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Old 12-04-12, 03:19 PM
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Bonner's underrated defense

Spurs Nation

Matt Bonner is perhaps the most polarizing member of the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s not surprising considering Bonner, for all his utility as an elite shooter and all-around good guy, has a wide array of shortcomings that are magnified by his maddening tendency to disappear in the postseason.

It happened again last spring, when his stroke and his playing time evaporated in equal measure as the Spurs were bounced by Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals. Hence his nickname in the blogosphere: Winter Shoes.

Less than a quarter into the 2012-13 campaign, his ninth in the NBA, it’s hard to figure where Bonner stands. His playing time has dropped by roughly 40 percent from the past two seasons. That could easily be a function of Gregg Popovich experimenting with new lineups and tactics, as recently examined by Grantland’s Zach Lowe. It could also be a permanent reality with Boris Diaw sucking up minutes that might otherwise have gone his way.

What we do know is that Popovich has made a habit of calling on Bonner as a fourth-quarter fireman, and he’s generally responded. First came Bonner’s 10-point period to help bring the Spurs back in a loss to the Clippers, and then last Saturday, when he impacted the Spurs’ 99-95 comeback victory over Memphis in a way many might not expect.

While he made only one 3-pointer, Bonner helped limit Grizzlies post Zach Randolph to just four points on 1-for-11 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime.

It wasn’t exactly Nate Thurmond shutting down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1972 playoffs. Randolph did not match up against Bonner exclusively – Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan also saw time – and he missed a handful of semi-contested putbacks that he could have just as easily have made on a different night.

But Bonner’s showing jibes with the numbers from Synergy Sports that tell us he’s been one of the NBA’s better low-post defenders over the past few seasons. Sounds crazy, I know. For obvious reasons – pale-skinned, gangly ginger doesn’t evoke prime Dennis Rodman – it’s all too easy to stereotype Bonner.

Indeed, despite being aware of his success in this area, I fall into the trap myself. Witness my Tweet from Saturday’s game after one of the few plays Randolph got the better of him.

dan [email protected]
Randolph goes right at Bonner. I think there's a specific button combo for that on my PS3 controller.
1 Dec 12 ReplyRetweetFavorite
But the numbers are there.

2009-10: 0.84 points per post-up, 114th in the NBA – 122 post-ups, 47 for 108 shooting (43.5 percent), eight turnovers.
2010-11: 0.74 points per post-up, 48th in the NBA – 105 post-ups, 30 for 85 shooting (35.3 percent), 11 turnovers.
2011-12: 0.67 points per post-up, 28th in the NBA – 108 post-ups, 27 for 85 shooting (31.8 percent), 13 turnovers.
2012-13: 0.67 points per post-up, not enough to rank – six post-ups, 1 for 4 shooting (25 percent), one turnover.

Three of those plays came last night against Randolph, who drew a foul and missed his only two shot attempts.

Another endorsement for Bonner: Per, the Spurs’ defensive rating improves by nearly two points, from 98.9 to 97.1, when he’s on the court. Take it for what it is, but that’s better than even Duncan, with whom the Spurs improve by less than one point.

Again, this isn’t to suggest Bonner deserves All-Defense honors. He’s still vulnerable against speed and quickness, he’s a below-average rebounder for his position and it says something about his particular skill set, both good and bad, that he blocks about one shot for every 10 3-pointers he makes.

Saturday night, however, was the latest instance of an aptitude he does have, one he doesn’t get enough credit for.
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