, “I can do this again, it’s going to take some time and I have to be patient, but I can do it.”
Were you scared about your career at any point? Perhaps thinking you may not come back the same or would have to do something else outside of basketball.
DB: No, because it doesn’t help anybody to think like that. I just did what I was supposed to do each day and focused on getting better until I was ready to get back on the court.
Popovich was very complimentary about your shooting this week saying the way you shoot can’t be taught, but you had to learn from someone, right?
DB: Starting off, me and my brother played since we were boys because our father was a basketball player and then coach. We were always around a basketball court on a daily basis. Having a routine like that helped a lot, obviously. Then also my time with Partizan, Coach Dule put the mindset in my head that all those tougher things we did shooting-wise in practice make the in-game shots super easy and I think that was the next step for me.
Kristaps Porzingis, your teammate at the National Team, is probably the most famous person in Latvia right now. Where do you rank yourself? Top 10 celebrity in the country?
DB: Probably not that much. I’m trying to be as low key as possible. I think the celebrity status means the press is going to talk a lot about you and since there’s not a lot to talk about me because I’m not going out, not partying… they have little to work with, I guess. Aside from basketball, of course.
But you’re even getting endorsements now. You recently signed with a protective gear company called BLINDSAVE. Can you talk about that a little bit?
DB: The guy who founded it, Andis (Blinds), started with floorball, which is a popular sport in Europe, and ended up transitioning into basketball. He gave me and my brothers and many of the players on the National Team the first prototype of what he was producing with the padding looking for feedback. I had a chance to try it, loved it the first time. Usually, with prototypes, it feels a little uncomfortable, but it was not the case here. In the end, last summer everybody on the National Team was wearing the gear… except for Porzingis, who has a deal with adidas. I don’t have any deal with any big brand at the moment. Once the idea came up of partnering up and signing a deal with them, it made sense. I thought we could help each other out in our careers.