Matt “the Mendoza Line” Bonner

by

Matt Bonner

Watercolor by Jesse Blanchard

The geeks may have yet to inherit the courts, but basketball has long been in the midst of a statistical revolution.

To the casual fan the revolution has yet to take hold. Identifying superstars hardly requires advanced statistics beyond points per game and the number of SportsCenter highlight appearances. More often than not what analytics reveals are the unsung role players. Box score deficient yet unique skill sets awaiting their next contract from Daryl Morey.

Matt Bonner represents the ultimate quandary for number crunchers–from Wayne Winston to John Hollinger, Bonner’s plus-minus and advanced statistics paint a valuable basketball asset. The eye test often suggests otherwise.

Admittedly, statistical formulas are not my forte, but the theories they produce are something I can wholeheartedly grasp onto. In trying to sum up Bonner’s value to the San Antonio Spurs an answer came back that traces back to sport analytics baseball roots. Matt Bonner is the Mendoza line of “stretch fours”.

Mario Mendoza was a defensive specialist shortstop whose sub par batting averages threatened to offset his contributions. On his career, Mendoza batted .215, though the Mendoza line is also stated to be .200. Any player (pitchers excluded) whose batting average falls below the Mendoza line is generally considered to not be a viable Major League baseball player.

Finding a similar statistical formulaic cutoff for useful rotation NBA players is much more problematic. The numbers most relevant to Matt Bonner’s career are 6-10, roughly 23 feet and his ability to make near 40 percent of his shots from that distance, but finding statistics that determine at what point his weaknesses make him a complete non-asset is much more difficult.

But unscientifically, just observing stretch fours, those who are worse than Matt Bonner–and I mean as overall players, not necessarily shooters–are either non-rotation players or are out of the league. Steve Novak, Anthony Tolliver, Brian Scalabrine, Marcus Haislip, and of course Kevin Pittsnogle, to name a few.

The stretch fours that are more talented than Matt Bonner–Dirk Nowitzki, Rashard Lewis, Anrea Bargnani, Antawn Jamison, and even the fat Rasheed Wallace–have solid footing as valuable contributors. Finding a player better than Matt Bonner that does not deserve a roster spot or a player worse than Bonner who does, that can be rather difficult.

Is there anything wrong with being the litmus test for stretch fours, so to speak? No. Unlike the standard for useful big men, the unique skill set of a stretch four (legitimate size, shooting ability) and its scarcity make it a very valuable commodity. The qualifier naturally is what role you expect him to play.

Even if it’s just for the regular season, Matt Bonner has the shooting touch to absorb minutes (an underrated skill) and the size to offer some resistance to power forwards. But expecting Bonner to guard the opposing team’s best big man or finding an offensive rhythm while the other team stays at home on shooters for extended minutes, as the San Antonio Spurs have had to do because of injuries and/or personnel deficiencies, is a recipe for failure.

Those that feel we overvalue Matt Bonner at times on this site fail to see what we view him as: a valuable contributor on a good team when given a minor role. Admittedly, anything past 15 minutes and the Spurs are likely to get diminishing returns. The longer Bonner is on the court, the more his flaws become apparent. But at his price, with his experience, it’s not as if the Spurs have overvalued him. They’ve merely been forced to overextend his role for lack of better options.

So what to do with Matt Bonner? If an upgrade can be had, then by all means do it. There are certainly better players out there. The problem is, those players cost more money. Likely more than Peter Holt can afford given the luxury tax payments the team already owes.

Assuming the Spurs land Tiago Splitter with their full mid-level exception, there are not many free agents they can acquire for the league minimum who are better than Matt Bonner. When losing a replacement level player, it’s probably best to have his replacement in place.

