By Jordan Rivas, Staff Writer
Through the first three games of the regular season, Matt Bonner has started in the Spurs frontcourt alongside Tim Duncan, which is leaving some Spurs fans bewildered.
Last season, he saw significant time as a starter, playing with the first team 67 out of the 81 games he played. But at the start of this season, the sight of Bonner in the starting lineup has raised some questions. With so many moves being pulled in the offseason, many fans expected to see a Spurs starting five with at least a couple of new faces, such as veteran forward/center Antonio McDyess.
Three games in, however, Bonner starts and McDyess is on the bench. Bonner's play (8.3 points and 3.3 boards per, with 39 percent from 3pt range) would suggest he's capable of playing at least as well as he did starting last year. However given the up and down season the Spurs had in 08-09, the way it ended in the playoffs against the Mavericks and coupled with their spectacular offseason, there are those who would say that's just not good enough.
For the sake of brevity and objectivity, we're quickly going to run down a few pros and cons of Matt Bonner starting.
Bonner's range from the perimeter spreads the floor. At 6' 10", Bonner is a serious threat from behind the arch, hitting over 40 percent from 3-point range over his career. Having someone who plays the four out on the perimeter creates more driving lanes for guards and provides more real estate for Duncan to work.
Pairing a sharp shooting forward with a stellar pivot man works well. For example Robert Horry with Shaq or Duncan. There's just something that clicks when you put a nontraditional, three point shooting four man who can toss a decent post entry pass to a premier center. It frees up room down on the blocks and potentially puts four three-point threats out on the perimeter instead of three. This isn't just a nice benefit to have. It's a proven ingredient for a championship team.
Starting Bonner now will conserve McDyess for the post season. This is a counter-intuitive and often overlooked point. McDyess is 35-years-old and while he certainly has some stuff left in the tank, managing long term fatigue for veteran players is always an issue. Whether you believe Bonner should be starting or not, no one can deny it's going to help McDyess and his 35-year-old knees in the long run.
There's nothing but upside if Bonner flourishes. This would only be Bonner's second year as a starter. That means he's still not entirely proven, but also he still has room to improve. If he takes off and becomes the most reliable options to start opposite Duncan, great. If he plays sub-par then the veteran option in McDyess is still available to step in. Bonner doesn't play a large enough role to decide any wins or losses for us by himself and McDyess, or at this point even DeJuan Blair, can still finish games if necessary. There's more upside in starting Bonner than there is in sitting him.
Bonner is an average defender and not apt at checking the bigger, more talented forwards in the conference. Charged with guarding guys like Gasol, Nowitzki, Stoudemire and Boozer, Bonner is going to struggle. He's not a poor defender, just not built to take on those guys and certainly not meant to take on a guy such as Kevin Garnett out in Boston.
Bonner lacks athleticism. Remember when I was talking about McDyess and his 35-year-old knees? OK, well McDyess still gets off the ground better than Bonner does. I'm not sure how many times McDyess has had his knees surgically reconstructed, but even held together by dental floss and chewing gum, his wheels still make him more agile and vertically enabled than Bonner.
Bonner had some consistency and confidence issues in the past. He also had some well-publicized issues with confidence in his shot, and had to take some public coaching from Pop about being more aggressive on pulling the trigger. He had a nice run towards the end of the last regular season, but then dropped off in the playoffs. He has all the tools to play his role on the team, but occasionally he has hit some rough patchy streaks. In order to continue starting he has to find some more consistency.
Some of these minutes could be going to DeJuan Blair. No, I'm not kidding. After three games I assure you there are some people who are ready to call for Blair in the starting lineup. I'm not ready to go that far that fast, but I think it's a legitimate angle to say that between all this griping over McDyess and Bonner that Blair has played better than both of them through three games. Blair shouldn't be starting yet, but it's not unreasonable to suggest he should be stealing some minutes from Bonner's PT unless Bonner really distinguishes himself.
Bottom line is make up your own mind. This could go a number of different ways. Pop has a proven record of making starting lineup decisions I disagree with that eventually work. Now I just stopped disagreeing with him.
But then again, that's just me.
Please leave us your comments on whether Bonner should continue to start for the Spurs.