Bonner's underrated defense
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.
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 NBA.com, 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.
I think I've been preaching this for a few years, but whatever.
But now that it's a "mainstream" publication that says it instead of a blog (or Hollinger), I thought I'd post it.
great, so where's the numbers for how many times Duncan or anyone else has to help him against his man?
how can it be we're a better defensive team this year and Bonner barely plays?!
when someone can have numbers "tell me" how good Bonner is on man defense and help defense on his own doing, then i'll agree. other than that, i could be on the court with the Spurs and get help on every defensive play and crack a +10 or 0.74 points per post up without doing a dang thing.
numbers lie sometimes?! logic be damned!
As per NBA.com, the TEAM defense improves when Bonner plays. The entire TEAM (re: Spurs) give up fewer points per possession when Bonner is playing. Must be that help defense Duncan offers.
Numbers for 2012-13 are probably still not statistically significant, but when you look at entire seasons over the last four years, that's something. And it's a nice trend. Duncan's help cannot be the entire reason for Bonner's improvement as Duncan gets older.
Shoot, some mortarboard guy on this site says that Duncan can't move laterally anymore. Apparently that only applies if he's NOT helping Bonner.
Bottom line: Bonner plays hard, plays the percentages, contests everything, and doesn't make mistakes.
The other guys make too many mistakes and miss rotations. They make more spectacular plays but are less consistent.
watch the game tonight vs. Milwaukee, see how many times Blair has to go 1 on 1 with a bigger center with no help (same with Splitter and Diaw) and IF Bonner plays, see how many times he has to get help.
offering help doesn't mean the team it's a good thing. you'd rather go 1 on 1 and hopefully give a harder shot (that they might make) over offering help every time and having the whole team use their legs on rotations while then running on offense doing the same
doesn't make mistakes? at all?! :lol the guy doesn't rotate properly or defend his man properly, that's why the Spurs have to help just about every time on defense. when the Spurs help on defense for him, then that means they have to help for every other guy who's leaving their man to rotate.
again, if Bonner was good, he'd be getting minutes. this is the first time i've heard that the team is better with a player on the floor and that player isn't getting playing time at all this season while we're doing well. either Pop is going senile or the stats lie (spoiler: it's the 2nd time)
UMMM Me thinking Pop is putting Bonner in some Non Factor minutes just to make his stats come look better to shop him. That Plus Bonner taking advantage and playing above his level a little.
Jose you are correct on this. I mean if Bonner is That Good believe me Coach Pop would def given him a starter position or even some important minutes.
The reason he's not getting minutes now is because there are better options now, i.e. Diaw, Splitter, and apparently Blair for the time being. That still doesn't mean he was bad on defense when Pop played him even when he wasn't hitting his shots.
Jose, I think you've generalized Bonner on the court. In other words, in your mind you've compiled the times that maybe Bonner did need help which resulted in the other team getting an easy score (because that is what most people seem to remember about him) and have concluded that that is his norm. It just isn't. If Bonner were guarding Lamarcus Aldridge or even Dwight Howard, then heck yeah they're going to send help. Even Duncan gets help. But in reality, the Spurs defense has never been about man to man defense anyway, it's always been about help defense. Bowen got help all the time, Duncan even in his prime as well.
how are there better options if this guy is apparently "great" on defense?! the Spurs defense has never been about primarily help, it's been about good perimeter man defense and getting help if the players need it. the difference between this year and last is that Kawhi/Danny are playing better perimeter defense where they don't need help. if they need help, then they need to take them to the baseline side where the Spurs trap them with a big.
when does Duncan get a double team on his man? that's rare if anything. one scheme the Spurs system isn't designed for is a double team for a big. that would mean Duncan would leave his guy wide open under the rim to help Bonner or if a small helps, an open 3 point shooter somewhere with ball movement. that's why we were so bad before this year on defense. guys would play back and give them a 3 or play close and not get help on the strong side. hell, we don't even give as much help on defense to Stephen Jackson as power forward than we do Bonner and we're still a better defensive team.
Spurs were way down. Bonner enters, has a part in shutting down the MEM interior game, Spurs win.
This little fact gets the reporter to do a little deeper digging. He sees that this isn't an isolated incident to this season, or even the last 4.
You'll note that his mid-game tweet even goes against his end of article conclusion. You know, the conlusion he comes to AFTER looking at data, and not just the game.
But if it's Bonner and real performance with statistical data to back it up, it immediately gets rejected here.
Bottom line Bonner sucks at 3.6 million bucks!
I don't want to stir the pot but of late, Bonner has been playing some decent defense. In addition to that, while I was at the Bucks game, I looked up at the stat board of those Spurs on the floor and had to do a double take on how many rebounds Bonner had at the time. When I looked, he had 11 but I'm sure he had a few more after that. Plus he hit a couple 3s in that 4th quarter when the Spurs finally got hot. My only wish is if the Spurs don't trade him before the deadline, that he continue his defensive efforts and shooting and hopefully take them into the playoffs, which would delight quite a few folks.
The other one is the Memphis game where Spurs won..
I do recall very well that the timing was Great when Pop put Bonner in that Memphis game. Where Bonner played very hard in the 19:49 minutes he got.
Bonner and Mills and De Colo all sparked the game and energized the game to the Spurs Momentum. However Bonner had +15 and was the Best insert Pop did that night.
Bonner did step it up a notch! So Spurs numbers got better because of his big effort! That was good but not good enough! Bonner was supposed to do that all the time but now he is facing reality and trying to improve defensively. He even mentioned in the after game interview with Andrew Monaco that he is trying so hard to do fundamental Boxing and all that.... He looked so serious. He knows it now that he has no choice but to play D to earn Pop's minutes or his end days are coming!
Pop now that he is making Bonner playing less minutes. Pop is finding out how that maybe is working to motivate Bonner to play ummm Better! Especially when Pop preaches Defense! And Bonner is playing better D.
And for NBA.com Stats here: Stats from fewer minutes are going to look better since it is less minutes.
I think Pop knows exactly what he has in Bonner. Alas Bonner's number in the regular season are misleading because he does not follow the same effort which is super duper disappointing in the PO! Hey That's Bonner for ya! facepalm
The Dream here is Bonner could learn a lesson from Pop's schemes and less minutes and starts producing those numbers on a continuous basis. Alas that is yet to come or we probably need to trade his arse before the trade deadline. :shocked
He may not be the sole part, but once again against the bucks, the unit he was on with got the job done. Didn't check, but he might have been part the bench unit that turned an 18 point lead to the knicks for the starters to squander.
Bonner is not athletic, and definitely not graceful, but he is a grinder and a scrapper of sorts. That group in the fourth quarter all played for each each other and was very tenacious as a group.
Just want to add my two cents. Go Bonner Go! I’ve always like the guy. He is no all-star but the Spurs could do a lot worse.
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