  • lvmainman

    Splitter only managed 4 pts in his last game against Regal Barcelona.

    http://www.eurobasket.com/Spain/basketball.asp?NewsID=192936

  • Easy B

    Why not trade the #20 pick, next years pick and a sign and trade from one of our lower bench players like Mahimini, bonner or bogans for a solid rotation guard from a young team with too many of these players? Since we will most likely make the playoffs again, next years pick will be another late 20′s, and if we truly are trying to get one more in the Timmy era….why not sacrifice a couple of speculator draft picks? Eventually we need to completely rebuild because our decade long strategy has been based on Tim and David….not your run-of-the mill all star draft picks. Antoine Walker was an All star wasn’t he? Does that mean we should toss parker for one of these guys? Underrated, hungry guards/swing guys are the quickest way to improve team performance, and the most realistic way for the spurs. I’m belatedly seconding the Stephen Jackson calls….since

  • Easy B

    we already tanned $14mil on Jefferson.

  • Jim Henderson

    lvmainman
    June 14th, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Just so you know, I wasn’t advocating for any of the draft prospects thrown up on the board on this thread. I was simply, for the fun of it, attempting to spur thoughts about draft picks “outside the obvious” (not all based on stats, etc.), because often the Spurs seem to come up with those types of picks. I’ve already previously listed my top four 1st & 2nd round draft picks for the Spurs that seem to make the most sense:

    Pondexter
    James
    Sanders
    George

    2nd round:

    Jerome Jordan
    Varnado (if he drops)

    Parakhouski
    Pittman (very enticing “project”)

  • Tobias

    5 minutes ago Caja Laboral won the Spanish league championship. Splitter has been voted Final’s MVP to add to his regular season’s MVP. He has demolished -specially in defense- every player he has been matched against. This man can play in SA. Caja Laboral is like the Spurs, a very unselfish team with very strong team identity. He will fit very nicely next to TD, Manu, etc.
    Let’s hope that he comes.

  • hobson13

    Again, ESPN is suggesting the Spurs are willing to part with Parker for Indiana’s #10 pick. I’m sure there would be more to a Parker trade than that, such as maybe Troy Murphy being thrown in a deal to make the numbers work. I wouldn’t mind trading Parker for a great draft pick, but if we unload Parker it needs to be for a top 5 pick at least. The #10 pick won’t even come close to making a deal for Parker.

  • Chema

    Hey! Splitter’s Baskonia just swept the heavy favorite Barcelona (Euroleague Champions), while winning Finals MVP and Regular Season MVP awards.

    It would be nice to see him around SA next year right? Seems difficult, though.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com ChrisG

    Pony up the extra couple mil a year and go for Channing Frye instead of Bonner.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Gilly

    Pony up the extra couple of million a year and go for Channing Frye instead of Bonner.

  • Trade Tp

    I dont see why we wouldnt do it for Murphy and the 10. That would probably be Ed Davis. So Essentially we would be filling some holes. The question would be WHY would Indiana do this?

  • Trade Tp

    Hobson. you got a link for your info?

  • Hobson13

    Trade Tp, this was on ESPN rumors. The article didn’t directly state Murphy, but that was suggested several weeks ago. Here is the link. Again it’s just a rumor, but there have been Parker rumors floating around since we got eliminated. While this deal may not happen, I believe where there’s smoke there’s fire.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/features/rumors#16690

  • frank

    let’s just pick up Nowitski, and/or Bosh. and trade Richard Jefferson for Joe Johnson. please lol

  • Trade Tp

    TRADE TP SCENARIOS:

    I recently read parker for 10th Murphy and Rush…

    What does NY have that we would want?

    How about this one. Which is the one that I would go for…
    Miami gets Parker – WE GET Cook, Jones, Beasley and #18?

  • Bill

    Bonner fucking SUCKS. He wouldn’t even start on the Austin Toro’s for crying out loud. I think him and Pop are in bed together or something, the guy is just Awful and cost us at least 3-4 games this year. He can’t hit any big shots and his defense doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t even think about re-signing this guy if I were running the show.

  • DieHardSpur

    SPLITTER NEWS:

    Tiago Splitter won the MVP for the regular season.
    Tiago Splitter won the MVP of the finals.
    Tiago Splitter won the Championship.

