Q+A: Davis Bertans
SLAMonline checks in with the Latvian prospect.
Just before taking off for the Adidas Eurocamp, SLAMonline had a chance to chop it up with 6-10 Latvian small forward Davis Bertans. Very much a true small forward, he was a 2-guard his entire career and hit an incredible late growth spurt over the last two years, a la Kentucky recruit Anthony Davis. Known for his sweet shooting stroke from beyond the arc, Bertans has no problem blowing past you to the rim for a dunk if he catches you slipping closing out on him out of control. Defense is certainly his biggest weakness at this point, as it is for most 18 year-olds.
With the NBA’s withdrawal deadline having passed, it leads you to believe that Mr. Bertans may have gotten a promise in the first round based on what he told us it would take to stay in this year’s Draft. We discussed this, his experience at the Nike Hoop Summit, whether or not he will come over to the league next year, and the affect that Andris Biedrins has had on Latvian hoops.
SLAM: Let’s start with a little bit of background about yourself. You’re a guy who emerged on the scene recently. Tell me how you went from unknown prospect to potential first round pick?
Davis Bertans: I think the first reason that I was unknown was because I come from Latvia. Not many teams are looking for players there because there is always Lithuania, which brings many European teams a lot of talented players. I was playing in Latvia in junior team and last season I was playing in Latvian 2nd division. I had a big time game against older and more experienced players. The coaching staff was great. So last season I improved a lot, and I think that is the reason why I played well in the Europeans Championship. But, the reason why I became a potential 1st round pick is because I signed with Olimpija. Also, I was invited to the Nike Hoop Summit where I could show what I’ve got.
SLAM: Tell me a little bit about your decision to leave Latvia and sign with Union Olimpija in Slovenia?
DB: I started the season in Latvia because there was a plan to make a team of candidates upcoming World Championship. That plan didn’t work well. I had some back-up plans, because I had some really good offers from Euroleague teams. Olimpija was the first choice because in past they have brought to high level many young and talented players. I knew that it is the best team for me to become a good player. When I turned 18, I signed with Olimpija and immediately came to Slovenia.
SLAM: You have received inconsistent playing time with Olimpija, often going from playing nearly 20 minutes in one game to only a handful in the next. Do you have any idea why this is? And how much more difficult does this make it to get comfortable on the floor?
DB: Of course it is really hard to bring my A-game if I know that one mistake and I could sit on the bench for the rest of the game, but I try not to think about it. I do my best every time when I go on court and I don’t get upset because sometimes I don’t get as much game time as I would like. I’m a young guy in a Euroleague team, so I have to keep up the hard work and earn my minutes.
SLAM: What is your contract situation with Olimpija like?
DB: I have a 6 year contract with NBA buy-outs after every season and European buy-outs starting after the next season.
SLAM: How do you think you did at the Nike Hoop Summit? Which International player impressed you the most?
DB: I think I did alright, and of course I know that I always can do better. I had a cold during the Nike Hoop Summit, so I wasn’t feeling well. I got tired too fast. The only thing I showed as it is – my shooting ability. I know that I was really bad defensively and I wasn’t aggressive at all. I was just taking my shots and unfortunately I wasn’t making them in the game. I was given only one chance and I did my best what I could at that moment. Luckily, it was enough to make some people interested in me so I guess I achieved what I wanted…except the fact that we wanted to win the game. That was the negative part of that event (that we lost), and I really hate losing. Of course like everybody else, I was really impressed with Bismack Biyombo. I could say that he is one of the most athletic players I have ever played together with.
SLAM: Your story is very similar to that of Anthony Davis, actually. He grew 7 inches in a year and a half. You grew 8 inches in just under 2 years. Tell me about how your game has changed going from 6’2 to 6’10.
DB: My game didn’t change a lot. I was playing SG/SF before I grew those 8 inches and now I’m just SF. Of course there isn’t a big difference for these two positions. Now it is a lot easier to take a shot because of my high release. I can finish the offense above the rim now, so no need to try score a lay-up over the big anymore and now I can throw down some impressive dunks.
SLAM: With your size, you have great height for the small or power forward position. Where do you see yourself playing in the NBA?
DB: Right now I see myself just as small forward.
SLAM: What do you say to the critics who say you are too slow to defend wings in the NBA? Do you think you’ll be able to step in and hold your own on the defensive end?
DB: About defense, of course it’s a bit of a problem for me to move my long legs fast, but i’m working on that. Everything can be fixed with hard work, so everyday i have to work even harder and i can become a good defensive player. And my height is definately a bonus on defense because i don’t have to got too close to offensive player and he still can’t shoot and open shot over my hands. Critics actually help. I want to prove that they are wrong.
SLAM: Next up for you is the Adidas EuroCamp, but you won’t be playing in the games, just working out for teams. What made you decide to not take part in all of the action?
DB: My season here in Slovenia ends just one day before EuroCamp and then I’m going to join my U-19 national team immediately, so I have a hard schedule. For me the most important thing is the World Championship, which takes place in Latvia. This could be the only chance in my life to play in the World Championship, especially at home. So I had to make choice just to go for work-outs only. The tight schedule and lack of rest caused me to make this decision.
SLAM: With so many Europeans deciding to come over to the USA for college and/or high school, did you ever consider coming over here to play in the NCAA?
DB: No. I was always sure that I’m not going to USA for college or high school. Of course that’s a great way how to get good, free education, but I thought it was better for me as a basketball player to stay in Europe and start a professional career.
SLAM: Is basketball a growing sport in Latvia? You generally don’t hear about too many players coming out of Latvia, but has the game grown with the success of Andris Biedrins?
DB: I think we have a great future for Latvian basketball because lately from every generation, there are at least one or two players with a great talent and potential. As you can see, our U-18 national team from last year had 3 players who signed contracts abroad. It was me with Olimpija, PG Kaspars Vecvagars with Zalgiris in Lithuania and Edmunds Dukulis with Cantu in Italy. Also, Janis Timma had offers from good teams but he decided to stay in Latvia for this season. So, I consider that basketball will grow in next years for sure. And about Biedrins… Latvian people sometimes are really wrong. Many of them don’t like Biedrins because he didn’t play for National team last summer, but I think we should be proud for him because he has made it to NBA, even though he played just in Latvia before he got drafted. So he is a true Latvian product.
SLAM: For US fans who haven’t seen you play, describe your game?
DB: My best part of the game is shooting 3-pointers. I can shoot when I’m open, I can shoot in defenders face, I can shoot even in transition. I run fastbreaks and I can also pass well.
SLAM: Where do you need to be drafted in order to stay in the 2011 Draft?
DB: I need to be drafted in the first round, otherwise I’m not staying in this year’s draft and trying again some other year.