Matt Bonner is efficient, but should he take more shots?


I can sense that many of you are thinking, “Oh, no! Not more glowing in-depth Matt Bonner analysis.” But before anyone gets worked up, this post addresses a broader issue. Bonner is simply the Spurs’ poster boy for players who add significant value on the shots they do take, but probably won’t add much value by taking additional shots.

It should not come as a surprise that teams prefer that the player on the court with the best free throw percentage to take technical foul shots. Similarly, it’s typically in the team’s best interests to choose the most efficient scoring option for the bulk of the team’s possessions. However, a look at the leaders in single season Offensive Rating seems to yield more role players than Hall of Famers. In fact, many of these players don’t take many shots at all. Is there a good reason for this?

Visual observation may lead us to conclude that these players who have very high offensive ratings on few shots are very efficient on the shots they do take, but are unable to create additional shots. For example, if the defense collapses on Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner’s open three pointer is a welcome sight; but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to go into a game saying, “let’s get 30 out of Bonner.”

Diminishing Shooting Efficiency of Scorers

Dean Oliver coined a term called “Skill Curves” in his book “Basketball on Paper.” The idea behind Skill Curves is that players typically become less efficient as they take more shots, but certain players are able to maintain their level of efficiency better than others. The problem with trying to find individual player skill curves is that many players do not vary their attempts enough to find any meaningful information. For example, Matt Bonner only attempted at least 15 shots once in 2010. 25 players averaged at least 15 shots per game.

Additionally, there could be bias in selecting these games in which low usage players take a lot of shots. When players make a couple shots, they’re more likely to try to shoot more. This will limit the effectiveness of determining their skill curves. Additionally, they might take more shots against more favorable match ups.

Eli Witus determined the typical slope of a skill curve a couple years ago. In this study, he concluded that for every additional possession a player uses (per 100 team possessions), their offensive rating decreases by about 25%.

This is a step in the right direction. However, using the above conclusion, if we assume that if Steve Kerr had 33% usage instead of 13% in 1996, we would still expect his Offensive Rating to decrease from 141 to 136. In order to get to that rate, shots between 13% and 29% would have an Offensive Rating of 133. These efficiencies would still be superior to Michael Jordan. In mine and the opinion of many observers, this would appear very unlikely to happen in reality.

Estimating Skill Curves

Looking at the initial link, we find that players who take a lot of 3-pointers tend to be high on this list. Additionally, many of these players have reputations for not being able to create their own shots.

In order to test this, I employed the same strategy as Eli, but included six different usage types: assisted close shots, unassisted close shots, assisted 2-point jump shots, unassisted jumpers, assisted 3-point jump shots and assists. Since unassisted 3-point jump shots were rare events, I combined them with unassisted 2-point jump shots. I allocated missed shots, free throws and turnovers to each shot or pass type. I’ll spare you the details of my regression analysis, but I definitely encourage you to look check out my post on basketball-analysis to see how it works).

The results of my regression model most accurately predict the expected offensive rating for all players if they are asked to take on an average workload of a 20% usage rate. But even applying the same slope for other usage rates can yield some meaningful results. Using this assumption, I estimated the Skill Curves of each Spurs player. The following chart displays how player effectiveness expects to decrease for each additional shot a player is asked to take.

According to the chart above, Matt Bonner’s first choice shot is more effective than any other Spurs player’s shot, but his effectiveness decreases the most rapidly. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were best able to maintain their effectiveness with an increased offensive role.

The following table details the projected Offensive Ratings (points per 100 possessions) for each Spurs player according to the player’s shot number, sorted by easiest to most difficult.

Spurs Skill Curves

Shot #Tim DuncanManu GinobiliRichard JeffersonGeorge HillTony ParkerMatt BonnerOthers

Keep in mind that these are just approximated tendencies. It would be similar to saying that DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and Cole Aldrich project as good shot blockers because of their height, reach, athleticism and block rates in college. It doesn’t always pan out and just as the college block rate for one player might be more meaningful than another, one player might have a smaller slope than projected above. The above Skill Curves just serve as a guideline for a player who might be likely to effectively handle a larger workload or should accept a smaller offensive role.

