Throwing a slightly damp blanket on the Matt Bonner love

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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.

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  • Christopher Massara

    I think also the All Star 3 Point Contest put some new perspective on Bonner that he can dance and be helpful in the playoff.

    He is more relax in these playoff so far than the previous, now if we can just get Green out of whatever he is in so he can also start hitting 3′s

  • Andrew G

    During the regular season it seemed like we would check Matt in to foul Dwight and send him to the line. Dwight only has 12 free throw attempts after two games.

    Pop was playing mind games in the regular season and didn’t want to reveal his ace in the hole: Matty’s D on Dwight. If they have tape on Matt’s lockdown D, the Lakers can develop a gameplan around it. After two games of dominance, they are scrambling to find a solution.

    Pop’s playing chess while D’Antoni learns what a rook is.

  • http://twitter.com/spursfanhawaii Mike G

    Things that make you go “hhmm….”

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelwhite184 Michael White

    I’m genuinely terrified about him moving forward, I won’t lie. Too many goose eggs when it mattered.

  • Len

    I was thinking the same thing about Bonner and the 3pt contest. It makes sense.

  • Steve Tallent

    I think Matt has added several elements to his game this year that have been absent in the past. Pump fake, drive into the lane finishing with left hook, right hook, floater, pull up jumper, or passing it out if the defense closes in. That is so foreign and unexpected that he often has very wide open looks and is scoring those at a high percentage. The ability to do that and have the freedom from Pop to do that has got to add confidence to his game – rather than feeling stuck out on the perimeter and just throwing the ball back to a guard if his shot gets contested. His shot is also quicker this year. He doesn’t need as much space. He’s also improved his defense – especially his rebounding. I don’t think it was ever a big priority for him, because he usually played beside Mr. Hoover himself, the Big Fundamental. A couple of years ago when he and Blair played together, that was the biggest weakness. Not so much this year. His conditioning is also better. He hasn’t played a lot this season, so he worked his tail off in the gym so that he’d be ready for big minutes when the Spurs needed him. Lastly, he hasn’t played a lot this season, so he is fresh, uninjured, while being in great shape. I’m hoping Matt can keep this up. He’s one of my favorite players for all of the reasons Andrew listed above.

  • este

    “The Lakers defenders aren’t exactly closing out on Bonner on the perimeter like they’re the Memphis Grizzlies…”

    The key is he’s making these shots. If those shots aren’t falling then teams like the Grizzlies won’t have to be overly aggressive in closing out on him. At the very least he’ll keep the opponents D honest and draw bigs out of the paint.

  • junierizzle

    Well, first of all we won’t have to worry about the Grizzlies. I think this is a new Bonner. Last year’s Bonner couldn’t even hit his wide-open shots. This year’s Bonner is knocking those down and he’s even hit shots with hands in his face and guys running at him, albeit not strong run-outs but last year’s Bonner wouldn’t have shot even on soft run-outs.

  • http://twitter.com/TBJ_soldier Nik D

    This guy knows what he is talking about.

  • NYC

    I’ve also taken to defending Bonner for the same reasons as Andrew. That said, my biggest problem w him is his refusal to shoot the ball. Any hard close out and you can literally see his eyes lower and scan the court for someone to pass to. Defenders don’t have to worry about actually blocking his shot, just making the threat will do the trick.

    I noticed two or three seasons ago that he started pump faking and putting the ball on the court. Since everyone in the stadium is expecting him to either shoot or pass, the defenders always commit fully, and he is left a wide open lane to the hole. If he would just shoot the 5-footer he is suddenly gifted, it would make defenders actually have to DEFEND him, rather than just run at him as hard as they can anytime he touches the ball. It would drive me insane when he (and Diaw) would pass up a lay up or jumper within 10 feet so that someone else could shoot a (forced) 20 footer. Just shoot the damn ball! We don’t care if you miss.

    The good thing is that his problem is correctable if he could just find the confidence/mindset to shoot without fear or overthinking. Gary Neal is the perfect role model for him. Neal, like the honey badger, doesn’t give a shit. If he touches the ball with even a hair of space, he is shooting it. Patty Mills too. There isn’t a shot he’s met that he doesn’t like. Be the honey badger, Matty. Be the honey badger. And start shooting those lay ups, floaters, hooks, and pull up Js from close.

    If the mere threat of him on the floor opens up the court for others, can you imagine the benefits if defenders actually have to guard him for real?

  • td4life

    I’ve been a critic ever since MB was given a starter’s role years ago, to effectively end our championship run. But it wasn’t until he started coming up with nothing in the playoffs, that I became a huge critic. “On this team, it doesn’t matter what the guy does well in the regular season if he’s a liability in the real season,” I argued and lamented, and couldn’t understand his defenders from Pop to McNeil on down.
    I have to agree that the Lakers aren’t really giving us the challenges of a playoff team, so we don’t know how MB will respond to real pressure. But, I love the theory that he has learned how to deal with his nervousness, following his ASW competition. Man, I hope that’s true. Though it’s true he has grown into a more dimensional player, his past failures have always been more about his mindset than his skill.
    With Tiago, Green (and Diaw, and Jackson) showing less than we’d hoped, it’s great to see someone really step up!
    Right now, it looks like we are being led by a Big 4, and as long as we can get solid play from 3 or more role players, we should be able to give anybody in the league a handful. Watching Parker and Manu last night was good for my soul, a real relief.

