Matt Bonner used to be one of the most divisive players on the Spurs, in part because he rarely looked like he was impacting the game all that much but always seemed to have a great plus/minus, which led to a fantastic net rating. The advanced stats seemed to say that the team was much, much better with him on the floor than off, no matter what the eye test or his counting stats said. He was the plus/minus king.
It appears he might have an heir to the throne. Keita Bates-Diop has the best net rating on the team by a mile among rotation players, which seems almost inexplicable. The forward is averaging three points, three rebounds and almost one stock, yet the Spurs have outscored opponents by 31 points when he’s been on the floor in 137 minutes, or 12 points per 100 possessions.
It’s extremely dangerous to draw conclusions from so few minutes, and on/off numbers in general should be the jumping off point of any conversation and not the end of one, but while taking a closer look, there are not a lot of obvious red flags. KBD is not padding his stats in garbage time, as he does better in terms of plus/minus in the first quarter than the fourth. Most of his best games have come against good teams, with the exception of the Magic, and he’s had a positive plus/minus in all but one of the games in which he’s played double-digit minutes. He’s been part of four lineups that have played more than 10 minutes, and they include both starters and bench players. One even includes plus/minus black hole Bryn Forbes.
Now, does this mean that the Spurs should play Bates-Diop more based on those stats alone? Of course not. Anyone who uses plus-minus or net rating from a 15-game sample to suggest a change of game plan is insane. What the numbers show — if they show anything meaningful at all — is that so far, in his current role, KBD has been surprisingly useful. It’s entirely possible that all changes in the future. He’s been terrible according to the stat in the past, so he’s nothing like Bonner, who got good marks in multiple season.
It’s also important to remember that net rating is not an individual stat but a reflection of how a team or a lineup does when someone is on the court. There might be a case to be made for KBD to become a permanent part of the rotation, but it would have to be based on his skills. For now, it mainly looks like Bates-Diop is just an above-average defender who is good in transition, so he probably benefits from being a part of a team that is also good in those areas more than the team benefits from his presence.
It seems like at this point, KBD’s plus/minus is more of a curiosity than a valuable data point, but it will still be interesting to track it, at least for comedic purposes. The Spurs have a budding All-Star in Dejounte Murray, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Jakob Poeltl and a young guy on the brink of a breakout season in Devin Vassell, and it’s the journeyman who was on a two-way contract last season who keeps showing up first in net rating.
It’s not as funny as it was to see Bonner ahead of multiple future Hall-of-Famers, but it’s still pretty amusing.