Player Capsules 2012, #370+: Matt Bonner, The Author, The End

Posted on Mon 31 December 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. And now, the end. Today we conclude this absurd, unnecessary, slog of a series with Matt Bonner. And me, too.

• • •

Follow Matt Bonner by listening to Arcade Fire and partying with them.

There are a lot of players in the NBA who I love despite their skills. One could make the argument reading my appraisals of NBA players now explicated in triplicate that I love just about everyone in the league, and one wouldn't be that far off. I'm a realist in my personal life and I tend to be a pragmatist in my approach to the world, but I can't lie to you: I'm a starry-eyed optimist when it comes to the humanity of those around me. I may often assume the government's an institution of lies and deceit, but I'm a big tragedy-of-the-commons guy. I can assume a team's horrible without hating the component players. I can assume a company's full of crap without indicting a single member of the company. I can make snide little jokes about how much I hate the Clippers without impugning individuals. And as such, I can recognize a player's limited talents without bearing any ill will to the player for those limits. Call me an optimist, call me foolish, call me wrong. I call it sports, and I'll like who I like.

One of those people, indeed, is Matt Bonner.

I've personally defended Bonner's ill-reputed defense a few times, mostly because I don't feel it's quite as bad as people initially think. Once or twice a Spurs game, when Bonner's on the court, opposing teams run plays specifically meant to attack Bonner's perceived defensive deficiencies. There's a problem with that. As bad as Bonner is at rotating and as immobile as he is on an overall level, he's not atrocious enough as an individual defender to make isolations-against-Bonner a reasonable offensive strategy. Isolation plays are what you go to when a play has failed. They certainly aren't something you should go to as a general rule, and in one of the biggest mysteries of the NBA, teams insist on going to them the minute Matt Bonner comes on the floor. And Bonner -- the cad -- has the audacity to stay on his feet, keep his hands up, and provide reasonable (if not incredible) defense against a stupid post-up or isolation with no outside options that never should've happened. When teams run plays like that, Bonner can hurt them simply by not being a folding lawn chair. He isn't, so he hurts them. But teams keep doing it, and the Spurs keep reaping the rewards. And good on them, I suppose.

The thing where people get tripped up is when they construe my statements about Bonner as a not-team-killing individual defender as some statement of support for the idea that Bonner's a lockdown defender. As good as his Synergy numbers have always been, he's not. He absolutely is not. He's a reasonably solid isolation defender who tries very hard despite not having any great skillset for it. And his offense, good as it may be in the regular season, is far from playoff caliber. Bonner's odd shot mechanics are incredibly fun to watch and impossibly amusing, but they're also mechanics that require about a restraining order's expanse of space between him and the defender for the shot to make it home. That's not space Bonner's ever going to have in a playoff situation, and without it, he's less than useless -- his offensive repertoire beyond "wide-open threes" is about as lengthy as the movie Airplane's pamphlet of Jewish superstar athletes. He's gotten less and less playoff burn as the years go on and Popovich loses his faith that any given year will finally be the year Bonner will quicken his release and adapt it to a playoff scenario. Because each year he tries, and each year he fails. It's like Lucy and the football. Spurs fans and coaches get optimistic, Bonner works on new methods, and every year it ends the same way -- the playoffs come, the kick goes up, and a player who can't really adapt to playoff situations gets badly exposed. An unfortunate fact of life.

All this isn't to say I don't like Bonner, though. Absolutely love the man. Understanding his weaknesses isn't akin to abandoning the guy entirely -- he's good for adding on a regular season win or two, without a doubt, and off the court there are few other guys in the league I'd rather root for. He's one of the few NBA players with legitimate connections in the hoops blogosphere, being somewhat friendly with the Basketball Jones crew. He's also friendly with the blogosphere because he has his own blog. Take that, world! Matt Bonner is one of us! It's a blog about sandwiches that appears on San Antonio's site, called "Matt Bonner's Sandwich Hunter." It's stated mission is to follow Matt Bonner's quest for the Hoagie Grail, the sandwich-to-end-all-sandwiches. Someday, Matt Bonner will succeed in his mission. He'll also succeed in his mission to bring basketball fundamentals to children everywhere, with his 90s style vide--... oh, wait. That's not Matt Bonner. It's "Coach B." Very different beast. Still, quite worth watching. It's the greatest video any NBA player has ever produced. And the sequels, video 2 and video 3, are still amazing acid trips into the world of inspirational basketball videos. I feel like every marginal player in the NBA could eventually be a league MVP, if only they all watched these videos every night before they went to sleep. And this includes Matt Bonner! I don't know why he doesn't listen to Coach B more, frankly. They bear a striking resemblance to each other and he clearly was very helpful to Bonner's younger brother Luke. Come on, Matt. Coach B is all that's separating you from MVP-caliber ball. Listen to him. Let's get this done, MVP-in-waiting. Let's get it done.

