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’s 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?

  • Gary Goodson

    If Bonner is not going to score, would giving Blair extra minutes help? I think Splitter has to play. The Spurs may benefit more from Blair’s energy than Bonner’s occasional three.

  • SA_Ray

    Split his minutes between more Splitter or Novac (to test the waters) and playing small with Neal.
    Three straight post seasons with no significant contribution from Matt. In fact each post season his numbers drop. And you can’t compare his PER with McDyess since Dyess plays so well on the defensive end, especially on Randolph.
    I’ll say it again, the Bonner experiment has failed, time to move on.

  • Anonymous

    It’s tough. Everyone forgets he hit the two three pointers at the end of Game 1 to give us a 4 pt lead..we just blew it at the end. Which was sort of a trend toward the end of the year, not being able to close out games. I’m a big fan of Blair, but I’m not really sure he would help much.

    In the end, I would keep the lineup as it was for game 5, and hopefully the law of averages comes into play.

  • Rick Ashford

    Blair just isn’t going to be the answer for Bonner’s minutes, so I’m guessing the decision would be Novak or Bonner (or just playing more minutes for Splitter/McDyess/Duncan).

    Novak seems much more comfortable getting his shot off under duress, and also has a much quicker release. Both of those attributes seem like they would serve him better than Bonner in this series under this kind of pressure.

    The downside is that Novak really would get toasted on the defensive end. At least Bonner knows how to play team defense and makes the right rotations.

    It’s tough to say, and I’m glad I don’t have to make that call. I just hope Pop makes the right one.

  • TD BestEVER

    I think it’s pretty simple…… Which ever teams gets the easiest looks usually wins the game………Memphis is killing us with easy looks……..Our 3 guard line up allows Young/Battier to post us up and get easy shots/points that other wise they wouldn’t get……Bonner allows easy baskets anytime he is on the floor……The snap shots above don’t take in to consideration when his man gets an offensive rebound and put back….Or when the team scores after throwing the ball in to the post and kicking out after we Double team who ever Bonner is guarding……….

    Bonner is only getting 6 points in 20 minutes……..We can’t have players out there for so long and giving us so little……….Blair could get that in 15 minutes, and leave 5 min left over for Splitter……As well look to take out RJ for Novak to keep some size in at the 3………..

  • NYC

    If Bonner comes into the game, he must shoot the ball. No more pump fakes and putting the ball on the floor. Everyone on the floor knows he isn’t taking it to the hole but rather looking to pass out. I don’t care if there is a man on top of him, shoot the damn ball. I don’t care if he misses 5 times in a row, shoot the damn ball. If he touches the ball, he must shoot it.

    The lack of 3pt shooting has killed our game. That has been the secret to Memphis’ success this series: they’ve managed to disrupt any resemblance of a perimeter game from our offense, thereby allowing them to pack the paint and disrupt any passing/driving game. They’re forcing turnovers and running with the ball. We have no transition/running game since we are constantly taking the ball out of our net. We can’t dump the ball into Timmy in the post anymore, they are picking his pockets every time. (Tiago would help in this area.) It’s no wonder we can’t make a basket. What game do we have left?

    It’s the offense that has failed us. Give Memphis a ton of credit; they are playing hard on defense the way we used to do. But I also fault our players inability/unwillingness to shoot the damn ball from the perimeter. Just shoot it. Goodamnit. Just shoot the ball. It’s not surgery; it’s basketball. You shoot the ball and hope it goes into the hole. You might miss, but you will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Better a missed shot then a senseless turnover.

    I say put Bonner in and let him shoot. If he passes out even once, his ass is benched.

  • Mark B

    In this series, Blair isn’t going to be able to get any minutes He’s too short to bang inside against the Grizzlies front line, and he doesn’t have an outside shot to space the floor. Bonner is limited, but he’s gives the Spurs what they need against Memphis. He just needs to start taking and hitting his shots. Neal is too small to take over his spot. If Bonner can’t pick up his game during this year’s playoff run, (which will likely be a single game if he doesn’t) the Spurs need to find another big man who can shoot. Next year.

    If the Spurs survive the bad news bears, Blair will be getting significant minutes again, as he matches up much better against OKC than he does against Memphis. Hopefully he won’t be too disengaged by not getting his minutes in this series. I think he’ll be fine, but it’s a danger, since he’s a high emotion player. I’m pretty sure the coaching staff is making sure to keep him involved in the practices.

  • DorieStreet

    You’re right about the 3pt shooting putting us is this position. Memphis as a team is averaging 1 less made 3pointer (4-5) on 6 less attempts (11-17), giving them a pct. of .368 to the Spurs’ .310.

