Boris Diaw and the Big Man Market (Part 2)


The Spurs acquired Boris Diaw last Friday. The first part of this statistical introduction to Boris Diaw and the market the Spurs passed on covered offense. This time? I’m covering defense. To start, I’ve collected the overall per-possession rebounding and general defensive statistics on all our comparison players. I’ve collected the following statistics: ORB%/DRB%/TRB% (the percentage of offensive, defensive, and total possible rebounds collected while that player is on the court), STL%/BLK% (percentage of all opposing possessions that player steals or blocks when on the court), CHG (number of charges taken per game played), and the gold standard of per possession defensive statistics, DPPP (points per possession scored on said player when they are the last line of defense on a defensive possession). Along with DPPP, I’ve reported the number of defensive possessions they’ve played, and their rank according to their DPPP among all their NBA peers this season.

In each column of the percentage statistics, I’ve highlighted the highest value among the players. For DPPP, I’ve highlighted in green any players who are above the Spurs’ average, and highlighted in red any who are below it. For the rank column, I’ve highlighted in orange any players in the top 50 (which, given the number of players in the Synergy stats, is top 15% in the league). The overall table is ordered by DPPP. Some main takeaways? Duncan is — even at 35 — still the best rebounder of any of the men on this page. Especially defensively. In actuality, this table might underrate him on that end. His DRB% total of 29.0% is 2nd overall among all NBA players, and within spitting distance of the #1 player overall (Dwight Howard, predictably). To wit, the top 5:

  1. Dwight Howard, ORL. (32.8%)
  2. Tim Duncan, SAS (28.6%)
  3. Andrew Bynum, LAL (27.3%)
  4. Kevin Love, MIN (26.8%)
  5. DeMarcus Cousins, SAC (26.3%)

While Duncan’s less sparkling offensive rebounding pushes him down in the overall TRB% rankings (10th in those), it’s worth noting that his rebounding this season has been a superb bounce-back from last season. It’s the main reason our backup bigs have needed help on the boards when Duncan is out, as well. The backups are trying to replicate the rebounding of a player that’s doing more on that end than almost anyone else in the league. That’s difficult, and although none but Bonner are doing poorly (in Bonner’s case, his rebounding is best described as “virtually nonexistant”), it partly explains why we always seem to miss key rebounds when Tim isn’t on the floor. In terms of our new acquisition, though? We shouldn’t expect a big improvement. Diaw has been a substantially worse rebounder than either Blair or Tiago overall, and he’s barely outperformed Bonner. This is doubly absurd when you look at his role on the Bobcats — he’s played on a team that both misses a ton of shots (which translates to more opportunities, which should incrementally raise your per possession efficacy) and relied on him as the primary rebounder for most of the year. Given these factors, one could argue that Diaw may be the worst rebounder on this list. If you’re expecting him to improve our sans-Tim rebounding problems, prepare to be brutally disappointed.

In a surprise to no one who knows his defensive tendencies, Blair leads the pack in steal percentage, offensive rebounds, and charges drawn. Blair plays defense as more of a large, roly-poly guard than he does a center — fittingly, then, the majority of his positive defensive contributions in traditional statistics come in the form of guard-centric metrics like steals and charges drawn. In terms of shot blocking and steals, Diaw is decidedly middle-of-the-pack — he blocks more shots than Blair or Bonner, but far less than Tim or Tiago. He draws fewer charges than our bigs do, as well — which makes sense, when you consider that he’s large enough that taking charges would have a chance of seriously hurting him. Overall, by these metrics, Diaw is rather middle of the pack — if we wanted the best rebounder available, we would’ve wanted Hickson (or Kaman), and if we wanted the best shot blocker available we’d have given Turiaf the call. Diaw will hurt the Spurs’ rebounding numbers if he takes minutes from either Blair or Tiago, and provide a very marginal improvement over Bonner in rebounding if he gets minutes over Bonner.

• • •

In overall defense, though? That’s another story. Diaw rates as the 2nd worst per-possession defender among all the players, with Blair in absolute last. I’m going to examine the components that make up their DPPP in a moment, but first, I thought it’d be useful to describe per possession defense for our readers who aren’t fully acquainted with it. PPP statistics primarily are found as provided by the team at Synergy Sports. The concept is rather simple in theory. How many points were scored among all possessions where a player’s defensive assignment took a shot, got fouled, or turned the ball over? After you have that, you simply divide by the number of possessions and arrive at your number — the average points per possession an individual player allowed. As a teaching example, imagine a player who allows nothing but makes or misses. 50% of the time, he allows his defensive assignment a completely unguarded two. The other 50%, he forces a turnover. That player would be — first off — an absolutely terrible defender. He would end up with a PPP of 1.00 — for every possession of 2 points, there’s one of zero points. Which averages out to 1 PPP. For an applied example, let’s take the Spurs big men and multiply out their PPP numbers.

  • Tiago Splitter has a DPPP of 0.84, on 177 defensive possessions. That’s 149 points allowed directly by Splitter.
  • Tim Duncan has a DPPP of 0.72, on 223 defensive possessions. That’s 161 points allowed directly by Duncan.
  • Matt Bonner has a DPPP of 0.80, on 260 defensive possessions. That’s 208 points allowed directly by Bonner.
  • DeJuan Blair has a DPPP of 0.99, on 219 defensive possessions. That’s 217 points allowed directly by Blair.

Taking this on a team concept, you can take the total number of points allowed by a team — for this year’s Spurs (at the time I pulled these numbers), 4055. By that measurement, you can thus calculate what percentage of the total points the Spurs allowed were allowed by each of our big men — in this case, Splitter allowed 3.67% of all points scored against the Spurs. Duncan allowed 3.97%, Bonner allowed 5.1%, and Blair allowed 5.3%. Altogether, that means our 4-man big rotation allowed 18.1% of all points scored against the Spurs — a rather small percentage, especially when you consider the fact that those four players have combined to play 35.7% of the minutes available among all players. That gap is both indicative of the Spurs’ big men being relatively effective at containing their own men and indicative of a team that’s not overplaying its hand.