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_Follow Aaron McGuire on Twitter at __@docrostov.___

Who is Aaron McGuire? Who's the idiot who actually tried to do this project? I'll scout it out for you -- I have some sources on this guy. Aaron McGuire's about 6'4", 6'5" if he stands up straight. He's a scrawny man, a pickup tweener with a poor outside shot and a worse dribble. He's never played pickup against an NBA player, which is probably for the best, because he'd get dunked on with such obscene force that he'd turn to dust and blow into the wind. One would perhaps say he's a decent defender, but one would be wrong, because he's not. That's just what all white pickup players say when they aren't really good at anything else. "Don't worry, guys, I'm a defensive specialist! I'll lock guys down!" Yeah, no. Fat chance of that. His best quality is simply that he's tall relative to the average pickup player, and he can sometimes -- if he's lucky -- see a pick and roll developing and quash it with a nice twirl. And you know what? That's about it. Because that's about it, he always gets picked last, and it's a reasonable thing for people to do it. He's not very good at basketball, OK?

Off the court, he's a bit of a bore. The man works as a statistician in his day job -- a statistician! -- and devotes an untold number of hours outside of work to the pursuit of writing things about the NBA and contributions to unshared creative writing projects he'll probably never finish. He and one of his favorite professors from back in school have a paper up for publication in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, although he's been lazy about revisions, so it may never see the light of day. He's a family man without a family, a luckless romantic knave without the whole luckless part. Or the romantic part, I suppose. So he is more aptly described as a knave, simply. He likes to think he's funny every now and again, but is consistently dissuaded of those views when realizing how few people actually laugh at his openly horrible jokes. He likes helping people out, even at the detriment to his time and wallet, which can get him into trouble at times. Lots of times. But he tries pretty hard to be a decent person and by and large succeeds, even if it also makes him something of a boring slug that few in the world really want to know. He can't hold his liquor whatsoever, probably on account of the fact he's slightly underweight and has poor circulation for his height. He doesn't have very good NBA prospects. Let's just pretend this didn't happen and move on to someone else.

... wait. There's nobody else to move on to. Well, that's awkward.

• • •


All told, this whole thing has been an undertaking. I'm not going to make any promises about ever doing something like this again, mostly because I'd have to be completely off-my-rocker to promise that after this experience. I'm going to walk you through what my daily schedule has been over the last 5 months. This is partly for your entertainment, and partly for my reference -- when I'm ruminating on whether or not to do it again next year, I'll probably go back and read this post, and I'll probably see this. And I would really like my future self to think hard on whether he actually wants to do this again. So, for one's amusement, here it is. My daily schedule, my kingdom of dust.

  • 6:00 AM: Wake up. Shower. Brush my teeth. Drive to the office. Sometimes earlier, but never later than 6:45.

  • 6:45 AM: Nestle into my desk, spend about 2 hours writing capsules, then start in on the day's work.

  • 9:30 AM: Publish the capsules. Usually. If they needed more editing I did it in off-moments from my job, or my lunch break.

  • 6:00 PM: Begin to pack up my things, drive home. Often later, rarely earlier.

  • 9:00 PM: After a few hours of games with my ex-girlfriend, dinner, and whatever the heck else I had to do, I'd open up my spreadsheet with all the players in the feature. I'd isolate the next 3 and start up Synergy.

  • 12:15 AM: With an hour or three of scouting done, a game or two watched in the background (usually featuring a player or two from the next day's capsules), and some manner of notes made on the players for the next day, I would head to bed, ready to approach the next day's work.

  • 1:30 AM: ... OK, yeah, I usually didn't go to sleep until well after the games were over. Sorry, doctor. (No, seriously. My doctor talked to me about it. Sorry about that.)

Have you ever wondered what sort of psychotic devotion to a project it takes to produce this kind of a steady stream of content over a 5 month span while working a stressful nine to five? There you have it. The project began on July 6th, 2012. The project concluded in full on December 31st, 2012. In that time I wrote 370 player capsules, which (when added up) summed to a ridiculous 373,955 words. Some people have asked me why I didn't edit these down, or try to make them shorter in an effort to ease the burden on myself. Confession: I did! For most of these players, I ended up scratching ideas and rewriting whole sections. But I treated each of these things like a several-draft essay, with each essay usually ending when I'd realize I was crunched for time and needed to slash out paragraphs. Had to get it down to a moderately short and reasonably snappy three-to-four paragraph explication rather than a long, meandering appreciation. Gross! I still meandered, as most would be wont remind me, but trust that there was more editing on my part put into this effort than it may have appeared. I really wanted to do this right.