    I hope the OT win didn’t sap Duncan, McDyess, and Ginobili too much for them to not give their best.

    RJ has got to get points any way possible: drive/midrange/3’s—don’t give us a goose egg again. And whatever amount of time Bonner is out there, he needs to shoot the ball, not just stand out there and render the offense as 4 vs 5 (or 3 vs 5 if he and RJ are out there together).

  • TD BestEVER

    Bonner played GREAT in the 1st half………..But the 2nd half was back to Matt(Zero Returns) Bonner……

  • Dr. Who

    Unbelievable waste of a season. I don’t think we’ll get TD this close to a ring again. ZBo was disgusting. McDyess was up in his face and he still scored. Doubled with TD and he still scored. I feel disgusted. RJ needs to be shipped out and it would hurt if Bonner went with him. They need someone who can have more than 1 good playoff game. Needs are the same nut more now. Dyess is retiring so we need another big (that we never got) and hopefully Tiago can step into Dyess’ role. And we still need thy athletic wing stopper. Shit this feels terrible. The game changed when Conley came back in. And ZBo never showed signs of being intimidated in the moment.

  • Lvmainman

    Popovich deserves all the blame for this 1st round lost.

    1) Not playing Ginobili in Game 1 was pure stupidity.
    2) Not playing Splitter until Game 4 was pure stupidity.
    3) Not playing Anderson during the season after he got hurt and came back in February, so that he could take Jefferson’s place if necessary was pure stupidity.
    4) Playing Bonner instead of Splitter when McDyess got hurt in the 3rd qtr was dumb. Playing Bonner any minutes in the 4th qtr was dumb.

    Popovich needs to rethink his ability to adapt and play rookies as a head coach if he wants the Spurs to win games.

  • TD BestEVER

    I agree….we now go into the off season with the same problems as last years off season……That’s all POP/RC fault…… How much dumber can you get……..Splitter is gonna have to be thrown in there, but I’m not sure of he has the low post game to replace TD…… and he also needs to rebound better…… 2 rebounds in 14 min tonight…… Also a wing defender since Hill has given up playing D all together it seems………the Kings/The Bucks had players that we could have gotten, but we were too scared to pull the trigger…….What a bunch or scary wussies or FO has turned out to be…………..

  • DorieStreet

    Look at the play-by-play after the Spurs took the their 2nd lead of the game – 80-79 :
    In 3 1/2 minutes the Spurs=
    missed 3 out of 4 shots
    committed 2 turnovers
    could not stop Zach Randollph – 10 of the Grizz’s 12 points -8 in the paint + 2 FTs

    Spurs got outrebounded by 11, but had 12 more FG attempts, 3 more assists, 3 more steals, 2 less TOs,
    Grizz scored 99 points with only 1 3pt shot made (1-9)

    Tim, McDyess & RJ– don’t even consider the +/- stat—look at the traditional numbers/ could not bring it be it age, matchups, strategy–hung close & got on top @ 4:39 in the 4th–but Grizz surged and Spurs collapsed.

  • DorieStreet

    I am most disappointed in Hill/after being thrown into the fire at 2008-9 season start when everyone was hurt, then 2009-10 when he started a good number of games; and in his 3 seasons showed glimpses of a beast game—–
    he played tenative since late January and went into a shell this playoff series.
    With Parker struggling and Ginobili injured, he should have stepped up every time he came on court.

  • andy

    arg… this is what kills me. we take the lead, memphis calls a timeout, and they promptly steamroll us while we throw the ball away. this is not the spurs i remember and love. i almost couldn’t watch the end.


  • Junierizzle

    It’s over guys. Blame it on the rain.

    I just feel bad for MCDEEZY.

  • Dr. Who

    I’ve been giving Conley lots of props during this series. After that timeout, Conley came in and eveything changed. He hit a j they stepped up the D and ZBo was playing in video game God mode. Conley, Gasol, Allens D and ZBo stepped up their game when it counted. Gotta give the griz credit, Dow. The stretch their D was suffocating. Shit… Still hurts…

  • Dr. Who

    Yep yep, contrary to that moron who was banned “trade TP” McDyess was a great player, still solid and the consummate teammate. Class act, whist we coulda got you one McDeezy.

