Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Rise of the Red Rocket

Matt Bonner has come alive for the San Antonio Spurs this season. It's something of a surprise because his first two years in the system represented a struggle, so much so that the Spurs invested themselves in a supposed sweet shooting big in the offseason, Anthony Tolliver. But Bonner's response to his threatened role has become a major Spurs storyline.

He earned starting digs back on December 4th. In last night's thrilling road win in Dallas, Bonner logged 13 points in 30 minutes on perfect shooting (5-5, 3-3). On the season, he is shooting better than 50% from the field and arc. The real revelation is elsewhere, however. While Bonner's rebounding numbers are only up slightly over his career averages, his overall defensive awareness is significantly improved. The combination of offensive efficiency and heady defensive play has transformed Bonner into vital part of the rotation. The net sum is a 6 point spike in his PER from last season's 12.21 to an extremely respectable 18.76. According to Hollinger, Bonner is in the same class as Przybilla, Horford and Okafor.

I didn't think it was possible. And, honestly, I'm still skeptical.

But Coach Popovich has always placed great importance in floor-stretching bigs. Danny Ferry is Robert Horry is Matt Bonner. Even while Matt Bonner overachieves in San Antonio, the Spurs are developing Anthony Tolliver in Austin--Tolliver continues in his role as occasional tease by showing an alarmingly good stat line yesterday morning. A center who can hit from the outside is a roster priority for the front office brass.


The mainstay explanations are that such bigs create space for Tim Duncan and driving lanes for Parker, Ginobili, and, just recently, George Hill. All true. But Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold (via Jones on the NBA) offers another insight that might clue us into the thinking of Pop and his staff:
The Kings are a bad match up for the Lakers because their centers play a perimeter game that draws Bynum and Gasol out to the three point line and opens up the lane for drives and causes the Lakers defense to break down leading to easy lay ups or open three pointers. Same thing happened against the Pacers and their perimeter oriented bigs and Detroit and Rasheed’s three point shooting from the center position. Teams with quick penetrating guards and perimeter oriented bigs will continue to be a problem for the Lakers as Farmar and Fisher will never be ball stopping guards, so if Bynum and/or Pau are out on the perimeter those guards are going to have a field day and just chop up the Lakers on defense. Against teams like the Pacers and Kings the Lakers are usually able to make up for this match up issue by outscoring them. But when the Lakers shots aren’t falling, you’re going to have issues like this.
The Spurs are quick to respect all their opponents, but I suspect that their respect for the current Laker squad runs a little higher. A great indicator of this respect might be found in the presence of not one but two perimeter centers on tap. It sounds pompous, but in San Antonio everything is geared toward May and June.


Colonel D. Williams (Ret.) said...

I didn't think it possible that a player could emerge form Pop's doghouse as a better player, but so far it's been the case with Matt Bonner over the last few weeks.

As for Tolliver, he's undersized or lacking any "power" to be a power forward. As a center, it's probably even worse. But that's not to say there aren't hopes for the future. He's fairly quick, a decent passer, and if he could actually make outside shots then his chances with the Spurs will improve. If he can do that, and somehow become a better rebounder, then his chances will greatly improve.

Thanks for the article.

Timothy Varner said...

Everything rides on "if he could actually make outside shots," doesn't it? But, yeah, your take is spot-on.