All that said, the cardinal rankings of the bigs by Synergy seem relatively odd on their face. Duncan being first makes sense — few who’ve watched Tim this year could say that he’s been anything but excellent on the defensive end. But Matt Bonner at a close 2nd? J.J. Hickson with a positive rating? DeJuan Blair being that bad? A strange set of results. Let’s go deeper into the stats, by splitting the overall Synergy numbers into the 4 most prevalent defensive assignments bigs have. Click for a larger image.

A few high level observations here. First, the Spurs defense (which I used at the bottom of the table for reference) is overall rather poor — every non-Diaw big on the market has a better overall DPPP rating than the Spurs do overall. Despite being a poor defensive team overall, the Spurs actually do a rather excellent job defending post-up plays, and do a relatively good job defending spot-up shooters and the roll man on the pick and roll. They technically defend isolation plays better than they defend the P&R or Spot-Up plays (0.89 PPP compared to 0.95 and 0.92), but because the league average defense holds isolation plays to around 0.80, the Spurs isolation defense ranks a poor 28th in the league. As for the individual players, a few comments:

  • Boris Diaw is a man of a few elite defensive skills and a few awful ones. A mixed bag. Unlike a player like Chris Kaman, who’s elite in nothing but dastardly mediocre at everything, Diaw is extremely good at isolation defense and defending the rolling big on the pick and roll. Despite this, his overall defensive numbers are awful, primarily because of his couldn’t-be-worse spot-up defense. As we’re all aware, Boris is a large man. This makes him excruciatingly slow on recoveries, and due to his generally slow movements it’s rather elementary for a guard or a wing to get him out of position. If we wanted a big man who could help the Spurs improve their overall defense in isolation, out of all available bigs, Diaw was easily our man. That’s a good thing.
  • J.J. Hickson may have the most misleading numbers here. He has only defended 164 possessions as of this writing, far fewer than the number we’d expect given the number of minutes he’s played. There’s a good reason for that. Unlike most bigs in the NBA, Hickson has no compulsion to challenge a broken play — if his man gets by him, he prefers to let the other big man on the court take the fall and die trying to help on his man. This leads to a lot of plays in the post where the final possession wasn’t technically guarded by Hickson, but where responsibility for a virtually wide open dunk lies squarely on his shoulders. This isn’t to underrate his spot-up defense — for all of Hickson’s faults (of which there are many), he’s always been a pretty dependable spot-up defender when he’s mentally checked in due to his athleticism, length, and hustle. But his lapses elsewhere on the court may not show up in his Synergy numbers, and the Synergy defensive numbers here are probably overrating the quality of his defense more than they are anyone else on this list .
  • Matt Bonner is the 4th best post-up defender in the league, per Synergy. I didn’t believe that at all on first glance, so I spent about 45 minutes watching every single post-up possession Matt Bonner has defended in the past three years. I came away shocked. His post-up defense isn’t pretty, but it’s quite effective. His foul rate is minuscule compared to that of the league average big, and he has a fantastic sense of when and how to lay off his man and use his size to bother the shot. He always keeps his arms up, and he moves in a sort of shuffling gait that more often than not confuses the post-up player. On the pick and roll, that’s generally less Bonner’s acumen than it is Tiago and Tim helping out, but Bonner does his fair share of the work on those possessions as well. He keeps the big close and generally forces them to take shots from angles they aren’t very good at, and again, he does an excellent job keeping his foul rate down.
    • So, Aaron. Tell me. Why, if he’s got a few solid defensive skills, does Bonner have the reputation of a defensive sieve? Simple, voice in my head. The two most avidly watched types of defensive plays by the general populace — isolation and spot-up recoveries — are Bonner’s two absolute worst defensive categories, per Synergy. He’s below league average on isolations and only slightly above it on spot-ups. Worse, for him, is the way he allows shots in isolation and spotting up. He generally has a terrible time covering quick guards on switches, and gets embarrassed physically when an athletic player does a jab step or an up fake. His lateral quickness is poor, and although he’s essentially league average or slightly at both those categories, the downright hilarious way he allows points leads to a reputation that doesn’t actually fit with his defensive play, which appears to be overall better than even I had ever given him credit for. Next time you’re watching the Spurs, I ask that you pay attention to Bonner when players try to post him up. I have for the last few games. Guarantee you’ll be somewhat impressed, if not immediately thereafter amused when he blows an isolation coverage on the next possession of the game. A feast-or-famine type defensive player.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, DeJuan Blair is simply a terrible defensive player. I love DeJuan’s grit and hustle, but in 2011, DeJuan was the worst defensive starter at the center position in the entire league by DPPP. In 2012 he isn’t the worst, but he’s close. Despite defending on 4 possessions fewer than Tim Duncan, he’s allowed 56 more points scored directly on him over the course of the year. That’s quite a gap. And while part of that is Tim’s overall stellar defense, a lot of the blame has to be put on DeJuan himself — while he’s decent on the P&R, he’s poor in isolation and a travesty at recovering on spot-up shooters. Which, by the way, is why he plays center so often. I’ve been asked by friends who don’t follow the Spurs why DeJuan (a 6’7″ player) is forced to play center so often. It isn’t necessarily because Pop wants to do it, it’s because if he cross-matches onto a power forward he gives them a wide open look at a spot-up jumper virtually every time. He’s no great shakes in the post, either, but at least he’s slightly above league average. When you put the whole package together, though, you have a player who’s league average at best in most defensive categories, and who unfortunately averages out as a big liability on the defensive end. Which is a shame, because again — I really love DeJuan, and I really wish he was just a few inches taller and a few pounds lighter. But as of this point, his career has been awful on the defensive end, and it’s really aggravating to watch him work.