    “Tiago Splitter reigned. After winning the MVP award of the regular season, now is the best player trophy after the final great to be back in the third game, which managed 36 rating. Josean Querejeta, president of the Caja Laboral, I would consider ‘normal’ his march to the NBA”

    http://www.acb.com

  • DieHardSpur

    21 Splitter, Tiago
    43:20
    pts,field,field, ft , ft% , Rb,D-O, blk, ast,turn
    14, 6/10, 60% ,2/2, 100% 13, 9+4, 4, 4, 0,

    Sounds like a guy who could contribute to me…

  • DieHardSpur

    And a +/- of +36…

  • Tyler

    If you’re the MVP of the Spanish ACB, you’re legit. It is by far and away the best league outside of the NBA. By comparison, the D-League can’t hold a candle to the ACB.

    And also, we’re not talking about a Darko Milicic who showed promise but not the production. Splitter has put up good to great numbers for several years. Another imortant thing to rememeber as well – stats in the Euro league are typically lower than what you would see in the NBA. They play a shorter game (only 40 min), teams use their bench much much more than the NBA, and the refs also let the play get much rougher, which means less FTA for a guy like Splitter.

    If he does indeed come over next year, he’ll be a solid, solid player for us.

  • Free Artikle

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  • Hobson13

    @Tyler,
    I agree with your post. Splitter isn’t the second coming of David Robinson, but he can certainly be a valuable role player on a contending team. Many in this chat have already made valid comparisons between him and Louis Scola. If Splitter turns out to “only” be as good as Scola, the Spurs have a very valuable player who can easily log 25-30 min/night. Heaven knows that we would all like to have gotten Scola on the team.

    We definitely need to rope this guy into coming over this summer. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the Spurs DESPERATELY need to get at least one more big to help Duncan. Most of the trade rumors surrounding Parker have the Spurs either moving up in the draft to get a big or directly trading for a big. Indeed, in my opinion, we either get Splitter and keep Parker or we can’t sign Splitter and must trade Parker. It’s almost an all or nothing proposition. My point in all of this is that signing Splitter almost surely has to be at the very heart of the FO summer plans to rebuild this team.

  • Trade Tp

    Hobson- you say that splitter isnt the next DR. But he is the heart of rebuilding the team. Im confused. We are trying to BUILD the team around a role player?

  • doggydogworld

    @Tyler, Euroleague is better than Spanish ACB. Splitter’s team lost 3-1 to CSKA Moscow in the quarterfinals this year. Splitter was Euroleague MVP of the week once but never MVP of the month. He was one of 10 All-Euroleague nominees for the season.

    All that said, I feel he’s an upgrade over McDyess but I wonder about his rookie-year productivity.

  • Hobson13

    Trade Tp
    June 16th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Rebulding a team by adding good role players and building a team around good role players are two different things. TradeTp, I’m saying he is at the heart of whatever we are going to do THIS summer (let me emphasize “this summer”). He’s not necessarily a long term solution to replace Duncan, but he is at least a short term solution to take minutes from Duncan and therefore extend his shelf life. Sure, Splitter’s not a 20/10 guy, but at the very least, he is a young, decent backup C. Splitter should be better than McDyess and fits the bill of a true center much better than Blair. If I had it my way, we would already have Duncan’s replacement or at least be in the process of trading up in the draft to get a promising big, but thats just me dreaming. I wouldn’t mind getting Splitter PLUS trading up in the draft to get a possible stud, but we’ll just have to see how things work out.

  • Tyler

    @doggydogworld

    The Euroleague draws the top teams from a bunch of national leagues – CSKA doesn’t play in the Spanish ACB, they play in the VTB United League (the top Russian league). On the national level, the Spanish ACB is widely regarded the best league outside of the NBA.

    We might be getting into semantics here, but the Euroleague isn’t as much a league as it is a yearly playoff/tournament.

    A soccer analogy – the Spanish ACB is akin to the English Premier League and the Euroleague would be the UEFA Champions League.