  • DorieStreet

    It hurts—but they beat us straight up/ sports media said Conley wasn’t worth the contract–he’s trying to prove them wrong–and took a big step provingthat this series

    Give Tony credit–got outplayed most of this series, but he was firing and making it game 5 OT and down the stretch tonight;
    I think overall the Spurs thought the Grizz would crumble/fade/melt under the playoff pressure

    Tim did his best but he physically can’t do it w/o 2-3 days between games

    Manu went down swinging, but as much he did on offense he gave up on the D

    Nobody could stop the rook Vasquez when it was needed

    Best thing Pop said was in the postgame presser: It don’t matter where you are seeded in the west—if you make the playoffs you are legit==the east had a 4-0, 2 series 4-1 & a 4-2; the west had 3 series 4-2 & one 4-1

  • DorieStreet

    Echo Junierizzle and Dr. Who on McDyess/ we blocked his quest for a ring in 2005 playoffs; despite that, he came to SA to help us get #5 and he get his 1st…
    Same with RJ–man, he fizzled/bombed; If we could have gotten him 1 year earlier – to SA instead of him to the Bucks for 2008-09===looks like he was a bad fit from day 1 –a nearly 20 ppg career scorer reduced to an afterthought once he got to SA; I still remember that monster dunk he put on Willis & Duncan during the 2003 Finals–

  • Junierizzle

    Sucks. I really thought they had it when they took the lead.

  • DorieStreet

    Hey—it’s over for us but SALUTE to the Memphis Grizzlies (aka ‘The Bad News Bears’) /you handled OKC 3-1 during the regular season—-sorry scheduling by the league to have you playing 36 hours later—It should have been MIA-BOS at 1 pm Sunday & DAL-LAL @ 3 pm EDT instead of them playing Monday night

    David Stern–you & Rodger Godell are 2 of a kind; it’s easy to penalize the very few players who tarnish the your league with their off court behavior; but to make playoff schedules that are clearly unfiair to the non-marquee teams–TOTAL 100% BS

  • Hassan

    I can’t beleive that we did not win a game where mike conley was in foul trouble and Memphis Grizzlies committed 14 turnovers (while registering only 12 assists), hit only one 3-point field goal (in nine attempts) and shot only 73.3 percent from the line (22-for-30)…..we are celreally done…McDyess should retire & Duncan Should retire or cancel his contract and resign for 3 mill/year so the spurs can get some cap room….Then we should bribe Isiah Thomas or Isiah-like GM to take RJ’s contract off our hands.. then start looking for Some Defensive bigs and see if Green can be our starting defensive SF or should we try to get Gary Forbes-descent defender from Denver (They are not letting go of Aaron Afflalo as he is a great defender who can shoot too).

    We Should also bring over Ryan Richards over as he is Zach Randolph-lite….

  • td4life

    I sure hope Pop was taking this series on how to play NBA basketball (and how to build an NBA roster, for that matter).

    Greg Popovich deserves 95% of the blame for this predictable outcome to the season. I can’t blame RJ, Bonner, Blair, TP or anyone else for being what they are. Ginobili got Bowened. Like Manu, TD was still a great player at the end of last season, but Tim was never able to get his offense back to where it needed to be as the regular season came to a close, and seemed to buy into the message that the offense didn’t need him to dial it in and dial it up. Meanwhile Tim’s request last summer for help down low was ignored by the organization in favor of a Toronto Raptors approach to basketball, which I found difficult stomach by last February and began to channel-surf during games, despite the smoke and mirrors of our suppossedly impressive win column.

    I have long posted that the TD/Manu window extended until 2012, and with the right moves possibly as late as 2014. Last summer’s signings proved me wrong. The window has closed. It closed with Bruce”SuperGlue” Bowen’s departure, but that was nothing that a Tyson Chandler and a Tony Allen couldn’t have altered last year. ( I was one of the only advocates for such a move, even if it cost us TP and Blair, along with Bonner and RJ who had no bussiness being reupped in SA.) Oh, well.

    I also, you may remember, was the first guy in this site to call for Paul George, I liked Larry Sanders, and loved Grevis Vasquez in last years draft, while wanting nothing to do with either Luke Babbit or Dexter Pittman. Just sayin’.

  • Ed

    Let’s be honest, Timmy doesn’t have it to bring anymore at all. The number of days in beteween have little impact anymore.He stunk every game, the best he could offer was ONE solid half of play and then he was invisible (2pt.’s!) the entire 2nd half. Spurs need to get somebodt on the floor to atke over for Timmy and let him step back and play D and rebound, he’s still a little above average at that.

  • Ed

    Glad it’s over, that was sickening to watch. End of an era.

  • Bruno

    I said that the entire season, Bonner should be the 5th or 6th Big.
    TD, Dice, Splitter,Blair and even Novak are better.
    Have no reason to Bonner play more than 10 minutes/game.
    Arthur and everybody owned Spurs in 3rd because Bonner defense.