• • •

In sum? The Spurs got an interesting player in Boris Diaw, to say the least. He’s not the missing piece. He’s not really better than any of the big men we currently run with, although his isolation defense is worth keeping an eye on. As most Spurs fans noticed during the recent Mavs game, when Diaw really puts an effort into shutting down a sweet-shooting forward like Dirk, he has a lot more success than most Spurs players have had over the last few seasons. On the other hand, fans watching the Sixers game may have also noticed the dark side of Diaw’s play — his difficulty recovering on spot-up shooters and putting requisite pressure on their post-up players, namely. They may also have noticed his abhorrent rebounding fundamentals, and his curious lack of talent for a man so large at boxing out and protecting the paint. Diaw isn’t going to solve all the Spurs’ ills, but the main point of this post isn’t really that. It’s that none of the players available were going to.

Diaw offers as much upside as any of them, and very few downsides. If he doesn’t work out? The Spurs have a minimum contract player sitting on the bench. And, of course, there’s the familiarity aspect — Diaw actually went to high school with Tony Parker, and Parker has been running Popovich offensive sets with the French National Team for years now. Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw had a relatively potent two man game back in Charlotte during their ill-fated 2010 playoff jog, and given the fact that the Spurs have just 19 games left this season, acquiring a player with some familiarity in the Spurs system may have been for the best. Diaw is not a savior, but he’s not chopped liver. He can help the Spurs if they can do a good job at hiding his deficiencies and put him in a position to succeed. Without injuries, we hope.

Given Pop’s track record, I think we’ll be just fine.

  • Ryan McShane

    I think the biggest thing is that Diaw is an upgrade over Dawson or the small forwards sliding over to defend the 4 (and thus 2’s sliding over to 3, and TP and Neal being left to guard 1 and 2). See: Portland game with Tim and Tiago out. See: injury to Kawhi Leonard immediately after. 

    Diaw also has playoff experience (which apparently doesn’t count for much without playoff experience with the same teammates according to recent research). 

    Diaw is insurance. Diaw is a 5th big for the 22 games in 35 nights the Spurs had left when he signed with the team. 

    With Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green, the Spurs have gotten a lot bigger collectively over last year’s playoff team featuring Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, and Gary Neal (as much as I love Gary Neal, I expect him to play a more minimal role in the playoffs this year due to his defensive liabilities that Green can more or less make up for).

    Spurs’ playoff run depends on Tiago getting healthy and back into a groove and the big 3 staying healthy.

  • grego

    Even if Neal does play, it won’t be at the 3. Against the Grizz, both Hill and Neal were at the 3 position, way undersized compared to the Grizzlies length. 

  • RS from VA

    Man, I usually love the numbers and stats that you use to help us understand your point.  I gotta say though, this time wow – just too much.  Basketball defense ain’t the Theory of Relativity.  Go Spurs Go!!

  • Ryan McShane

    Green’s been playing at the two and a lot of times 1, defensively. That’s Neal’s gig.

  • Ryan McShane

    But yes, he’ll be at the 1 or 2 henceforth. 

  • Cristian

    LOL. I didn’t have the patience to read all those state, just skipped to the conclusion. Again, LOL. Nothing new. Everyone already knew that one. He doesn’t hurt us money wise and can’t really hurt us on the court, but he might help. D’ohh…
    Personally, I loved his defense on Dirk and last night against Philly. His offense around the rim looks really rusty, but that might be also because he looks to defer to much knowing he has a lot more potent team mates and because he’s the “new guy”.
    What’s  good is  he’ll set great screens on offense for PnR  with that big body,  which is at the core of the Spurs offense and nobody is gonna back him up in the post. So his man will have to shoot over him and if it’s a miss he’s in good position to rebound. Also he seems like a great guy in the locker room. All in all, I like the addition.

  • NYC

    Very impressive work, Aaron. Really enjoyed this post.

  • theghostofjh

    You don’t really expect me to believe that MATT BONNER is the FOURTH BEST BIG in the league in “post-up” defense, do you?!

    Let me very briefly point out the absurdity of this question. If one had to choose in any random game of random significance a player to guard Dwight Howard in the low post on any random possession, would one choose Matt Bonner or Tim Duncan? Everyone on this blog knows the answer to that question, including the author of this article.

    As a result, and even though there are, I’m sure, a number of valid insights and cogent pieces of analyses scattered through this piece, everything in it must be parsed, qualified, and often re-calibrated to arrive at some point closer to the truth.

    The fact is, statistics DO NOT allow one to make unqualified assertions and overreaching conclusions, such as “DeJuan Blair is simply a terrible defensive player”.
    “There are …. lies, damned lies, and statistics”

    The famous quote above simply points out that “statistics” never tell the entire story, and often don’t get nearly as close to the truth as they and their presenter’s often suggest.

  • grego

    It’s a testament to the Spurs attitude toward team defense. Obviously, it doesn’t hurt that he has one of the greatest defensive bigs in Duncan behind him or wings like Green, Leonard or Manu who play solid help D. 

    I doubt anyone would take Bonner over a lot of other players, but he’s not the liability in some areas that many make him out to be. I think that’s more Aaron’s point. 

    That said, he does point out where Bonner’s lack of athleticism hurts him, if the opposing team attacks him the right way. Lakers can do that. OKC cannot. 

  • grego

    The addition of Jackson hurts him a little bit since he also has that “clutch” mindset. I don’t think the type of teams they play can help dictate his time, but it seems like he earned his place. 

    I do think Green has earned his place over him, but I don’t think Neal will be without any minutes either based on the way Pop manages his ball handlers and wings. 

  • NYC

    The numbers confirm something I’ve always suspected: Matt Bonner isn’t as terrible as many of you make him out to be. I’m shocked that the numbers rank him at 109, well above average, while Blair is at an atrocious 378. 

    I think we all suffer from confirmation bias, the human tendency to selectively attune to only that which we already believe to be true and ignore facts supporting the contrary. Bonner is easy to hate: he’s a pasty ginger from New Hampshire who moves awkwardly and isn’t physically intimidating. Add to that the fact that his outstanding skill is shooting from behind the arc and you have a guy who doesn’t fit your conception of what a big man should look like or do. But if you look at it more objectively, as Aaron did by actually watching every one of his post-up defensive plays in thae last three years (really?? EVERY one? How long did that take??) or by simply looking at the numbers Aaron has posted for us here, you see that Bonner is not bad. 