That's the thing, though. Why did I really want to do it right, though? What made this my goal?

This is a question I've been asking myself. Why was I so intent on proving I could do this with any semblance of quality? It's not like these aren't time-sensitive. If you go back in about a year and read the capsules, I'm sure some of the observations will still be apt. But I'm just as sure others will be about as outdated as year-old milk. There's a certain temporal transience here that makes all basketball writing somewhat ephemeral, and it applies just as well to a series like this. Few people are going to go back and think "wow, I want to read the equivalent of a 1000 page novel about basketball just so I can get the views of a single capricious fan on every player in the league." I'm not trying to get a new job -- I like my current job, thanks. In terms of assessing the project's quality in-the-whole, there aren't ever going to be more than 30-40 people who can do that, and most of them aren't ever going to let me know what they thought of it. So, why? I'm not a person who tends to have a great deal of pride in my work. Ever, really. I certainly put a lot of effort into what I do, but I'm a perfectionist at heart. Never quite happy with things. Always errors, always problems. Some of my best writing has been stuff that I absolutely hated at the time and only grew to like months or years later. It's the nature of the beast. But when I look back on this ridiculously unnecessary project, I get a bit choked up.

Because, simply put? I didn't fail. Certain things are large and ambitious enough that you simply get excited when you reach the finish line. They're things you'll remember for a long time, and you know it when you feel it. For me, this is one of those things. In 5 or 6 years, I'm not going to remember the 10-15 capsules I wish I had back. I'm not going to remember the sleep lost, the struggles getting Synergy to work, the nights when I had to stay up late because I simply didn't have the joy. I'm not going to remember the sad feeling whenever I'd have to cancel a day because I simply had too much work to do. No, I'm simply going to remember this -- I was able to complete a 370-part series of 1000 word essays, and I was able to complete it in a way that made me proud. I'm going to remember how many people the project reached, and remember the fact that even if very few people read all of the capsules, just about everyone in the blogosphere at least read one. I'm going to remember those feelings of accomplishment as I incremented my calendar and watched my progress meter fill. And the satisfaction of putting that last word to the Bonner capsule and smiling to myself. No monetary compensation, no boss to cheer up. Just me. The project was for me, above anyone else. And I succeeded.

This series is full of stories. It's a tapestry of disconnected ideas, concepts, and experiments. Some were good, some were bad, some were flat-out wrong. But I was faithful to the project and I accomplished something I didn't know for sure if I could when I started. I weathered some bad personal moments during the duration of the series -- I got dumped by a girlfriend of two and a half years, I had several immensely stressful work projects, and I dealt with a lot of real life turmoil at times in the project. But I kept at it, I didn't give up, and right before the turn of the year, I finally finished my large and ambitious side-of-the-desk project. I did it in the timeframe I wanted with the detail I needed. I don't like gloating and I don't like pride. I detest arrogance. But I'm proud of myself, for once, and I think that pride is exactly why I put so much into this. I knew in the back of my mind if I finished something like this I'd have to finally admit to myself I did a good job at something. Take a moment to appreciate the work I did, the grind I lived, the time I spent.

Of course, there's one thing I didn't totally consider. Or rather, I did but I didn't want to admit it. That grind, that writer's yen? It goes on. It always does. I've had a small success, here. A moment of personal pride. I'll take a week, catch my breath, and find some new mountain to climb. Because when you feel pride in your work once, you want to feel it again. And that's what writing is, right? An addiction to the best ideas, a constant need for your foremost efforts, and a constant parched thirst for the best you'll ever be. That's what makes a good writer good. Not the words on the page but the yearning that stands behind it. And I'm no excellent writer -- not yet, anyway. But perhaps someday I'll turn the pages of something I wrote and think with pride and love of the individual hammer-strikes to the stone of inspiration that came behind it. The intractable surfeit of effort and toil it took to get a piece I could really love as my own, not in an isolated moment, but deep within my soul and heart.

Perhaps, someday. For a time, I'll stop and enjoy a project completed. Life's good.

And in a week? The work chugs happily onward. And I'll enjoy that, too.

Hope to see you then.

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