  • Rob

    Any team with a dominance in the post over the Spurs is going to win a series. PERIOD.

    Bonner and Blair DO NOT give the Spurs any dominance in the post. Playing them at the same time was complete udder fail on the the part of the coaching staff as was not allowing others to have significant playing time during the season.

    So…These are things under the bridge as of this point.

    Here’s some things to address. If Bonner is only good if he is hitting shots and reduces your interior defense to Duncan (aging rapidly in ability to defend like he used to) and McDyess (same as Duncan)….then either you have to get another athletic rebounding/defense minded post player or suffer from the same results as now.

    Blair is a fly on the court. Sure he can be pesky…but have a longer, quicker instrument and he gets swatted every time. It doesn’t help either that he can’t seem to elevate his cerebral function while playing.

    So where does that leave the Spurs?…The once great Tim Duncan is just average…The aging McDyess forced to play starter minutes cannot hold up….DeJuan Blair at the end of two seasons is showing that no matter how much energy he may have, he’s no match for nba talented bigs in this league who happen to be easily 3 to 5 inches taller than him….Matt Bonner IS ONLY a big (slow one at that) that hits shots from the perimeter and when he’s not doing that is / has been/ and will be a playoff killer for any team he plays on unless used sparingly (at the end of games when a 3 point shot may be needed). Tiago Splitter…we don’t know. He wasn’t used enough (though stats prove he should have been used more) to have a concise idea of what he could have provided if used more during the regular season.

    Solution? A prayer and a miracle that this team abandons the Matt Bonner philosophy and goes back to it’s once solid big man rotations it used to have while somehow landing an athletic/defensive gifted wing player.

  • td4life

    Regarding the RED ROCKET…

    @Timothy Varner…
    You say, “I like Matt Bonner. I’ve argued for his place in the Spurs’ rotation.”
    I say, “I like Matt Bonner. I’ve argued against his place on the Spurs’ roster.. for Years!”

    And this season is just more unneccessary data. Regardless of +/- data, payroll given to Bonner is money that should be spent in effort to build a roster suited to DEFENSE. If other teams are willing to go the direction of the Toronto Raptors, fine. If you are talking stretch bigs, Bonner is no Horry, and he certainly is no Bill Laimbeer. Neither the Orlando Magic, nor the Dallas Mavericks ever won a championship and Bonner is no Rashard Lewis, or anything like Dirk.

    If you are so in love with a rotational 20 minute a night shooter, compare him to Kyle Korver who was available last summer… and while you’re at it, take a look at what kind of big men he plays with… and compare how many shots Korver takes, what he is asked to do, and what his playoff 3pt % looks like. You don’t live by the three, you die by the three… winning clubs hang their hats on defense, this is not news.

  • Bob

    Agree 100%. Horry didn’t just provide 3pt shooting at the PF spot. He was a much better defender than Bonner. If the Spurs just want 3pt shooting they should look at developing Novak for that. He has a faster trigger and his defense probably can’t be any worse than Bonner after he learns the system.

  • Bob

    The Spurs need more athleticism/defense on the wings and rebounding/defense in the frontcourt. I imagined Jefferson/Hill could fill the former but they’ve disappointed. Splitter can help with the latter.

  • Bob

    Tim had a bad matchup against Gasol. He would have been more affective getting guarded by Randolph. Randolph never really played any defense all series. He was guarding jumpshooters like Dice and Bonner. Splitter probably forced him to play more defense because of his banging in the post. I have no doubt Duncan attacking Randolph would have worked. The Spurs could have run a 4/5 pick and roll to get a switch. They never really attacked Randolph on defense.

  • Bob

    Agreed. The first have we were struggling to score so his contributions helped. Second half we needed to play better defense. Bonner’s defensive failing can’t be measured just by what happened when he was posted up. The boost in confidence to the opponent and the alleyoops also didn’t help. Bonner basically helped Randolph heat up. By the time Dice was playing him it was impossible to cool him off. Pop shouldn’t have replaced Dice or should have replaced him with Splitter.

  • Bob

    Hill is like a headcase. He has good games where you are excited about his future and then he disappears other times. His airball 3 in the fourth told me he just didn’t have the confidence.

  • Ekie0

    Bonner is a big red target for both opposing players and the refs. H’e snot worth the spacing and occasional three pointer he hits when our entire defense has to help him out on D because he needs to front post players or cant rebound in traffic

  • td4life


  • Jamesregala

    Bonner and jefferson needs to go and McDyess needs to retire. Spurs needs 3 fresh young legs 2 7 footers and one 3 point shooter that can slash inside. Splitter needs more playing time because he is an MVP in Europe and need to prove his stuff.

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