Is Matt Bonner earning his minutes?
I like Matt Bonner. I’ve argued for his place in the Spurs’ rotation. But I’m increasingly skeptical about his minutes. Are my doubts grounded in reality?
Matt Bonner is averaging 20 minutes a game in the postseason. His 3pt% has dropped from .457 to .267 (regular season to postseason). His PER, largely a measure of offensive efficiency, is 10.50. That’s below average, but putting it in perspective, the postseason PERs of Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter are 16.8, 5.85, 9.76 and 24.67. Bonner is struggling, but his offensive contribution still outpaces everyone but Duncan and Splitter. In terms of substitution players, and judging by this limited metric, Splitter is the only clear example of a Spurs bench big who ought to see more minutes.
In the same regard, a look at the Spurs’ best postseason five-man units tells us San Antonio has fielded 11 net positive squads against Memphis. Bonner’s name appears on 6 of 11 of those units. His name appears 5 times in the Spurs top 6 units, although, one should note, 4 of those units see Bonner paired with Duncan. Tim Duncan’s name, it’s no surprise, appears on 10 of 11 of the Spurs positive unit, but where his name is absent we find a frontcourt pairing of Bonner-McDyess.
Naysayers will quickly point out that Bonner’s name appears on many of the Spurs’ worst lineups, and that’s a fair point. But it doesn’t establish the illegitimacy of Bonner’s minutes, it only establishes that Coach Popovich must carefully deploy Matt Bonner. Matt Bonner, then, is a kind of high risk/high reward player. Used with the right combination of players, he’s a help. Used wrongly, he hurts the team. As an example, there really isn’t a time the Spurs should pair Bonner with DeJuan Blair. That always ends badly.
Throughout the series, Memphis has relentlessly attacked Bonner on the block. But they’re actually not scoring as often as I would have guessed. According to Synergy Sports, this is how Bonner has fared in the post:
Arthur – Miss J
Arthur – Make J
Randolph – TO
Arthur – Miss 2
Randolph – TO
Gasol – And 1
Gasol – Make Jumper
Arthur- Make Jumper
Arthur – Make Jumper
Arthur – Miss Jumper
Arthur – Miss Layup
Gasol – TO
Arthur – ISO +1
In other words, in 13 defensive post possessions the Grizzlies scored on Bonner 6 times. Not great, but Bonner wasn’t obliterated either.
So why, then, has he looked so ineffective this series?
Bonner is, as everyone knows, a three point specialist. Three point specialists in .267 shooting funks aren’t very special. More troublesome, however, is Matt Bonner’s usage rate. His usage rate has dropped to a worrisome 11.7%. In other words, it isn’t just that Matt Bonner has lost his stroke, it’sÂ that the Spurs have lost Matt Bonner. The Grizzlies seemed to have taken him away from San Antonio.
This leaves Gregg Popovich in an odd spot. Considering everything I’ve just detailed, should Pop even bother with Bonner tonight? Should the Spurs shake up their rotation and try something new against the Grizzlies? Or do go you with what worked in the regular season and hope Bonner breaks free?