    His DPPP puts him second on our team behind Duncan, ahead of five other big men, and well ahead of DeJuan Blair. His defensive rebounding is not as bad as you would think and not too far behind Blair’s. His most glaring weakness is his complete lack of offensive rebounding, a shock to nobody, but then that makes sense when you consider that he hangs out along the arc on the offensive end. So really, all numbers considered, Bonner is at or above average as an NBA big man in defense–yes, defense–and has unique value for his high 3-pt. percentage. Looking at the numbers, it seems pretty well justified the minutes he gets. 

    I know what some (most) of you are going to say: Bonner chokes in the playoffs. Well that’s exactly my point: show me the numbers. Don’t just rely on your eye, which is biased. If you give me good, hard numbers to back up your assertion, I’ll gladly accept your conclusions. But right now the numbers I’m looking at tells me that Bonner isn’t as bad as you WANT to believe. Face it, it’s easy to pin blame on the goofy looking guy who doesn’t fit your expectations. The hard facts say that Bonner isn’t responsible for this team’s defensive deficiencies. Until you can prove otherwise, I’m ignoring all you Bonner haters. I invite all rational Spurs fans to join me. 

  • Hobson13

    Very interesting piece, Aaron.  I agree with your final conclusion in the fact that Diaw is no savior, but he is at least a legit 5th big.  Perhaps if Diaw gets more playing time, he will also lose more weight.  I’m no trainer, but the guy looks like he needs to drop 20-30lbs.  If he were to lose this weight, I would suspect his increased mobility would allow him to play better defense. 

    At this point, Diaw reminds me of a younger Kurt Thomas (minus the rebounding ability).  He’s a solid guy who can play good iso defense, hit the open mid range jumper, and make the correct passes.  Nothing spectacular, but a good insurance policy in case of foul trouble for Bonner/Blair or injury trouble from Tim/Tiago. 

    P.S.  I would really like to see Tiago and Diaw play together.  Both are very good passing bigs and Boris should be able to space the floor a bit with his mid range game.  This is just another combination that Diaw opens up. 

  • Aaron McGuire

    I don’t expect you to believe that, no. Nor did I ever state that in the piece. I stated that, per Synergy, he’s 4th ranked in raw DPPP on post-up plays. That’s a fact, and there’s no actual rebuke for that. I never stated that the DPPP ranking is a be-all and end-all of defensive stats. If you want to compare him and Duncan, that’s fine. Keep his numbers in context. Bonner has had 50 possessions of post-up defense this year. On those possessions, he’s done an absolutely excellent job. Tim Duncan ranks 42nd overall in the league in post-up defense, but his rating is more impressive than Bonner’s due to the fact that it A) occurred in more possessions than Bonner’s rating did and B) occurred against better competition, as he frequently gets the tougher cross-match. So, yes, I would still have Tim defending the primary post-up threat in crunch time, regardless of Bonner’s better overall ranking. I’m not stupid.

    But the fact that one of the best defenders in the league is better than he is doesn’t erase the fact that Bonner has done extremely well on his offensive player when put in post-up situations. Bonner can only defend the man Pop puts in front of him, and despite playing fewer minutes than Tiago or Tim, he actually has been the last-man-standing on defense for significantly more possessions than either of them. This doesn’t necessarily mean we should be cross-matching Bonner on every post-up player in the league. It DOES mean that as he’s currently being utilized in Pop’s defensive system, he’s doing a very good job at his role and although he has his own limitations he is on an individual level flourishing on the defensive end. I beg you, watch his defense. He’s not nearly as bad as you seem to think he is. He tends to get the weaker matchup, which pads his stats, but he isn’t at all a poor specimen on the defensive end. Especially in a favorable matchup — I.E., not Memphis or Los Angeles.

    On the other hand, I have to call foul on your assertion that calling DeJuan Blair a terrible defensive player is “overreaching” or “unqualified”. DeJuan has been in the league for 3 years. He has yet to show any defensive skillset befitting an NBA player. He cannot guard you in the post. He cannot guard the pick and roll. He cannot stay close to his man. He cannot venture out and help on spot-up shooters. The only thing he CAN do with any success is get steals, which are (as most coaches would back me on) the worst type of defensive play from a neutral perspective — they get you completely out of position if you fail to make the steal, and you spend so much time ball-watching your man gets to roam for an easy position or an offensive tip box out. Blair has been playing awful defense for three seasons. You can watch the tape, if you’d like. At what point does calling a spade a spade go from unqualified and overreaching to a qualified, accurate appraisal?

  • grego

    Yup. To add. 

    Blair’s reaching/going for steals often results in an easier basket or a foul since he’s lost the position, making his defense worse. If there’s even one thing he can learn from Bowen, it’s that positioning is one of the most important things rather than going for the steal. Even though Blair doesn’t have height, he has mass to keep a big player from getting position. But then he doesn’t really box out either, so I guess that is lost on him, so far. I feel like he doesn’t think he’s doing that bad a job because he’s getting the starting gig even though he doesn’t average more minutes. 

  • grego

    “His most glaring weakness is his complete lack of offensive rebounding, a shock to nobody, but then that makes sense when you consider that he hangs out along the arc on the offensive end. ”

    And add to that Pop prefers guys get back on transition D, so there’s even more emphasis not to jump back into the lane. That, and Leonard works really well in lineups with him because he dives in and usually outmatches his opponents for the offensive board. 
    It also allows Pop to hide some of Leonard’s inconsistencies in his shot/offense (at least for this season) by still maintaining great spacing. 

  • TD BestEVER

    LMAO is all I can do while reading this piece…………  

    Although I do appreciate the STATS – And even more the explanation of the stats because most wer3e very hard to understand. 

    When I look at the final conclusion or interpretation of these facts it comes out to this……

    Matt Bonner – 6/10 – 240lbs, 45% from 3 – Top 5 in Post Defense, Top 25 in +/- , 1.25 PPP used, 60+% TS%
    -The guy sounds like Dirk mixed with Ben Wallace or something…….

