Matt Bonner has been much maligned this season for his poor rebounding and defense. He has been the target of serious scapegoating and blame. Poor Bonner just does what he is told and although he is not a star by any means he plays an important, albeit limited, role for the Spurs.Lets take a look at some on/off court statistics that suggests the problem is not Bonner but the lack of Bonner.
Lets start with the necessary disclaimer. These statistics dont tell the whole story and some people might suggest they are misleading. They are also skewed in that all players do not play with each other an equal amount of time on the court (as an extreme example, Mahinmi is never on the court when Duncan is). Regardless of these limitations I believe they tell a story worth noticing. All data was collected from 82games on 02/08/2010.
The data presented here involves the teams performance in several categories when each player is on and off the field. If the team shoots 54% from the field when Bonner is on the court and 50% when Bonner is off his FG% differential would be 4% (sort of like shown in the first graph). What we are going to look at here is the differentials in effective FG%, effective FG% allowed, defensive/offensive/total rebounding percentage and net points per 100 possessions. Notice that in an effort to be fair I provided plenty of ammunition for you to tell me these statistics are Bull(&#(@# but they are what they are.
Back to Bonner. My central argument is that Bonner should be used to build a lead when game pressure is low. We have all seen how Bonner's shot disappears and his overall performance decreases in high pressure situations (he is definitely not what one would call clutch). Im not suggesting that Bonner should be on the floor in the 4th quarter but we should use him tactically at the beginning of games and quarters. The effective FG% differential when he is on/off the court is the best in the team. This likely has to do with the spacing he provides which we all know about. Notice that the other three point shooters dont have nearly as good a number as he has. This, in my opinion, is because Bonner usually pulls either the C or PF of the other team out of the paint and into the perimeter area. This opens up the paint for our slashers to go get their layups. Without this spacing it is more difficult for Tim to go to work and for Parker to penetrate. When Mason or Finley spot up on the three point line they just pull a SG or SF out which leaves two bigs protecting the paint. This fundamental difference between Bonner and other shooters is where all of Bonner's value to the team can be found. Now is this increase in offensive efficiency with Bonner on the court worth the downside? Lets look at the team's FG% allowed and rebounding numbers when Bonner is on and off the court.
The EFG%A graph is very confusing. Mason leads the team in this category (go figure?). When he is on the court the oppenents shoot about 1.5% lower than when he is off the court. On the other hand one of the perceived better defenders in George Hill gets the worst rating in this category. The point of showing this statistic however is to determine if Bonner undermines our ability to keep other teams from shooting a high percentage. It turns out that Bonner has a very small effect on the EFG% of the opposing team. So although he clearly is not a great defensive player, team defense holds up while he is on the court.
Another weakness that Bonner gets criticized for is his rebounding. The next three graphs show what happens to the team rebounding % when the players are on and off the court. A -1.00% might mean that the team collects 72% of defensive rebounds when player A is on the court and 73% when he is off. Bonner's effect on the team defensive rebounding percentage is negative but his effect on offensive rebounding is positive for an overall positive effect (total rebounding %). This means that throughout this season the team has been rebounding better when Bonner is on the court. Granted, the increase in offensive rebounding might be like someone has suggested that we clank a lot more three point shots when Bonner is on the floor and therefore we have more long rebounds. Who knows?
Defense seems to be OK and rebounding is not bad either with Bonner on the floor. This is were things get whack and you ask me what the hell Ive been smoking lately. Bonner leads by far in the category of Net points per 100 possessions with about 7. That is approximately double our second best player in this category (Duncan).
For the season Bonner leads the team in this category and I think its probably skewed because at the beginning of the season he was absolutely on fire. According to this statistic we should play Bonner the most minutes of anyone else on the team. Of course I do not advocate this, but the way he is currently used he is an effective weapon in the Spurs arsenal.