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Concord grad Bonner adjusts to changing role with Spurs

Matt Bonner warms up before the San Antonio Spurs face off against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden; November 21, 2012.

Matt Bonner warms up before the San Antonio Spurs face off against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden; November 21, 2012. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

BOSTON – He’s a veteran player on a veteran team, and Matt Bonner acts like it.

The Concord native is in his ninth NBA season, and his seventh with the San Antonio Spurs, but this year has looked different for the 6-foot-10 forward. His 3-point shooting is better than it’s ever been. He’s never shot better from the field. But his minutes are down – way down, lower than in any year before.

But the Spurs are playoff regulars, and they’ve become so through selflessness and team-oriented play. Bonner’s not about to be the exception. He hasn’t been seeing the floor, but he’s not going to start complaining, either.

“It comes with experience. I’ve fallen out of a rotation many times throughout my career,” said the 32-year-old, who was back in New England yesterday as the Spurs visited the Celtics. “For whatever reason, I’ve been out of the rotation (this year). My reaction is to keep working harder and to do whatever I can to help the team win.”

The sight of Bonner on the floor has been a rarity so far. His 10.6 minutes per game are the lowest of his career, and nearly half of the 20.4 he averaged last year. The Spurs had played 11 games entering last night, and Bonner was held out of three of them.

But while his time off the court has increased, his efficiency on it has gone up. Bonner is shooting 57.1 percent from the floor, and an incredible 64.3 percent from 3-point range. Both numbers are career highs, with the 3-point shooting percentage leading the entire league. It’s not even close; second-place O.J. Mayo of Dallas is in second by a full 6.1 percent.

The catch? It’s early, and Bonner knows that those numbers will change in time.

“It’s a long season,” he said. “We always call it the Albert Pujols law of averages. It’ll always even out. Some years I start out terrible, some years I start out really good, but it’ll all eventually converge to around 40 percent at some part.”

The percentages look good but it hasn’t translated to court time as the Spurs, who were two wins away from an appearance in the NBA Finals a year ago, have experimented with several different schemes and lineups early on, which has meant less reliance on the offense with Bonner in it that succeeded last year.

He’s not the only player in his situation. Star guard Manu Ginobili’s minutes and points per game are also low, as the Spurs have tried to implement every player on the roster.

“We don’t want to skip steps. We start from scratch each year,” Coach Gregg Popovich said. “We just move through the fundamentals at whatever pace we think the team can handle.”

As for Bonner’s current role, the forward said he doesn’t talk with Popovich about it, instead saying that there’s an unspoken communication between the two. But Bonner wasn’t about to get down on his diminished play time so far.

“You can pout,” Bonner said, “or you can work even harder to be an even better teammate and stay ready every chance you get.”

That chance came Monday. Held out of action for the first three quarters, Bonner was called upon to play all but one minute of the fourth as San Antonio tried to rally against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thanks to the Concord High grad, they nearly succeeded. Bonner scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and hit two of three 3-pointers, and the Spurs trimmed the gap to two points before falling by five.

It was the first double-digit scoring effort of the season for Bonner, and it validated that ready-at-a-moment’s-notice approach. There could be more opportunities ahead, as an injury to small forward Stephen Jackson will deprive the Spurs of one of their top shooters for an estimated four-to-six weeks.

If that means more time for Bonner, he’ll be ready.

“It’s just the shooter’s mentality,” he said. “Whether it’s two minutes or 20 minutes, just be ready to help the team win.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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