  • Tyler

    Also on Splitter, this is what The Painted Area had to say about Splitter after they upset Barca:

    “Tiago Splitter was the best player on floor in Game 3 with a sweet stat line of 14 pts, 13 rebs (4 off.), 4 assts, 4 stls & 2 blks. Splitter came up huge in the OT period with one of his patented hooks, a tip-in off one of his misses and stepped up to take a charge on Pete Mickeal that fouled him out.

    Tiago was effective scoring down low on lay-ins and hooks with both hands, not to mention he tossed a few touch passes into the mix. His defense in screen action was superb as usual and he did another fine job on Erazem Lorbek.

    Tiago was rightfully named Finals MVP, though Huertas and San Emeterio were ballin’ as well in this series. This series solidified our opinion that Tiago is the best all-around big outside the NBA and should have little difficulty transitioning to the NBA.”

    Again, just the author’s opinion, but it appears that Splitter should be a productive NBA player right away. Now we just need to sign him…..

  • Ian

    Splitter seems to be headed to SA, according to Bruno of spurstalk.com

    http://www.lejpb.com/paperezkoa/20100617/205455/fr/Le-Baskonia-champion

    The last paragraph indeed states that he’s “packing his bag” to play in the NBA. Does anyone know more about this?

  • Trade Tp

    Lets rewind to last summer and get all of your “expert” opinions on McDyess being what we need.

  • Hobson13

    Trade Tp
    June 16th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    “Lets rewind to last summer and get all of your “expert” opinions on McDyess being what we need.”

    First of all, Splitter and McDyess are two completely different situations. You are comparing apples and oranges in every sense of the phrase. Secondly, I distinctly remember that a number of us were concerned that we didn’t have the front line size or length to stop the Lakers. I’m not sure any of us said McDyess was the sole answer to our front line problems. Many thought McDyess would have a positive impact on the team and be a nice role player. And McDyess was all of these things. In the playoffs, he rebounded well, played good defense against Dirk, and generally hit his open shots. Sure Dirk scored some points and hit some crazy shots, but thats why he gets paid $20 mil/year. Against Stoudamire, he simply didn’t have the speed to keep up, but what PF in the league does? I don’t understand your irrational dislike of Tiago Splitter. We’ve had expert opinions, stat comparisons, and the Spurs FO opinions on him and yet you don’t buy any of it. Please make your case, with stats and expert analysis included, as to why you think he is trash.

  • Bushka

    how about this… Bonner checks in hits 2 out of 3 threes takes 5 rebounds a dozen blocks and 3 steals in 2 and a half minutes DO YOU LIKE THAT !!!??!?!?!

    Well i guess anyone can make up a situation and use it to suit their argument..whaddayaknow!

    Bonners a 2.6 million per player. Get over it. The team will be better when he is marginalised because the water in the talent pool got too deep, not because we just play him less.

    The reason he was even a factor this year was because the team wasn’t deep enough to go the distance while limiting Timmys minutes.

    I’d expecxt him to be back next season in a reduced role. God anyone would think he was the reason for us not winning a champion ship the way some of you guys carry on. I guess not drafting Lebron James is another mistake by the front office…

  • BigJ
  • BigJ

    Jesse, how solid is the Hoops Market quote from Europe regarding Tiago coming to the NBA next season?

  • Trade Tp

    Hobson- Maybe its not hate for Splitter, but hate for the coaching staff who will inevitably F the situation up by not getting growth from Splitter or Blair and allowing McDoosh and Bonner to continue to hog minutes while we get bounced from the playoffs in round one.

    The topic of Bonner is the fact that he blows and the coaching staff is too stupid to play the right players at the right time. Sure paying Bonner 2.6 to hit a couple of threes is fine. But paying him that to miss threes and allow the opponent to run wild on the glass, in the paint, and on the score board is RETARDED.

    Bonner is awful. Playing him 20 minutes a game is INSANE.

  • rj

    mahinmi/ splitter

    FUTURE TWIN TOWERS!!!

    man i want some spurs news.

    here’s to the finals ending tonight!