    It’s only been 2 games, no reason to be over-confident as we head on the road.
    Wat

  • assistman

    The return of the +/- king!

  • Spurs fan in LA

    chumbawumba defense!

  • idahospur

    Bonner just didn’t have the chops to be the starting 4/5 for this team. Being a good 3rd option seems to fit him well. Next round, he may get bumped to 4th. I guess I’m just saying I’d rather see that red hair making 3′s for the Spurs than someone else.

    Seeing David Robinson at the game makes me think that guy could break the glass on his framed retired jersey, suit up, and still contribute.

    If Spurs go up 3-0, please let Steve Nash stop playing. Its sad to watch him hobble around the court the way he has. Maybe lend the Lakers McGrady?

  • Baam

    Neal’s release is like 100 time faster while Bonner’s comes from the hip and is just pretty slow.

  • senorglory

    It’s really only spurstalk that devotes any energy to running down Matt bonner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dromjohn John M. Perkins

    As bad as previous playoffs have been, combined they are still a small sample size. Two games this year is a smaller sample size. I’ve always argued that Bonner would be more like his regular season than his playoffs. I still do. Therefore, instead of expecting better, now I expect regression. That said, Bonner’s defense on Gasol has been jaw dropping. As Howard said, expect the bigs to wear down, with those bigs being Howard and Gasol. And give Bonner a lot of credit for wearing them down.

  • Jimbo

    That injury to Westbrook is huge (and he is probably my favorite BNA player to watch). Not rejoicing over it or anything, but that gives the Spurs an excellent shot at the Finals if they play their game and Westbrook is out for the playoffs.

  • DieHardSpur

    I like that you put Andrew RIGHT below Pop… that’s solid gold!

  • td4life

    I was skipping my way down the list, rather than wading may way through it. That said, I’m not sure how many guys there were in between those two… I think RC Buford wanted Splitter on board two years earlier, and I recall Timmy saying he wanted to go back to the way things were when we were a defensive powerhouse (and get some help inside!).

  • assistman

    Yeah, Tim wanted another real big man… even if it meant he’d have to practice his “jumpshot” to make room on the court for one.

  • Bob

    I always felt he was a good 2pt shooter and there’s no reason he should be ineffective if they close out on him on 3′s. He just needs to take the shots that are available with confidence.

  • http://twitter.com/edUKEcator edUKEcator

    I’m thrilled for Bonner and the Spurs. If this can be sustained the Siiver and Black have a better shot at a 5th title. I’m unresolved however, because this may be a testament to how truly awful the Lakers defense really is. Either way, I’ll take it!

  • Titletown99030507d

    What the hell are you talking about? “With Tiago, Green (and Diaw, and Jackson) showing less than we’d hoped, it’s great to see someone really step up!”

    Who the hell has been limiting Howard defensively in this series? – Tiago. It’s not the points he isn’t getting in trash time that’s worth talking about it’s his frikin defense on Howard not to mention the ability to set people up for an open shot. Look at the tape (video) and you’ll see. If they don’t have Tiago hate to tell you but their front court will have a field day because Bonner and Blair can’t handle that dude. And Baynes is just too slow and inexperienced.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Pop didn’t pick Splitter that’s why he limited him the first two years and had no choice but to play him some this season. He earned it and yet he still is holding him back. Bonner will need to be making 3′s at a high rate or it’s just not worth him taking Splitters minutes away. Face it Bonner is one of poop’s favorite. And that extension last year proves it. People don’t value what Tiago brings. Defense wins championships.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Oh now were defending bonner. I bet you were one of those first in line ready to ship him out two seasons ago, last season, and just a few months ago. Im still not sold on him or Blair. Trash time points. Meh. Im looking at defense. the others can shoot 3′s to their heart’s content. Splitter is way more effective than any big on the spurs when it comes to guarding Howard. and yes that includes Timmy. Timmy is too slow to guard Howard. Timmy can shoot the shit out that top of the key but that’s not what I’m emphasizing here. Defense. You need that first before you can go on any run. We’ll see.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I can’t believe everybody is all up in him here. A few 3′s is what we’re talking about. I don’t care about that. We have other’s for that. But can he handle Howard from tip off time? No. Not at tip off, not at first substitution, not at 2nd, 3rd or what ever substitution. I could care less if he makes a 3 or two when Howard is in the paint posterizing his ass.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Sorry to tell you but it’s Tiago’s D not bonner’s D. What D? He gets posterized by Howard and resorts to fouling him by holding on for dear life and still Howard gets his and one. You people are giving him way too much credit.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Spurs better shoot at a high % or this series can turn around. I’m worried about the fact that one of those two Howard or Gasol or both are really going to go off now if Tiago can’t go. He’s has allowed very little offense for Howard when he’s on the court guarding him. Howard scored just 2 points on Tiago one on one last night and that was because he pushed off on Tiago and wasnt called for it.

    Everybody seems relaxed about Tiago’s injury. It’s bigger than you think in this series. They can go at Blair and Bonner all night long and we’re in trouble. Somebody in our front court is going to foul out in the next game. No more security blanket for Timmy. They better shoot the crap out of that ball or else.

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  • junierizzle

    You’re right, Howard has certainly dominated to an 0-3 hole.

  • CIN–STAR

    Are you ever discouraged by how consistently wrong you are?

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