Ranking the NBA's Best 3-and-D Free Agents This Offseason

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2020

Ranking the NBA's Best 3-and-D Free Agents This Offseason

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    For years, the term "three-and-D" was sort of reserved for NBA players who provided little more than threes and perimeter defense.

    As the definitions of traditional positions continue to break down, so too does that idea of what a three-and-D player is.

    Myles Turner, perhaps known more as a rim protector, could fit the definition. Some of the names you'll see here handle the ball and create for others.

    The more the game trends positionless, the more players have to be able to provide a wide variety of skills to stay on the floor.

    So, our loose definition of three-and-D for the purposes of this article is this: players who project to be clear pluses as both defenders and three-point shooters in 2020-21 and beyond.

    Who are the five best free agents in this class who fit that definition?

5. Marcus Morris Sr.

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    2019-20: minus-0.7 defensive box plus/minus, 40.8 three-point percentage, 62.5 catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage, 48.6 pull-up effective field-goal percentage

    Marcus Morris Sr. is moving into the latter half of his career, but he likely has at least one more contract's worth of solid three-and-D play.

    In 2019-20, he showed an ability to adapt to drastically different roles.

    With the New York Knicks, he was more of a volume scorer who put up 19.6 points and 2.7 threes while shooting 43.9 percent from deep.

    Then, following a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, Morris showed a willingness and ability to do less on offense and commit more heavily to the other side of the floor.

    When he shared the floor with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, L.A. surrendered 104.3 points per 100 possessions (94th percentile), a better mark than what the team posted when the two stars played without Morris.

    The reasons for the boost include Morris' size (6'8"), switchability and grittiness as a defender. He doesn't have the same peak as an individual defender as Leonard or George, but the Clippers could feel comfortable giving him difficult assignments because of the competitiveness Morris brought to each.

    Now that he's 31 years old, Morris may start to slow down a bit over the next few years, but he still figures to be a plus for whatever team signs him this offseason.

4. Jerami Grant (Player Option)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    2019-20: minus-0.6 defensive box plus/minus, 38.9 three-point percentage, 57.3 catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage, 32.1 pull-up effective field-goal percentage

    Yes, Jerami Grant's shooting numbers aren't on par with Marcus Morris', but he's one spot higher for a couple of reasons.

    The obvious one is age. Grant is four-and-a-half years younger and may still have a bit of development yet to come. He's also on the verge of his athletic peak, while Morris is just coming out of his.

    The other reason is defensive versatility. Grant is just 6'8", but he can provide a little rim protection on top of the perimeter defense. For his career, Grant averages 1.7 blocks per 75 possessions.

    When you add that defense to a three-point shot that has solidified over the last two seasons—he's at 39.1 percent from deep since the start of 2018-19—it's easy to see how Grant fits this definition.

    Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis are the only players who match or exceed Grant's marks for blocks (1.7), threes (1.2) and steals (0.9) per 75 possessions over the course of his career.

3. Otto Porter Jr. (Player Option)

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    2018-19: 0.1 defensive box plus/minus, 40.6 three-point percentage, 61.7 catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage, 41.2 pull-up effective field-goal percentage

    We're using the 2018-19 numbers for Otto Porter Jr. because injuries limited him to just 14 games this past season. When he's healthy, he's still one of the game's prototypical three-and-D players.

    Porter can guard multiple positions effectively, switch all over the floor and ably space it on the other end.

    He doesn't post pop-off-the-screen numbers, but he does all those role-specific things so well that he's almost always a net plus. He's had a positive net rating swing in each of his last five seasons.

    On a team like the Washington Wizards, who played John Wall and Bradley Beal alongside Porter, having a low-usage contributor like Porter is key.

    Not everyone in the NBA can shoot the ball 20 times per game. Moving the needle in the right direction without dominating the ball is what makes many stick.

2. Gordon Hayward (Player Option)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    2019-20: 0.1 defensive box plus/minus, 38.3 three-point percentage, 58.5 catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage, 50.0 pull-up effective field-goal percentage

    Gordon Hayward is probably known more for his scoring (18.0 points since 2014-15) and point forward skills, but he's quietly been a strong defender for most of his career.

    If you exempt his five-minute 2017-18 campaign, he hasn't had a below-average defensive box plus/minus since 2013-14. This past season alone, the Boston Celtics' fourth-ranked defense surrendered 1.3 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.

    What makes him good on that end are a lot of the same things that apply to the previously mentioned players. He has good size for a wing (6'7", 225 lbs), moves his feet well and is generally in the right spot in terms of help, switches and rotations.

    He'll never be a Kawhi Leonard- or Draymond Green-level defender who can carry a team on that end, but he's also rarely the one responsible for a botched defensive possession.

    In terms of the other side of the three-and-D equation, Hayward is actually one of the shakier shooters on this list. He was an above-average 38.3 percent from deep in 2019-20, but it was just his fifth such campaign (compared to four below-average).

    He has the kind of shooting form you see and think: he should be a great shooter. But that hasn't been the case for almost half his career.

    What sets him apart is that he's one of those more evolved three-and-D players. Since 2013-14, he's averaged 4.6 assists per 75 possessions.

1. Brandon Ingram (Restricted)

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    2019-20: minus-0.4 defensive box plus/minus, 39.1 three-point percentage, 60.6 catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage, 41.5 pull-up effective field-goal percentage

    OK, now we're really stretching the three-and-D definition. We don't often put volume scorers into that category, and Ingram led the New Orleans Pelicans in scoring last season. He took 17.7 shots per game.

    That doesn't change the fact that he provides value to his team as both a defender and three-point shooter. And it isn't difficult to imagine Zion Williamson becoming the No. 1 option over the course of Ingram's next contract.

    Last season, a breakout as a long-range shooter coincided with Ingram's first season with an above-average box plus/minus.

    Maintaining that efficiency from the outside will be critical for the Pelicans going forward. Their offense will feature Zion's assaults on the paint, and keeping that space relatively unclogged will depend on the outside shooting of players like Ingram.

    Defensively, there's still plenty of development for him to experience. His length and athleticism suggest he should be exactly the kind of multipositional defender teams covet these days, but he wasn't always locked in on that end.

    He doesn't necessarily need to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but just being fundamentally sound would go a long way for a defense that ranked 19th last season.

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