  • idahospur

    What kind of game does Splitter play? (not referring to basketball). As in, is he a stretch 4 like Nowitzki? Duncan-type? Shaq-type?

  • Tyler

    @ idahospur

    He’s mainly a back-to-the-basket PF/C, although he does have range out to 16-18 feet. In that regard, he’s similar to TD – he has the ability to be effective from a variety of areas, not just the block. Having said that though, he’s not a stretch 4, Dirk-type player that is at his best when he faces up – Splitter makes his living in the paint. Offensively, he’s a pretty refined player. I don’t think he’s going to have trouble with the Spurs’ offensive scheme.

    The one thing I’ve always questioned is his foot speed/agility. For instance, how well can he defend the pick and roll? There are probably others that can answer that question, but from the report I posted above, it appears Splitter has shown the ability to be somewhat of an effective pick and roll defender. And though no one is expecting him to be a DPOY candidate, I’m encouraged by what I’ve read and heard about his defense.

    To get an idea of the caliber of player in the ACB league, just look at a few of the past MVP’s of that league –
    Marc Gasol
    Luis Scola
    JC Navarro
    Nocioni
    Walter Herrmann

    Really, only Herrmann was the only guy who in the NBA didn’t make an impact. Even Navarro, in his one year with Memphis, played pretty well.

  • Jim Henderson

    BigJ
    June 17th, 2010 at 4:37 am

    “The 25-year-old Brazilian center, MVP of the last ACB league, has an opt-out clause to move to the NBA next summer…..”

    They’re merely suggesting that Splitter is likely to come to the NBA NEXT summer, because that’s when he has an opt-out clause. The key for THIS year is what are the buy-out terms, and is it worth it to him to come now.

  • Titletown99030507

    Bonner plays no defense! The 4 Championships they won were defense orientated teams. It’s harder to play good defense than to spot up and hit a three.
    He gets in foul trouble easy and has to sit before he does anything significant. And correction for
    Die hard Spurs fan – If every body played as hard as Manu did when he got on the court they would gone a little further or at least not get swept. I think your confusing playing hard with running around the court clueless. Just because he can make a 3 doesnt mean he’s the total package.

  • Titletown99030507

    How about Solomon Alabi(20th)/Splitter twin towers and pick up Nemanja Bjelica (Serbian pt forward – yes he has the skills of a point gaurd, wing man, and F at 6’10″) with the 49th pick if he’s still there? If Splitter comes and the picks are there this would be an interesting roster.

    Future:
    Center – Alabi ( 7’1″)
    PF – Splitter (7’0″)
    SF – Bjelica (6’10″)
    SG – Manu (6’6″)
    PG – Tony Parker ((6’2″)

    Center – McDyse/Blair ( 6’11″/6’7″)
    PF – Duncan (7’0″) (minutes limited)
    SF – RJ/Hairston (6’7″/6’6″)
    SG – De Colo (6’5″)
    PG – Hill (6’2″)

    - Gee back up

  • Hobson13

    I’ve never like Garnett and Rondo. Over the course of their careers, I have been indifferent about Allen and Pierce, but I sure hope they whoop that Laker ass tonite! I’ll be pissed if Kobe gets to 5 before Duncan.

  • Bushka

    Hobson I’m in the same boat, as much as i don’t like either franchise, I am not that keen on Kobe grabbing 5.

    @Tradetp

    “Hobson- Maybe its not hate for Splitter, but hate for the coaching staff who will inevitably F the situation up by not getting growth from Splitter or Blair ”

    So let me get this straight… The coaching staff can’t develop players?

    Because Blair looked like he developed to me over the course of the season, and George Hill has developed an enormous amount in a short space of time. Hairston has improved a hell of a lot as well over the past two seasons, and the spurs have invested in that development.

    San Antonio has a great programme for maximising players. Sometimes the players might not be good enough, but there are very few franchises in the league that offer as much potential return from a low pick in the draft as the Spurs.