    Just goes to show you that you can’t judge a Horse by a stop watch.  You have to watch them race. 

    Matt Bonner is a top 20 Big on paper, but games are played on the hardwood.

  • theghostofjh

    I understand his point about Bonner, but in my view he greatly overstates it. Granted, some people think Bonner’s overall defense is worse than it is, just like some people think Blair’s overall defense is worse than it is. The fact is, each of them have completely different strengths and weaknesses on both the defensive and offensive ends.

    But Aaron, armed with his fancy statistics, paints a false picture here. Bonner IS NOT the 4th best big in the NBA in post-up defense, and Blair IS NOT an overall “terrible” defensive player. When all factors are considered, they both could probably be classified as somewhere in the area of average-to-slightly below average defenders. But instead, Aaron appears to give “too much” credence to the statistics he uses, and, while he emphasizes Bonner’s strengths (low fouling ratio, keeps his arms up), he almost gives no credit in his analytical narrative to Blair’s strengths (high charge drawn ratio, steal %, and 2nd to Duncan in total rebound %). In fact, he turns them into a flat-out negative and actually demeans Blair’s contribution in this regard, saying things like, Blair plays defense like a “large, roly-poly guard rather than a center”.

    P.S. I show Marcus Camby 3rd in the league in defensive rebound %. Aaron doesn’t list him in the top five.

  • Alex Dewey

    Great piece, Aaron.

  • theghostofjh

    I understand his point about Bonner, but in my view he greatly overstates it. Granted, some people think Bonner’s overall defense is worse than it is, just like some people think Blair’s overall defense is worse than it is. The fact is, each of them have completely different strengths and weaknesses on both the defensive and offensive ends.

    But Aaron, armed with his fancy statistics, paints a false picture here. Bonner IS NOT the 4th best big in the NBA in post-up defense, and Blair IS NOT an overall “terrible” defensive player. When all factors are considered, they both could probably be classified as somewhere in the area of average-to-slightly below average defenders.

    But instead, Aaron appears to give “too much” credence to the statistics he uses, and, while he emphasizes Bonner’s strengths (low fouling ratio, keeps his arms up), he gives almost no credit in his analytical narrative to Blair’s strengths (e.g., high charge drawn ratio, steal %, and 2nd to Duncan in total rebound %). In fact, he turns these assets into flat-out negatives, and actually demeans Blair’s contribution in this regard, saying things like, Blair plays defense like a “large, roly-poly guard rather than a center”.

    P.S. I show Marcus Camby 3rd in the league in defensive rebound %. Aaron doesn’t list him in the top five.

  • Hobson13

    I’m willing to concede that Bonner is maybe an average defender.  However, the numbers clearly state that he chokes in the playoffs.
    Regular season averages (last 3 years)
    MPG: 21.3    PPG: 7.3  RPG: 3.9  3pt%:  43.3%

    Playoff averages (last 3 years)
    MPG: 19.3   PPG:  4.8  RPG: 3.2  3pt%:  32.7%

    We have almost a 11% drop in 3pt shooting from the regular season to the playoffs.  That’s called a CHOKE.

  • Ryan McShane

    Neal will get plenty of playing time in the last 19 games of the season, but I have a feeling that his playing time during the playoffs will be limited to situations where a 3 is needed, Ginobili is injured, or they just need an offensive spark. But if/when they’re matched up with a good/big back court (ie OKC, MIA, DEN, HOU, etc), they’re going to need some size. I imagine he’ll have a better chance of running the point at that point if Mills doesn’t pan out.

  • Ghost of HDS

    Either Matt Bonner is this guy’s relative or he believes DeJuan Blair personally tried to steal his ACLs, but I don’t understand why he perpetrates this statistical conspiracy to bring down the Spurs by convincing people that Matt Bonner doesn’t suck or that DeJuan Blair doesn’t rule

    If anyone bought into this numerical propaganda I feel sorry for them. You want numbers? How about we trade Matt Bonner for Troy Murphy straight up– that guy used to average 15/11 which is roughly three times better than the Red Rocket’s career high averages for a season. 

  • Danilo

    That Happens to almost all 3pt shooters though… It is MUCH tougher to get a good look at a 3pt shot

  • Nima K.

    Excellent article. Always a fan of data mining. I bet we can pull even more conclusions out of the stats. This is a fascinating subject, and it’s a field that has books written about it.

    Interesting to me though, is once you know the conclusions, and your strengths and weaknesses, how can we use this info optimally? E.g. who should we pair up Blair with to maximize his output, or what teams enable bonner to over perform or underperform? Can we make any predictions on who can Diaw matchup better with, and where should we avoid using him? So many interesting ways to compute meaningful conclusions.

    Well done.

  • theghostofjh

    “I don’t expect you to believe that, no. Nor did I ever state that in the piece.”

    From your article:

