Every team wants a player who can knock down perimeter shots while being a plus defender. In a perfect world, teams would have more than one guy who can fill that role. There is a shortage of these players across the league, so teams are having to develop those players from
For year, smart team have taken advantage of market inefficiency surrounding defensive players whose offensive skillsets were limited to hitting open 3-pointers. This summer, the market corrected itself—as markets sometimes do—with players like DeMarre Carrol signing four-year, $60 million contracts.
Wing defenders have never been more important than in this pace-and-space era, driving up demand with limited supply. The loss of Carroll wills assuredly set the Atlanta Hawks back this season, but it should be noted that Carroll was as much the product of the Hawks’ development system as he was his own natural talent.
Last year, there were 20 qualified players who attempted at least 50 3-pointers and hit at least 36 percent while posting a positive Defensive Box Plus-Minus rating (there isn’t a perfect measurement for individual defense, but this Basketball-Reference stat gives us a good start to work from). The list includes high usage stars like James Harden, Chris Paul, and Stephen Curry, and expected names like Carroll, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, Danny Green, and Khris Middleton.
Quality defenses increasingly rely on at least two solid defensive wings; there are 30 teams in the NBA, and only 20 fully-developed 3-and-D skillsets, which shows why they’ve become so valuable in recent seasons. Today, the Hawks and other teams will try and find value by signing young players on cheap contracts and developing them to exceed the value of their deal. With that in mind, here are a few candidates who could grow into that role:
3-Point Specialists with Defensive Potential
Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
In his second season, Covington showed he can be a lights-out shooter, hitting 37.4 percent from distance. Covington’s role was stretched a little beyond his abilities last year—he’s failed to demonstrate NBA skills beyond his shooting ability—due to a dearth of options in Philadelphia. But even as they add talent, his shooting should remain a key component of the 76ers offense, even if his point of attack looks a little different.
Covington is an above-the-break shooter, where he takes 80 percent of his attempts, and is comfortable firing from a spot-up position or on the move. But with the addition of a post scorer like Jahlil Okafor, the 76ers can station Covington in the corner, where he hit 45 percent on just 40 attempts last season.
Defensively, Covington has great tools with a 7’2” wingspan to complement his 6’7” frame and excellent lateral quickness; he just needs more experience. At times, you could see the thought processes stalling Covington, rather than reading and reacting naturally. Too often this would leave him flat-footed and vulnerable to dribble penetration. Many of his mistakes were erased by Nerlens Noel’s defense which allowed him to be more aggressive, but opponents still shot 45.7 percent against him according to NBA.com.
Covington has just 77 games of NBA experience, so his defensive struggles are not a surprise. At 24-year old, he’s still young and has the physical profile to evolve into an impact defender, which would notch the 76ers’ scouting and development staff a much-needed early win.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
Caldwell-Pope sits just below our threshold of 36 percent on 3-pointers at 34.5 percent last season, but there is little reason to doubt improvement as he enters his third; especially given the open shots he should get in the Pistons offense now that head coach Stan Van Gundy can spread the floor with three-to-four shooters around Andre Drummond.
The Pistons are still experimenting to see if Caldwell-Pope has utility beyond just a spot-up shooter, but so far he’s struggled creating off ball screens and finishing at the rim. Leaving a 3-and-D role as his best option this season.
Caldwell-Pope has a quick release and can get his shot off before defenders can closeout, which is a critical skill for a player who hasn’t been great at converting jumpers when contested—making just 15 percent of his 46 3-point attempts with a defender less than three feet away, according to NBASavant.com. Although his 48 percent 3-point shooting from the preseason isn’t sustainable, it does hint at legitimate improvement.
Defensively, Caldwell-Pope lacks the versatility of other candidates, standing at 6’6” with a 6’8” wingspan. He’s great at keeping players in front of him with his quick, and can afford to apply maximum ball pressure with Drummond behind him. Where he struggles is contesting shots, where his size allows larger wings to shoot over him even when he contests. Last year, players shot 46.2 percent against him, including 71.9 percent within six feet of the rim, according to NBA.com.
He’ll be a tough defender on the ball but he needs to find a way to overcome his lack of length by funneling his man toward his help defense, maximizing his potential by grasping Van Gundy’s schemes.
Ben McLemore, Kings
McLemore has struggled to live up to the high expectations set out for him when he was considered a potential no. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Still, there are signs he can still develop into an impactful player for the DeMarcus Cousins-led Kings.
A 42 percent 3-point shooter in college, McLemore has converted just 34 percent of his attempts in the NBA. He’s also shown a diminishing commitment to defense, which is concerning for a player expected to take on a major defensive role.