    I hope Mudguts comes back and plays 8-10 minutes per night at either big slot. 2 minutes per quarter is enough red head for me.

    He is a specific talent that is hard to replicate in a system as involved and complex as the one instilled by Pop and the Spurs staff. Especially for 2 million bucks. If you don’t get that then you don’t get NBA basketball.

    He averaged 17 per in the regular season and 17 per in the playoffs. Everyone is pretty much on board that 17 is too many, but the guy on your team that picks up 8 to 10 minutes per game is going to be a Matt Bonner type of guy wether you like that or not.

    These are the kinds of players that fill in the margins of NBA franchises and get far too much blame / glory for the success of a team.

  • Trade Tp

    Bushka- you’re right we cant develop players. POp never has.

  • http://wallmart.com roboSID

    I say dump a contract for Solomon pick but Paul gorge is a must.He is more needed then Blair.He is more needed then anyone.He will be an all star in 2 years.watch his stroke on youtube.Nobdy right now has one like it since gervin

  • http://wallmart.com roboSID

    Oh an 2 years of Bonner has cost us 1.developing Ian.2.Dunks.3 the delotion we could hav an Horry type player back on the team.WALLACE,DIRK, only come close to what Horry was.Horry was tougher,smarter,an nerves of burnt steel then DIRK or WALLACE.You cant get A guy to shoot a MIILLION 3 in practis an skip the fact he dosent have the mental toughness an expect it to tranfer to a reAL GAME.An its not BONNERS fault either i might add.

  • Jim Henderson

    roboSID
    June 18th, 2010 at 6:56 am

    “I say dump a contract for Solomon pick but Paul gorge is a must.He is more needed then Blair.He is more needed then anyone.He will be an all star in 2 years.watch his stroke on youtube.Nobdy right now has one like it since gervin”

    I’m afraid drafting some skinny kid on the wing at #20 is not more needed than our already NBA-tested “steal”, and budding double/double machine in the front court (Blair). The chances of George being an all-star in 2 years is about two percent. And you can’t possibly be that confident in him from a youtube video.

  • Bushka

    Bushka- you’re right we cant develop players. POp never has.

    George Hill must have developed himself…not to mention picked himself in the draft…same with that Blair kid…That Tony Parker guy what an incredible self developing point guard he was…. etc …etc….He keeps picking talent…Splitter was just named MVP of the Spanish league…The man knows the game better than just about anyone on the planet.

    Pop keeps making these draft picks and helps develop these players. I don’t get where you are coming from, the numbers are in front of you. So few teams draft and develop all stars themselves outside of the top echelon of lottery picks.

  • BigJ

    @Jim H

    That’s the read there regarding Tiago’s situation that appears to be mis-stated by several sources. Some make it like this is the summer for his migration while others, as you noted, look towards next summer.

    Will be interesting.

  • td4life

    Splitter’s opt-out is for THIS summer. We’ve always known this. RC friggin Buford has talked about this. C’mon guys, duh.

  • Trade Tp

    Bushka- Both Tony Parker and Blair have had the SAME GAME THEIR ENTIRE LIFE. That doesnt equate to development. The same can be said about Hill.

    Acting like these players had no business on the court before POP is ignorant.

    Pop also developed Bonner….

    Great job

  • Jim Henderson

    td4life
    June 19th, 2010 at 1:04 am

    “Splitter’s opt-out is for THIS summer. We’ve always known this. RC friggin Buford has talked about this. C’mon guys, duh.”

    That’s not what the quote from “The Hoops Market” says. In the post of June 16, it says the following:

    “The 25-year-old Brazilian center, MVP of the last ACB league, has an opt-out clause to move to the NBA next summer, after averaging 14.2 points and 7.8. rebounds last season.”

    Perhaps they’re wrong, I don’t know, I’m not an expert on Splitter’s contract particulars with Caja Laboral. I thought his buy-out would be less this year, but that we would still have to buy him out.

    http://thehoopsmarket.blogspot.com/2010/06/tiago-splitter-closer-to-play-in-nba.html