Throwing a slightly damp blanket on the Matt Bonner love
Over the years, I’ve typically been one of Matt Bonner’s biggest defenders. Not necessarily because I like the guy, though I’m not afraid to admit that my perception of him is slightly colored by the fact that I’m a fan of the dude. He’s easily approachable, a good quote and acts like a fairly normal person; he carries himself like a regular guy who just happens to be 6’10″ and one of the best shooters in the world.
I’ve hammered on for years about how he was an underrated defender and while his (maybe only) strength offensively is his shooting, he plays a solid team game on that end. And while his shots don’t always fall, the simple threat of his shot out on the floor opens up the halfcourt for the rest of his teammates to get decent looks at the basket.
I haven’t done this because I like him, I’ve done it in an attempt to balance out all the negativity that’s ended up on his side. There’s been so many people piling on about how bad he is at this or that, someone needed to stand on the other side and say hey, he’s pretty decent at these other things that aren’t as obvious.
In a bit of a role reversal, let me be the counterweight yet again as the public perception turns towards praising Bonner’s performance through the first two games of this year’s playoffs.
As I said, he’s playing good defense down low and I’m glad people are recognizing this. He’s always been a solid low post defender, Synergy Sports had him as one of the top low post defenders in all the league by measurement of points per possession in previous seasons. He’s not long and explosive, he’s not going to rotate over in help defense, cut off the drive and block the shot, but he’s going to play solid position defense and not give up an easy look. Despite this being the NBA, not every player is a long 7-footer with great explosion.
He’s not a tenacious rebounder, but coming off the bench and grabbing five boards per game through the first two contests against the likes of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol is solid.
What’s really making people take notice, though, is that he’s hitting shots in the playoffs. When Bonner’s 3-point shots fall, it makes everything else he does look that much better.
Through the first two games against the Lakers, Bonner has knocked down 3-of-4 3-pointers and hit 7-of-11 field goals overall.
While fans should be encouraged that he’s hit those shots, that could be misleading. The Lakers defenders aren’t exactly closing out on Bonner on the perimeter like they’re the Memphis Grizzlies. The time Bonner has to catch-and-shoot is more like regular season time than playoff. All season this Lakers defense was positively mediocre and the 35.7 percent shooting they allowed from behind the arc in the regular season is just that. It’s not an elite defense the Spurs are likely to see later in the playoffs.
As the defenses get tighter and the closeouts come quicker, will the glasses everyone looks at Bonner’s game through still be rose colored?
But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Our own Matt Tynan threw out an interesting theory on Twitter last night during Game 2: Maybe Bonner’s performance in the 3-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend helped with his nerves.
“That was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had,” Bonner said at the time, after finishing second to Kyrie Irving in the competition.
Perhaps Bonner’s turned a playoff corner. Maybe he’s quickened his release and is getting shots off faster than ever. It could be that he’s gotten stronger and (slightly) more athletic since last season. His confidence and will could’ve been hardened through the years of playoff, and one 3-Point Contest, disappointments.
Maybe that’s all the case. But if it’s not, and the shots stop falling for a few games later in these playoffs, make sure you take a moment to remember again those reasons why you’re so happy about the way he’s playing right now.