Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Watching the Rotation: The Bonner-Tolliver Redundancy

Many Spurs fans scratched their heads this summer when the Spurs extended a contract offer to Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver had played well for the summer league squad, showing expert three point range, albeit for the first time in his life. Those of us who spend too much time thinking about these things reasoned that the contract (200,000 guaranteed) was a rich expenditure to get a second look during training camp. But once training camp started, it became apparent that Tolliver was already in the Spurs plans, and that he was something more than a practice body.

So what? Why all the head scratching?

Tolliver's function as a 6'8'' power forward is to spread the court for Duncan with his shooting. This is all fine and good, except that his ability to shoot has a short history and, we feared, his summer league output might constitute a faulty sample. More to the point, the Spurs already had a one-dimensional court stretching 4 on the roster. Wasn't it a waste to duplicate Bonner's role when they would benefit from, say, another shot blocker? Or, did this simply signal the end of Bonner's tenure with the Spurs?

So far, Matt Bonner (PER: 13.13) and Anthony Tolliver (PER: 13.56) are playing well this season, at least relative to expectations and their role as 5th bigs. In the case of Bonner, his production is more or less the same as it's always been, but timely. That is, his field goals have hit at the right moments, affecting the momentum of games. Matt Bonner is on a tear--I know, can one really use those words together?--that represent his best basketball as a Spur. His three point shooting and passable defense have greatly aided the Spurs last two victories.

Tolliver, as stated above, was billed as a 4 who could "really shoot." But he hasn't shown it. He throws up an inexplicable number of green-lit bricks and rim-rattling clangers. He is only connecting on .393 from the field and a sad .211 from beyond the arc. What he does do, however, is play with energy, sturdy D, and excellent court awareness. He's a gifted passer, both from the high post and the interior. Nevertheless, as L.J. Ellis recently remarked, "If he can hit his three-pointers, he has a career in this league. If he can’t, he won’t be able to survive."

In essence, I'm treating this as a position battle. My preference is for Tolliver--if he can find his shot, he can do more on the court than Bonner. Moreover, he's far less expensive. The best case scenario would be for Bonner to continue to play well and in so doing increase his meager trade value. He is a reliable three point shooter and could fill a niche as someone else's 5th big.

In the meantime, I'll have to amuse myself by hoping that Pop trots them out together for an extended stretch in some game. His postgame phone call to Larry Brown would go something like this, "Yeah, I played a line up of JV, Ime, Bruce, Tolly and and Bonny to close the 3rd. We didn't score for 3 minutes. It was hysterical. The two big oafs standing on the perimeter as Jacque tried to break the defense down...priceless. Bud kept giving me that stare. You should have seen, no, we won.....right, I just put Timmy back in. Anyway, how are the kids, LB?"


Unknown said...

The last paragraph queued maniacal laughter. Well done.

Timothy Varner said...

It only calls up half a smile in me because it could happen.