Season review: Matt Bonner


April 18, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Matt Bonner (15) warms up before the game against the Sacramento Kings at Power Balance Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The profileMinutes: 20.4Points: 6.6Rebounds: 3.3Assists: 0.9FG%: 44.0%3P%: 42.0%FT%: 76.2%

The (advanced) profileTS%: 59.7%USG%: 12.8%PER: 13.2Offensive PPP: 1.13 (5th)Defensive PPP: 0.78 (76th)Offensive rating (points per 100 possessions): 124Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 106

I’ll admit it. I am a tad partial to Matt Bonner. Yes, Bonner might not have the most aesthetically appealing assortment of moves nor is he blessed with tantalizing athleticism. He doesn’t have perspicacious vision like Boris Diaw and, to a lesser extent, Tim Duncan. Bonner, simply, spaces the floor, finds a comfortable niche on the perimeter to operate and finishes the play with what is generally a wide open 3-pointer. It just so happens that Bonner converts those 3-pointers at an elite rate, 42% to be exact.

I appreciate Bonner’s game because he doesn’t stray from his strengths. He’s not the kind of guy to try and create for himself — 88.3% of his shots were assisted this year. That would mean compensating the entire offense and throwing the entire offense through a funk, a funk that Gregg Popovich certainly wouldn’t approve of (Tiago Splitter felt the wrath of Pop in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals). His 14 turnovers tied the league low among players that logged 20+ minutes per game and played 40+ games.

Bonner realizes and, most importantly, accepts his abilities. Perimeter shooting is an intricate part of San Antonio’s offense; the Spurs converted on 552 3-pointers (second behind Orlando) at a 39.3% clip (1st). Bonner, alone, attributed to 105 3-pointers and given the threat of his shooting, probably much more.

I’m a huge proponent of advanced statistics (in case you couldn’t already tell). My love for statistics stems from my passion for baseball and because I have an innate love for numbers. Well, as long as I can understand them and it doesn’t take too much effort to calculate them.

Bonner is one of those players that is criminally underrated by the ambiguous eye test that fans love to rely on. The eye test is important but, unless you are well-versed in the intricacies of basketball, it’s better utilized as a secondary tool rather than the sole basis for evaluation.

I understand advanced statistics aren’t the only successful way to evaluate a basketball player but I trust them a lot more than a vague recollection. People tend to misconstrue key bits of information and exacerbate other parts while they are piecing together their arguments. One popular misconception regarding the “Red Rocket” was his defense (or lack thereof), one of which I bought into until I got a hold of his advanced metrics, all of which were surprising.

April 9, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Matt Bonner (15) boxes out Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) during the second half at Energy Solutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Spurs 91-84. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Bonner defended 411 possessions according to MySynergySports, allowing a pretty respectable 0.78 points per possession (76th). Against post-ups, which should theoretically hurt his defensive numbers more than anything, he gave up 0.67 PPP (27th). For reference, that bested Tim Duncan’s numbers and represented the best on the Spurs. Impressive.

Even more impressive is his work against every conceivable possession type (isolations, pick-and-roll defense, spot-ups etc etc). He isn’t a lock-down defender by any means nor is he an imposing defender but the numbers shed light on the incorrect perception that Bonner is an abominable defender. He’s not. His defense is quite palatable, though he’s not going to make a huge impact defensively. Bonner is just going to adhere to the fundamentals and not make any blatant mistakes. I can accept that especially with DeJuan Blair and his reckless, sometimes misguided attempts on defense. With Bonner on the floor, San Antonio allowed 100.1 points per 100 possessions, which would’ve put them fourth in the entire league.

The regular season was more of the same for Bonner. He just knocked down the open shot, didn’t make too much mental mistakes, providing San Antonio a valuable 20 minutes every night.

Yes, he completely disappeared in the playoffs. The 2011-12 postseason was probably his worst postseason as his minuscule 5.7 PER supports. Bonner averaged 12.7 minutes to go along with 2.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game. He made less than half of his shots (including free throws) and played tentatively on the perimeter. By Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, his services weren’t needed.

Bonner wasn’t trusting his shot and he continued to pass up good shots for inferior, mid-range floaters, shots that aren’t his forte. His play was maddening and I don’t blame Pop for eliminating his minutes as the playoffs went on. His game is largely one-dimensional and when that one-dimension isn’t panning out, he shouldn’t be playing very much.

It’s a shame because against Oklahoma City’s aggressive pick-and-roll defense, Bonner should’ve made a huge impact. The Thunder seemed content to trap most Tony Parker pick-and-rolls because San Antonio didn’t have the threat of a deadly pick-and-pop weapon. If he was shooting at his normal level, he would have benefited from the space and time presented by the Thunder defense. On the defensive end, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins weren’t threats offensively. Another plus.

It didn’t work out, unfortunately.

Maybe he’ll prove everybody wrong next year. (Either that or his affordable contract, $7.5 million over two years, will be flipped to another team.)


Performance of the year: Feb. 20, 2012 at Utah. W 106-102.The line: 31:02 MIN | 6-8 FG | 3-3 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 20 PTS | +13

The prototypical Matt Bonner game. He took advantage of the opportunities presented to him by Tony Parker and San Antonio, as a result, outscored Utah by 13 points in his 31 minutes. Bonner also scored 2.22 PPP, an obscene level of efficiency.

Season grade: C+