Matt Bonner, MIA
Whenever I talk with Matt MooreÂ the conversation invariably leads to Matt Bonner, someone I do my best to defend. Moore thinks Bonner stinks. Shouldn’t be on an NBA court, or something to that effect.Â He’s theÂ cause of much beard-tugging consternation for our favorite hoophead. My response, the easy response, is toÂ tell Moore that Â Bonner eats APM for breakfast,Â and thenÂ smugly kick my feet up and call it a day. No rants against redheads here, thank you.
But the story is starting to shift. And the ranting is increasingly justified.
Dan Oshinsky of KENS 5 makes a noteworthy observation:
For San Antonio’s red-haired sharpshooter, Dec. 19, 2009, was the day everything changed.
That day, in a win over the Pacers, Bonner broke his hand. In the previous 23 games, he’d tallied double digit minutes. He’d been a key part of the Spurs’ rotation.
Bonner returned a month later, but he hasn’t seen nearly as much playing time since. He tallied twice as many minutes against New Orleans on Monday (20:55 total) as he had in the previous three games combined. Since February, he’s played fewer than eight minutes six times.
The reason for Bonner’s limited playing time: he’s a three-point specialist who isn’t shooting very well right now. In November, he shot 52 percent from three. In February, he shot 35.3 percent.
As long as his three-point shooting percentage stays below his career average (40.7 percent), expect Bonner’s playing time to be limited.
Up until recently, I’ve defended Matt Bonner’s place in the rotation as something of an unassailable truth. He appears in far too many positive 5-man units to receive he’s-part-of-the-problem treatment. Wayne Winston recently told me that prior to last year’s playoffsÂ he advised the Mavericks that stopping Matt Bonner was a high priority against the Spurs, one of the most important things for their coaches to key onÂ during the series. And prior to Bonner’s injury, his place in this season’s rotation was practically etched in stone. Heck, Bonner even helped the Spurs’ defense. Yes, that Matt Bonner. Winston explained:
Â With Bonner in Spurs have Eff. FG % age of 55% with him out only 51%. I think this means when Bonner is in Spurs spread floor and get good shots. So less transition baskets for opponents. Our defensive rating is based on team points given up; itâ€™s not based on 1 on 1 defense. So if you cut your teamâ€™s turnovers and cut transition baskets you can have good rating even if your one on one defense is so so.
But when Matt Bonner isn’t hitting shots, or when he’s only hitting at the rate of 35.3%, he’s sunk, and the team sinks a little with him. In his recent notes from around the leagueÂ post, even APM guru Wayne Winston couldn’t justifyÂ run for Bonner.
Hairston (+23) has been great in limited minutes [during postÂ All-StarÂ play]Â while Bogans (-11) and Bonner (-4) have struggled [in that same span].
Until recently, Bonner always registered on the plus side of the player rating equation. In other words, theÂ Spurs were, say, +2Â (two points) betterÂ than their opponents when Bonner was on the court. Now, they’re at least two possessions worse.
It’s a bigger story thanÂ simply Bonner. It’s one of those truth by synecdoche moments. The thing San Antonio has lacked this season, perhaps more than anything else, even more than lock down defense, is reliable shooting.
In the early weeks of the season, I drew attention to this problem and labeled it San Antonio’s silent shooting slump. At the time I explained away the problem as too many new faces, too little rhythm. But, of course, that kite doesn’t fly. Not anymore.
The Spurs have a .361 3pt%Â this season, which isn’t terrible. Â It still ranks in the league’s top 10. But if the Spurs were two or three percent more accurate, they’d be a much better team, and for the reasons Winston cited above. Less transition baskets for opponents, better shots for the guys in white hats, and a higher eFG%.Â In other words,Â San Antonio would beÂ considerablyÂ more efficient on both sides of the ball.
I’m already thinking about nextÂ season’sÂ training camp. The Spurs would be wise to invite a fewÂ make-good sharp shooters to Texas.