    “Matt Bonner is the 4th best post-up defender in the league, per Synergy.””You” didn’t say it, but the stats you used to color your analysis did. And that can be a problem, and I contend that it has indeed distorted your analysis.”Bonner has had 50 possessions of post-up defense this year. On those possessions, he’s done an absolutely excellent job.”Yeah, guarding who, a second tier big, maybe even another stretch 4 with a weak post up game, or Bynum, Howard, David West, Aldridge, Love, Griffin, Randolph, Amare, Boozer, etc. Just how relevant are these possessions in terms of measuring his true competence as a post-up defender?”So, yes, I would still have Tim defending the primary post-up threat in
    crunch time, regardless of Bonner’s better overall ranking. I’m not
    stupid.”I’m not suggesting anything of the sort. I’m simply making the point that one has to be VERY careful in how one interprets these statistics. To me, you appeared to be using the statistics to prove something that they simply don’t prove. These statistics don’t “prove” that DJB is a “terrible” defender, just like they don’t “prove” that Bonner is the 4th best post-up defender in the NBA, or anything EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE to that. The best one can do from the data you analyzed is draw measured and tentative conclusions, along with the appropriate caveats.”I beg you, watch his defense. He’s not nearly as bad as you seem to think he is.”No, your misinterpreting me here. I have never thought that Bonner was/is a poor defender, at least within his role against inferior 2nd units, which represents a good part of his defensive assignments. He’s pretty bad sometimes, but surprisingly mediocre-to-good at other times.RE: BlairI’ve watched thousands of Spurs games, and tens of thousands of NBA games. I’ve been a true student of the game for decades, and I have a considerable background as a player of the game. I’m also just a fairly smart, analytical guy, with fairly significant experience with statistics from my work in obtaining advanced college degrees. And I have to say, you appear to exaggerate Bonner’s strengths defensively, and exaggerate Blair’s weaknesses, while minimizing his strengths. For example, the idea that “steals” are all negative is preposterous. In fact, they result in a change of possession, which can often ignite a fast break for easy opportunities on the offensive end. Certainly, rebounding is not a defensive weakness for Blair, it’s a strength. Granted, Blair is often not close enough to his man, but he’s improving a bit in this area. One of his main problems is that he lacks lateral quickness, so he tries to compensate with his long arms and big, quick hands. Obviously, this causes problems more often than anyone would prefer, because it accentuates his troubles with holding proper positioning, and it also results in too many fouls called against him.I would suggest that DeJuan consider losing some weight, and getting himself to a supreme level of fitness, anything that can help with his lateral quickness and jumping ability a little bit. But no, IMO, overall he is definitely not a “terrible” defender, just below average at this point in his young career (still not yet 23). His upside defensively is fairly limited, and so I’d be happy if he could get up to an “average” overall defender in the next 2-3 years. I do think he still may have more upside left in his rebounding and offensive game if he gets really fit and works “super” hard on these facets of his game.

  • TheRealDirtyP1

    Haha, I knew after we had our post chat in the Part 1 of this article that you’d be here to post about Bonner. The thing that Bonner has that Blair can never get to, is height. He can disturb a shot more with his height and reach than Blair can(I can’t believe I’m saying this).
    Offensively, Blair blows Bonner away. He’s a bowling ball, makes crazy shots, and is a decent rebounder.
    Give me Bonner over Blair on defense against a 7 footer(once again, can’t believe I’m saying that).

  • grego

    Exactly. If Neal doesn’t hit that big 3 against the Grizz, then his playoffs were completely horrid. That was his only saving grace. 

    Reg season: 41.2% 3pt (45.1% fg), 9.8 ppg
    Playoffs: 26.3% 3pt (37% fg), 7.7 ppg

    And then there’s Hill who the Spurs probably felt hit his ceiling… 
    This probably helped ensure that they’d chase Leonard and stick with their other wings, including Neal who is cheaper 

    Reg Season:37.7% 3pt (45.3% fg), 11.6 ppg
    Playoffs: 26.7% 3pt (40% fg), 11.7 ppg

  • theghostofjh

    You have to choose to accept the fact (or not) that Blair is NEVER going to be a better than average “position” defender. He simply does not have the lateral quickness (I’m sure having no acls has something to do with it!). He needs to lose weight and get in GREAT shape to at least optimize his capacity for lateral quickness, and hopefully ultimately get to the “average” level as a defender (he should probably try to master the strip move, a la the mailman). That may be possible. But your suggestion that steals are completely worthless for a player with Blair’s physical limitations is inaccurate. What he should work on in that regard is being a bit more selective and efficient in its application..

  • TD BestEVER

    ” Exactly. If Neal doesn’t hit that big 3 against the Grizz, then his
    playoffs were completely horrid. That was his only saving grace.”

    Do you understand what it means to choke………you can choke for an entire series, and redeem yourself in the final seconds……or you can perform well and choke on 2 FT’s.  Matt Bonner doesn’t come through in crunch time or throughout the series/game

  • Hobson13

    Wrong.  I’m sure everyone’s 3pt% dips a bit, but 11%?!?  That’s not a small slip up.  Besides, when your one calling card on offense is hitting the 3 and “spacing the floor” and you have nothing else to fall back on then you damned well better make your 3’s in the playoffs.  I’m sure that Manu’s, Tony’s, and Tim’s FG% also shrinks in the playoffs, but they (along with many other non stars) have other talents to fall back on.  Bonner, on the other hand, doesn’t.  I get tired of people making excuses for Bonner.  He’s been on the team a number of years and has yet to prove anything beyond being a half decent regular season player who can’t cut it in the playoffs. 

  • TD BestEVER

    Bottom line is simply this………

    Bonner is a liability that POP knows he has to cover up…….If he was half as good as these stats say, he would start and the Spurs would be the best team in the NBA….With TD’s help D and Bonner lock down post D.  But we know that ain’t gonna happen because POP knows that if Bonner started he would basically be asking other  teams to attack him.  And they would with great success.  POP has figured out how to HIDE BONNER and that plus Bonner ability to not really hurt his own cause are why he is thought of as an average or slightly below defender.

    Blair for all of his faults, is STILL the best OPTION we have right now……I think most people here assume that since Blair starts he should be a stud or something.  Blair only starts because POP knows he can’t start Bonner, and can’t ride Splitter.  Bonner being Bonner and Splitter likely to get hurt……..AGAIN!  So Blair is the best we have, and remember should really at this point be a bench player getting 20mpg or so.   Tiago/Bonner weren’t as good as this their 3rd year as a pro. As a matter of fact, Blair is better than both now. it’s been an up and down battle all season between Splitter/Blair, but in the last 2 weeks Blair is back on the up swing while Splitter is back in the training room.  Looks like all those calls about being injury prone are correct.