Tony Snell, Bulls
Becoming a 3-and-D player would make Snell an excellent rotation player for the Bulls, especially paired alongside Doug McDermott, allowing Hoiberg to get the latter’s offense on the floor while hiding him on the weak assignment. Snell shot 37 percent on 3-pointers last season while building a defensive foundation under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau. Hoiberg’s offense could shake Snell look for a few more open looks, giving him a breakout season.
Andre Roberson, Thunder
There are few perimeter players left who don’t attempt at least 100 3-pointers over an entire season, but Andre took just 85 last year, converting just 24.7 percent. He didn’t shoot well from any area on the perimeter and his fundamentals need major improvement before he becomes a respected shooter—with a major flaw in his follow through giving him little control over his shot’s trajectory.
With the offensive weapons the Thunder have, most defenses choose to leave Roberson completely open on the perimeter and he is unable to make them pay for that decision, leaving him unplayable against some teams—which is a shame, because his defense is top notch.
Roberson brings a high level of intensity to each possession and backs it up with a high defensive IQ. He seems to make every right read and rotation off the ball to squash every opportunity possible. He’s a monster on the ball as well, using his quick feet and 6’11” wingspan to make life difficult for his opponent.
He can guard multiple positions, blows up pick and rolls by forcing the dribbler way outside their intended route, cuts off penetration, and when players do get to the rim, allows just 52.3 percent shooting (seven percent better than average according to NBA.com).
Roberson will continue to get opportunities because of his defense. If he wants to take the next step, he’ll need to quickly improve his 3-point shooting. It’s going to take a lot of work and a few months of consistency before defenses start to respect him, but improvement would be a major X-factor for a Thunder team that has championship aspirations.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Heading into his second season, Aaron Gordon is a popular pick to have a breakout season after an impressive summer league performance in which he dominated offensively and made 50 percent of his four 3- point attempts per game.
He still has plenty of room to improve as a shooter, however, after converting just 26.2 percent of his total jump shots last year, according to NBA.com, and 27 percent of his 3-point attempts. This was a known issue coming into the league and he hasn’t done much to assuage those concerns—with his percentages declining the further he moves away from the rim.
His mechanics need some reworking, as his shot release can be slow and he often releases his shot slightly after the apex of his leap. He can look like a bad golfer thinking about his shot too much, which causes him to be robotic in his release and leads to poor results.
Gordon already showed he has the chops to be a tough defender in the league and will only continue to grow as he matures. With a strong 6’9” build and seven-foot wingspan, he can guard either forward position and is quick enough to defend the perimeter. Gordon slides his feet well to stay in front of the ball and he does so without fouling, pickup up just 3.7 per 36 minutes.
James Johnson, Toronto Raptors
At 28, any chance to improve as a shooter may have passed him and his 25 percent career three percentage by. Being able to follow the Matt Barnes career path by shooting a somewhat acceptable percentage to supplement his defense will be the key to prolonging his career.
Justin Holiday, Atlanta Hawks
After not bringing Carroll back to the franchise, the Hawks will be looking for their next 3-and-D guy from within the current roster. Holiday has the best chance to be that player if he can beat out Tim Hardaway Jr. for minutes. The 31 percent 3-point shooter has the tools to be a great perimeter defender, and although he is already 26, has a chance to grow into that role.
P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets
Hairston will need to improve both his shooting (30 percent) and overall effort level on defense, but he’ll get plenty of opportunity to be molded into a role player for Charlotte this year. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out, Hairston should be the early beneficiary, allowing the team to see whether he is a long-term asset.
Anthony Brown, Los Angeles Lakers
A 40 percent career shooter at Stanford, Brown had little trouble adjusting to the NBA 3-point line in preseason. He’ll need some time to develop as a defender and will need to avoid picking up any bad habits that plague some of the current Laker wing players. Brown should see regular minutes and could be a bright spot in an otherwise dim season.
Hollis-Jefferson’s shot is much worse mechanically than either Roberson’s or Gordon’s and will need massive improvement to become a halfway decent shooter. His current career path puts him on the course as a strictly defensive asset, picking up easy buckets created by his teammates here and there.
Jake Layman, Maryland
His silky smooth shooting will translate no problem but he’ll have to show he has the tenacity to defend the wing at the NBA level on a nightly basis.
DeAndre Bremby, Saint Joseph’s
Bembry has to do everything for the Hawks offense, so his 3-point percentage has suffered to the tune of 33 percent with some required bad shots mixed in to try to salvage possessions. In a smaller usage, he could become a more efficient shooter. He’s somewhat stuck in between positions at 6’6″, with more strength than speed, but this could turn into a benefit in the right situation.