The table below summarizes some key efficiency estimates for the Spurs players:

PlayerNext PossessionUSGORTGeORTGwUSG=302009USG2009ORTGSlope


Offensive rating is the expected cumulative average of efficiency for each shot. Based on the above results, George Hill probably should have taken more shots last year, and Parker and Richard Jefferson should have taken fewer. Of course, it is reasonable that these players took such a high percentage of the team’s shots after considering how efficient they were in 2009. Although RJ had the same Offensive Rating in 2009 as in 2010, his offensive rating in 2010 would have expected to be five points lower if he had been utilized as often as he was in 2009. Tony Parker’s Offensive Rating was effectively nine points worse than last year (after adjusting for usage) and George Hill’s rating was 14 points higher. Matt Bonner himself appeared to be utilized fairly effectively.

Applying these estimated skill curves can help to bridge the gap between perception and statistics. There may be a good reason that the player taking the most shots isn’t necessarily the team’s most efficient player. While efficiency may be one of the most important factors on offense, the ability to create a high level of efficient shots is also an essential component.

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  • Tyler

    One note – according to your graph, it appears Manu and TD were best able to maintain their effectiveness with an increased offensive role, not Manu and TP as you stated.

    Also, what do you think the skills curves would look like if you took an average of the last few years, and not just last year? As you can probably surmise, I’d think TP and RJ would show a little better.

    I also like one particular line (which should elicit a response from a few): “Matt Bonner himself appeared to be utilized fairly effectively.”

    Great piece.

  • Scott Sereday

    Tim Duncan is able to maintain a better level of efficiency better as he takes more shots, but Parker maintains his respective level of efficiency better. Parker and Ginobili have the lowest slopes on the last table.

  • Tyler

    Ah. I see. Thanks for the clarification.

  • badger

    Great post. It is very thought-provoking. It’s no surprise that the guy who can create the most shots for himself, Manu, would fare so well in this analysis.

    This post tells us something we already knew intuitively…If Bonner’s open, let it fly, if not, DO NOT shoot that ball Matt!

  • Alix Babaie

    I just wish there was a way to have Bonner shoot 3s but get the hell out of there for all of the defensive sets because he sucks on D. GO SPURS, DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!!!

  • vikombe

    great post

  • ITGuy

    I think Bonner is a decent player or else he would’ve been gone long ago.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Phife

    Jerrels was released by New Orleans. Think we’ll bring him back on board? I personally don’t, though he seemed to play really well in pre-season for us.

  • Spursfansteve

    What do you mean Bonner cant create his own shots?!? Has nobody else seen that *BEAUTIFUL* off the dribble floating jump hook?

    Bonner for MVP! 😀

    On a serious note, as strange as it is to say it, I’d love to see the percentages on possessions Bonner puts the ball on the floor, and whether they result in points or not. While i know the majority here cringe everytime he puts the ball on the floor (and sometimes for good reason), I’ve noticed on several occasions he manages to either take the “shyhook” or pass the ball to whoever is on the low block for a bucket (usually Blair). At crunch time, obviously this is horrible: Bonner is probably the last person we want making plays off the dribble in the last few minutes of close games. However, when he does it effectively, it prevents opponents from closing out as fast when he spots up for 3.

    Basically, I’d just like to know if it’s actually effective, or if it as statistically as ugly as it looks.

  • zack in the alamo

    maybe im wrong here but with the exception of about 2 instances when bonner doesnt make his first few shots it seems like he will be off the whole night, this preseason however has a looked better but i think hes got cerebral barriers.

    i agree he is very useful if used as a role player!! he knows hes a role player but pop is having a hard time coming to terms with this. pop is really smart at certain things but really dumb on the other hand. well more like stubborn. pop needs to read into these smart stats, and realize his streaky shooting is fools gold.

    pop because of his military backround loves guys who dont ask questions and do exactly as theyre told. he has this in matt bonner and still treats the situation as a military leader would thats why all the raw talent we had or someone who spoke up was shipped out Period. all i know is if pop doesnt start winning some games soon hell be questioned and wont like whats coming from the fans/media. afterall were the ones who run the show people forget that nowadays

  • Tyler

    “all i know is if pop doesnt start winning some games soon hell be questioned and wont like whats coming from the fans/media.”

    My nomination for joke of the day….