  • Aaron McGuire

    To satisfy your curiosity, I went and looked at his defensive assignments on defending post-ups this year. Here are some facts that might interest you. First, in four possessions guarding Blake Griffin in post-up situations, he’s allowed one awkward layup, forced one turnover, forced one missed jumper and one impossible layup that Blake had no business making. In three possessions guarding Chris Bosh, he’s forced three shanked jumpers. In five possessions guarding Dirk Nowitzki, he’s forced five missed jumpers and one turnover. Against Marc Gasol, he has forced one missed layup. On the other hand, against LaMarcus Aldridge he’s fouled twice. In one possession guarding Dwight Howard, he was steamrolled trying to take a charge for a layup and an and-one. A mixed bag, but generally matches the point I was making — he’s an extremely good post-up defender against most players but is clearly out of his league against a few of the best players in the league. 

    That’s the general point. I’m not really sure what you wanted me to say instead of saying he’s 4th overall by Synergy in post-up defense. He IS fourth overall. I can’t exactly change the stats. I’m attempting to tell a story using a certain metric, I can’t simply withhold information that the stat gives. That would be disingenuous at best and writing to my preconceived notions (that Bonner is a league average or worse defender) far more than I aim to. If the statistics tell something different, I intend to use that as a point for learning and try to contextualize it. Not ignore it.Anyway. I’m basically writing a new post here. Look. This article is meant to be an interpretation of defensive statistics. I’m of the school that steals are overall negative to a defensive scheme. Very few players get steals “well”, and his synergy numbers would tend towards the conclusion that DeJuan is not a very “valuable” steal machine. His rebounding is effective, but when you’re giving up open shots due to your lack of proper positioning, it’s hard to make much of an impact. DeJuan’s charge rate is also a bit misleading — while he leads the big men analyzed, he only has two more charges than the 2nd place charge-drawing player (Tiago), and only 4 more than Bonner. That’s four possessions more of one particular positive defensive contribution. His added value there is minimal as compared to the overall comparative value if you look at the per-possession statistics. There are certainly limitations, but I mentioned many underrated flaws in J.J. Hickson’s section and tried to fully enumerate in Bonner’s section the reasons why his numbers might not be perfect. I’m not trying to hide anything here. I’m simply trying to bring to our audience a better understanding to the Spurs big men through very useful a statistic that not everyone has access to. That’s all. 

  • theghostofjh

    No, an 10% drop off in the playoffs does not happen to almost all 3 pt. shooters.

    In fact, let’s do a little sample, shall we.

    The following 10 players represent the top-ten career regular season 3 point shooter by percentage that have played in at least four post seasons (in rank order). I’ll provide their regular season career 3-point % (CR3), their post season career 3-point % (CPS3), and the differential for each(Diff).

    ………………….CR3 ……. CPS3 ……… Diff

    Nash ………… 42.8 ……… 40.9 ……… -1.9

    Bonner ……… 41.9 ……… 32.3 ……… -9.6

    Gibson ……… 41.6 ……… 40.7 ……… -0.9

    Korver ………. 41.2 ……… 38.7 ……… -2.5

    Bell …………… 40.6 ……… 46.6 …….. +6.0

    Miller ………… 40.6 ……… 32.7 ……… -7.9

    Gordon ……… 40.5 ……… 38.4 ……… -2.1

    J. Jones …….. 40.3 ……… 41.9 …….. +1.6

    Redick ………. 40.2 ……… 35.8 ……… -4.4

    Allen …………. 40.0 ……… 41.5 ……… +1.5

    As you can clearly see, the only one fairly close to Bonner’s precipitous drop off is Mike Miller. The rest have either fairly minor drops, or in 3 of the ten, their percentage 3-pt. shooting actually went up in play off competition.

    What’s even perhaps worse about Bonner in the playoffs is that his 3-pt. shot attempts per minute also drop considerably. So, not only does he shoot almost 10% less efficiently, he does not even have the ability to get a decent number of attempts off during his time on the floor compared to the regular season (which isn’t overly impressive either, considering that’s his major strength).

  • theghostofjh

    Not a valid comparison.

  • grego

    They got into a dire situation because players like Neal didn’t show up. Bonner hit a key 3 in game 1. If Battier doesn’t make that 3, on bad defense (not rotating) from Parker, then that’s a win for the Spurs in game 1, based on a big 3 by Bonner. 

    Oh wait, one shot isn’t enough… 

  • grego

    Neal dropped 3pt% dropped 14.9 points from regular season to the post season. And he has the faster stroke. He clanked a bunch of open ones as well. 

  • grego

    So we are now going to cite players who aren’t on the Spurs? Each situation is different. 

  • theghostofjh

    The sample size (which I know is all you have to go on) for Bonner’s post-up defense against higher quality bigs is far too small to draw any conclusions from at all.

    I’m not knocking your effort, and a fair number of your descriptions and analyses are probably fairly accurate. The statistics you used are probably fine as well, for as much as they can tell you. My main problem here is that it’s often easy to use statistics to draw “firm” conclusions from which the data simply can’t effectively support. As you know, statistics don’t draw the entire picture by a long shot, and so I would only advise that you work at providing some caveats to your interpretation of the data, and that you consider stating your conclusions with a bit more of a measured tone in certain areas of your presentation. Those are my thoughts, for whatever it’s worth.

    On Blair, we can just agree to disagree for the most part. But to be honest with you, and regardless of the reasoning, if Blair is actually a “terrible” defender, I doubt Pop would start him, or even give him even close to 20+ minutes per game. Defense is too important to Pop, and Blair’s compensating factors are simply not strong enough to overcome the  “terrible” defense for Pop.

  • theghostofjh

    How is the particular team the shooter plays for relevant. Is it harder to shoot 3 pointers for the Spurs in the playoffs than it is for other teams? On what basis? The guys you compared Bonner to is an undrafted rookie (who by the way, hit a bigger shot than Bonner ever has) and  a 24 year-old with limited playoff experience. How is that a proper comparison? 

  • theghostofjh

    Not a proper comparison.

  • theghostofjh

    Blair probably has the same standing reach and more hops than Bonner, plus carries about 30 more pounds. I’d take Blair over Bonner on someone like Bynum.

  • TD BestEVER

     Nice try….Spurs went up 2 on Bonner’s 3 and then got 2 more for GHill from the FT line…… to go up 4….

