When the loss column begins to fill up, fans start placing blame. Among players who have been criticized is the “Red Rocket” Matt Bonner, who has been a fan favorite in San Antonio for his big time shots and his absolutely flawless giant leprechaun looks.
With the Spurs underachieving at 23-15 and Bonner logging the most minutes he has since the 2011-12, some think the thirty-four year old has over-stayed his welcome and are calling for Bonner to be replaced with a bigger, more physical center.
Dec 6, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Matt Bonner (15) shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
But, while Bonner’s three point percentage is beginning to slide downhill and his defense is becoming increasingly inadequate, he is still a vital tool for Popovich from a tactical standpoint.
Bonner is most valuable not for his incredible marksmanship from behind the arc, but for his height. Having a 6-foot-10 three-point specialist works to stretch the defense in a way no other player in the league can, and is a good counter attack to the many defenses that have tried to clog the passing lanes against the defending champions this year.
Despite his perceived negative impact on the Spurs this year, Bonner’s PER is right on level with what it has been for the last three years at 11.2, and according to the data posted at 82games.com, he’s still adding 5.8 points to the offense for every 48 minutes of playing time.
The ball movement that his three-point threat created by opening up the floor for is vital for Popovich and the Spurs. It also gives the San Antonio staff something to experiment with when the offense isn’t working.
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Another key note is that Bonner has been one of the best three-point specialists in the business for the last seven years.
Also, with the more physical play that Jeff Ayres has shown in the last couple of games, Bonner may be relieved of a few admittedly painful-to-watch minutes defending the post inside. This should give Popovich the flexibility to only insert him in lineups where his impact is maximized.
Matt Bonner is most helpful when the Spurs’ less skilled three-point shooters are on the floor such as Kyle Anderson and Cory Joseph. It allows those players to make their respective contributions on the floor without losing the stretch that Patrick Mills and Danny Green provide.
While his defense is obviously below par and his shooting hand isn’t quite as hot it used to be, the “Red Rocket” can still stroke it and still makes sense for the San Antonio Spurs.