  • Spursfansteve

    In San Antonio, Pop, Buford and Holt run the show. Nobody gives a shit about the media. And they know that if they keep winning, the fans will keep coming. And, honestly, even if they dont, most of us still will.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Fans will keep coming as long as the Spurs exist. What are they going to do instead, watch UTSA football?

  • Jim Henderson

    Here’s a principal that I think only makes logical sense:

    If a team has a very good 3-point shooter, and that’s by far the main thing that he brings to the table when in the game, that player should put up as many decent looks as possible while in the game.

    I think the team tries to use Bonner in this manner, but I’ve always felt there was still room for improvement in this regard. In my view, I’d like to see Bonner take more 3-point attempts per minute than he has done over his career thus far. Is this Bonner not being aggressive enough, or the team not wanting Bonner to be more assertive in looking for his shot?

    Below is a list of 3-point specialist role players. In other words, guys that don’t offer the team very much above their 3-point shooting — their 3-point shooting is by far the most important reason why they’re in the game. I ranked the top six, including Bonner, based on a career 3-point percentage of 38% or higher. For the qualifying years, the player had to average at least 17 mpg.

    Player ……3-pt % ….Q-years ….Mpg. ….Mins./3-pt. attempt

    Kapono …43.96 …….. 5 ………..20.8 ………. 8.06

    Gibson ….42.35 ……… 3 ………. 24.5 ………. 6.62

    Korver …. 41.04 ……… 5 ………. 25.5 ………. 6.78

    Bonner … 40.47 ……… 3 ………. 21.2 ……… 6.37

    Mason …. 38.11 ………. 3 ………. 23.7 ……… 5.82

    Radmonovic .. 37.9 …. 5 ………. 22.1 ……… 6.50

    * In my view, Bonner is one of the more limited player’s on this list outside of 3-point shooting, thus a premium should be put on him getting enough attempts per minute.

    As you can see, Bonner holds his own against his peers in terms of fewest minutes played per 3-point attempt. Clearly at first blush, one would suspect that a guy like Kapono does not launch enough three’s per minute to effectively maximize his use to the team when he’s on the floor. In my view, his teams are making a mistake, or perhaps Kapono is simply not shooting the rock enough when he has a decent shot from deep.

    Thus, even though Bonner is second on this list in terms of fewest minutes of court time per 3-pt. attempt, does Bonner really shoot the three often enough when he’s out on the floor? He basically gets off 3 attempts every 19 minutes, or 2 attempts every 13 minutes.

    Scott’s data points out that Bonner’s offensive rating remains a clear 3rd just behind TD & Manu all the way out to 10 shot attempts per game. His offensive rating stays above 120 out through shot #6, and stays tied with Manu or better out through shot #5. It’s true he has a steeper slope that the rest, but meaningful offensive efficiency declines don’t appear to solidify until after shot #5.

    As the table I provided above notes, during the 3 qualifying years, Bonner averaged about 3.33 three-point shot attempts every 21.2 minutes. In my view, because of Bonner’s weaknesses in other facets of the game, at 21 mpg. he clearly becomes more of a liability. I think Bonner should get no more than 15 mpg., but keep his 3-pt. attempts close to 3 per game, which would be closer to 5.0 mins. per 3-pt. shot attempt, as opposed to his current average of 6.37 minutes per 3-pt. shot attempt.

    It would be interesting to see if the slope of Bonner’s offensive rating (as a measure of efficiency) would steepen if he took more 3-point shot attempts per minute. Perhaps looking at a subset of Bonner’s games where he took a higher number of shot attempts per minute would reveal an increase or decrease in his offensive rating compared to his average. This could give us an idea whether trying to increase Bonner’s 3-pt. shot attempts per minute would be an effective strategy to make every effort to implement.

  • rob

    I for one can’t truely appreciate the work it takes to statually find reasons or explenation of why something is the way it is. I deal daily on a “bottomline” structure which doesn’t always give prudence to taking a while to calculate a decision.

    To me…regardless of why Bonner is the way he is…bottomline is…he’s a piece to the equation that hopefully can/could help the Spurs win a championship.

    All this indicates “bottomline” is…if Bonner can shoot well enough (efficiently) to mask his other deficiencies…he’s worth being in the game. If not shooting efficiently while in the game…he has no business being in the game.