    Then Memphis scored a layup and Then hit the 3 to go up one……

    So Bonner tied a game late for the Spurs….. The 1 game he shot 50%…..WOW – what did he do the rest of the series.

  • theghostofjh

    Not much.

  • Ryan McShane

    Pop starts Blair because he has to. Blair and Tiago don’t work well together, and the Blair/Bonner combo is just undersized. So, he either has to play him with Duncan or not play him at all (this was an option last year when McDyess was here). Since Duncan starts, Blair starts. This is the conundrum the Spurs had all season until Diaw arrived. 

    The other thing is that Pop has to massage Blair’s ego. Remember when Pop stopped starting Blair last season? He gained a lot of weight and was no longer serviceable. 

    The other thing to remember is that Bonner isn’t getting posted up by centers, he’s getting posted up by power forwards, who aren’t as reliant on post-up offense as centers are (if at all). That suggests that the players he’s defending (primarily back-up PFs) just aren’t as good in the post as centers due to lack of repetition. I don’t think we’ll see the same four big men suited up for the rest of the season anyway, we’re chasing ghosts now. >_>I wish Timmy hadn’t come down on McDyess during Game 5 last year; he might still be a Spur if Duncan hadn’t.

  • Bob

     It’s tough to get really open 3pt looks in the playoffs because of the better defense. That’s why the ones you do get that are open you have to hit. I think the percentage that it makes more sense to compare is 3pt percentage for open and lightly contested 3pt.

    I still think Bonner would qualify for choking because he doesn’t shoot unless he’s wide open. So even though he hit those 3’s in game 1 he was wide open.

  • TD BestEVER

     Everything you just said make ZERO SENSE……….

    “Pop starts Blair because he has to.”

    If Bonner/Splitter were so good he wouldn’t need to play Blair at all or at most  around 10min/game.  The facts is simple Splitter can’t stay healthy for POP to start and rely on and Bonner sucks(only POP has figured out over the years to make him suck less).

    “The other thing is that Pop has to massage Blair’s ego. Remember when
    Pop stopped starting Blair last season? He gained a lot of weight and
    was no longer serviceable.”

    Again wrong – Blair did what most any young player does when they get benched and don’t have a defined role.  POP likes to play around with people minutes and it hurt Blair.   Blair was the 4th and sometimes 5th Big off the bench after his benching. Young players don’t know how to come off the bench as well, especially if their role isn’t clearly set.

  • theghostofjh

    This what I said in my previous comment. Pay special attention to, “regardless of the reasoning”.

    “But to be honest with you, and regardless of the reasoning, if Blair is
    actually a “terrible” defender, I doubt Pop would start him ….”
    Then in your reply, you proceed to give the “reasoning”. And the fact is, the “reasoning” you provide is not sufficient for Pop to start and/or play the “terrible” defender, Blair, 20+ minutes per game. Pop is simply not going to give a guy that prominent of a role if he plays “terrible” defense.” ….. he either has to play him with Duncan or not play him at all (this was an option last year when McDyess was here)…..”
    It was never a real option last year with McDyess either. It’s one of the reasons that the Spurs record was worse without Blair getting 20+ mpg. than when he was. The fact is, the team is better overall with play playing a 20+ mpg. role because Blair’s weaknesses defensively do not outweigh his contributions in other areas compared to the alternatives. “Since Duncan starts, Blair starts. This is the conundrum the Spurs had all season until Diaw arrived.”First of all, it’s not a “conundrum”. The Duncan/Blair tandem is 83-25 in their 108 starts together over the past two seasons. No other tandem in the NBA has even close to the same winning percentage in their last 108 starts (I’m sure you’ll want to say something silly, like Blair had little to do with that – please don’t bother).Second, Diaw should have no bearing on Blair’s primary role on the team because Blair is a much better rebounder and inside scoring presence than Diaw (which takes pressure off of TD inside), and has already established two seasons of chemistry with Duncan, and the other core starters. On the other hand, Diaw has a similar game to Bonner, except that he’s a better passer, and has performed better in the playoffs throughout his career. If anything, he should be used to take minutes from Bonner on the 2nd unit, and used judiciously for situational match-up purposes. “The other thing is that Pop has to massage Blair’s ego.”The good-natured Blair came to the Spurs as a 20 year old 37th pick in the draft, with no acls in his knees, and managed to earn 18 mpg. as a rookie through sheer hustle and good will. Since his rookie season, he has missed only one game in more than 2 1/2 full seasons of work, which shows more dependability than any other player on the team.But for all of his hard work and dependability, he has gotten abruptly yanked out of games at a moments notice, often for having done little wrong, and sometimes having his minutes greatly curtailed, more than any other starter or regular rotation player on the team. He doesn’t need his ego massaged. He needs to be properly encouraged to be the best that he can be, not punished over almost every relatively minor infraction.  “Remember when Pop stopped starting Blair last season? He gained a lot of weight and was no longer serviceable.” Yeah, I remember, and IMO that was one of the dumbest decisions that Pop’s ever made, on multiple fronts. It hurt the team for one, and also, what does that tell a 22 year old guy who busts his but to help get the team off to a 50-11 start? Thanks, but you’re not good enough? Go 55-6 next time? Ridiculous!”I wish Timmy hadn’t come down on McDyess during Game 5 last year; he might still be a Spur if Duncan hadn’t.”
    Dude, Dice was pretty much finished anyway. If you don’t see that, I don’t know what to tell you. Dice would not have helped this team this year.

  • Titletown99030507d

    He starts because that’s the only way he gets on the court. With Tim. He can’t be on there any other way. Especially in the playoffs. It’s kind of the little league kid who can’t be on the field playing unless the have the better players on the field as well to mask any deficiencies and liabilities. (mainly defensively speaking) I think that’s the idea here.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah but it’s easier to look through fingers than body when your trying to shoot over someone.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Bonner tends to have better rebounding nights when paired up  with Tim or Tiago. Especially Tiago Wonder why? Well Tiago goes the extra mile and boxes out. But that’s a good thing.