  • zainn
    curtis jerrels is released. does that mean he comes back to our d-league or what. and we dont get our second round pick :(

  • Greyberger

    Great post. I loved all the background stuff and how you brought it all together. We got to see a few different ‘rules of thumb’ for how efficiency and role might be related. I think the subject is one of the great mysteries of ape bear metrics, and there’s no better poster child than the Red Rocket.

    As for the shots and if he should take them, here’s the dirty – his 3pt per 36min went from 5.0 in 2009 to (team leading) 7.2 in 2010. This helped the team more than the his drop in 3pt% from 44% to 39% hurt us. Matt gets his threes from others’ offense – especially the screen and roll – and he rarely turns the ball over.

    If there’s anything the offense can do to further increase Matt’s attempts per minute it should. the usage% leaders and assist% leaders on court with him should get the credit for creating his attempts, and he should get the credit for knocking them down.

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  • rob

    Is there anyway to determine Bonner’s shot percentage when the team is in the lead compared to when losing?

    I’ve often felt (thought I’ve noticed) as long as the team was ahead or playing well that Bonner makes his shots more consistently than when being called upon when having to make a shot in a crucial situation.

    If that’s not the case…perhaps he should be given more opportunity to shoot.

  • Greyberger

    Re: above, the data is out there – play by play records should come with total score information that would allow you to look into that.

    Nobody has, I’m sure, but it’s not such a stretch

  • Jim Henderson

    October 25th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    “…his 3pt per 36min went from 5.0 in 2009 to (team leading) 7.2 in 2010. This helped the team more than the his drop in 3pt% from 44% to 39% hurt us. Matt gets his threes from others’ offense – especially the screen and roll – and he rarely turns the ball over.”

    Yes, good point. Bonner did increase his 3-pt. shot attempt rate last year to a career high, and even though his percentage dropped marginally, his higher 3-pt attempts per minute ultimately helped us more (at least during the regular season). His minutes per 3-pt. attempt was at what I called for in my previous comment (one 3-pt. shot attempt every 5 minutes). But he’s got to get his percentage up closer to 40% in the playoffs!

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  • Colin

    Matt Bonner is efficient, but should he take more shots?


  • TradeTp

    There isnt a stat that quantifies or qualifies Matt Bonner’s productivity because nothing that you guys throw out there REALLY give insight into his total production.

    You have to account for the endless numbers of miscues on defense, his blatant inability to rebound (and secure rebounds) and inability to “stay with” anyone running a break.

    Please count the number of times Matt is too slow to help, or gets beat causing rotation from a Spur defender and then said help defender’s man scores. MANY MANY MANY MANY…..

    This is why Bonner, although a decent 3% during non-count games, should never be considered a player, baller, efficient, etc……

  • rob


    I couldn’t agree more with your overall breakdown of Bonner.

    But this article is based solely on Bonner’s shooting percentage and should he be given more opportunity to score when on the court.

    Which is going to happen if Tiago can’t find time on the court. And if Bonner IS on the court…might as well utelize his abilities at a higher rate than relying on his disabilities while on the floor. At least that might help offset the disabilities while on the court.

  • Jim Henderson

    October 27th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    “You have to account for the endless numbers of miscues on defense, his blatant inability to rebound (and secure rebounds) and inability to “stay with” anyone running a break.

    Please count the number of times Matt is too slow to help, or gets beat causing rotation from a Spur defender and then said help defender’s man scores. MANY MANY MANY MANY…..”

    I certainly understand your concerns. I was against re-signing Bonner to begin with. But now that we’re paying him 4 mil. per year, I’m just hoping we can get “some” use out of him, at least during the regular season. Thus, if you notice in my previous post, he needs to play on avg. NO more than 15 mpg. Because after that point his other deficiencies start to clearly assert themselves (the law of diminishing returns), particularly if he’s not super hot from three point land. Overall though, he needs to take at least 1 three-point attempt every 5 minutes, make about 40% of them, and RARELY play more than 15 minutes in any one game. If he does that, we could get something out of him. If not, he will hurt us in some games.

  • Smaynes89

    You badly misquoted Eli. He said that  players off. eff. goes down by 1.25 points for every  1 point increase in usage, not 25%. Steve Kerr’s efficiency would then be 116, not 136 at 33% usage. You completely misrepresented his findings.