Typically, when fans and analysts are dissecting an upcoming free agent class, the offensive skillsets of the players are top of mind.
In an era where the worth of 3&D players is at a premium and the overall offence in the league continues to surge, more emphasis on what upcoming free agents can do on the defensive side of the floor is valuable.
While the exact date for the beginning of free agency is not yet known, it will be soon upon us, so let's take a look at some of the best defensive players in this year's group, including some under the rader value options.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Ibaka is likely to be highly coveted in this season's free agency, with the 31-year-old re-igniting his career with the Raptors.
A tremendous shot blocker in his early days with Oklahoma City, Ibaka's numbers have slowly trailed off as he has aged. Last season, his block percentage of 3.0 was his lowest mark of his career, resulting in an average of 0.8 blocks per game -- the first time he has dipped under one block per game in his career.
Despite the slippage in counting stats on the box score, Ibaka still held opponents to 51.5 percent shooting within 6-feet of the rim according to NBA.com, proving he is still an influence in the paint.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
In a statement that many assumed would never happen after bouncing around multiple franchises: Dwight Howard is an NBA champion.
Playing a role and proving to be an exemplary teammate in Los Angeles, Howard appears to have extended his career in the league. After being an automatic starter throughout his career, Howard moved to the bench for the majority of the season, seeing 18 minutes of playing time per game. Still athletic enough on the defensive end, Howard is a valuable asset against teams that have traditional big bodied big men.
Averaging 1.1 swats on the season, his block percentage of 5.4 was his highest mark since 2010. No longer an All-Star caliber player, Howard would be a valuable role player on a contender if he doesn't return with the Lakers.
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
What exactly is Hassan Whiteside's value?
Coming off a monster contract intitially signed in Miami, Whiteside continues to be a maligned player around the league. When engaged, he can be a difference maker defensively....how often you get the required level of engagement will cause teams to question his fit.
Opponents shot just 49.5 percent within 6-feet when defended by Whiteside last season, which for reference is just 1.1 percent higher than opponents faired against Rudy Gobert.
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder
Now we reach one of the more intriguing free agents on the market.
Basketball-Reference gives Noel two nicknames: 'The Eraser' and the 'Nerlen Wall'.
Now, if you are going to try and claim those nicknames, you better be getting the job done on the defensive end. The 6th overall pick from the 2013 draft has in many respects failed to live up to lofty expectations in his rookie season, but he has filled his role as an energy big off the bench with the Thunder.
Averaging 2.3 blocks per game, Noel can be disruptive in the paint, often times sparking transition offence with blocks and deflections. He's not a marquee name on the market, but there should be interest in Noel.
Jae Crowder, Miami Heat
As the Miami Heat made their remarkable run throughout the postseason, Crowder was drawing attention for his at time blistering shooting from beyond the arc. What should stand out however is his defence, with his combination of size, strength and athleticism making him a weapon on that end.
Crowder spent stretches guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and LeBron James in the playoffs, three vastly different All-Star players, showing off the value he has to a contender.
After joining the Heat just prior to the trade deadline in February, his impact on the Miami roster should have them wanting him to return, it will simply be a matter of cost.
JaMychal Green, Los Angeles Clippers (player option)
Now the definition of wing is a little loose on JaMychal Green, who was one of the more underrated role players on the Clippers roster.
While he did see 20 minutes of court time a night, Green's value defending is diminished in a team with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Montrezl Harrell soaking up major minutes at his preffered positions on the floor.
At 6'8", 230 lbs, Green has the size and strength to slide up or down defensively, according to Cleaning the Glass, he spent 91 percent of his minutes at the four spot, with the rest of his time going to a small ball five role.
With a player option worth $4.8 million (usd) for 2021, we will soon find out how much Green wants to stay with the Clippers for year two of the Kawhi-PG era.
Wesley Matthews, Milwaukee Bucks (player option)
Stepping into the Milwaukee starting lineup for the departed Malcolm Brogdon, Wesley Matthews became the Bucks stopper on the wing. Not needed to play a dynamic role on offence, Matthews was Mike Budenholzer's go to man against superstars like James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
Now 34 years old, Matthews absolutely outplayed the $2.6 million (usd) player option he has for the 2021 season, but in a difficult financial period, it's hard to know if more money is going to be on the table.
Avery Bradley, Los Angeles Lakers
Avery Bradley's teammate, Rajon Rondo nearly made this list, but then it had to be acknowledged that regular season basketball exists.
If you can't remember all the way back to the regular season, you may have forgotten about Bradley, who filled a critical spot in the guard rotation of the Lakers prior to opting out of the season return.
Bradley started in 44 of his 49 appearances last season for the Lakers, providing excellent perimter defence in holding opponents to 30.5 percent shooting from 15-feet and beyond according to NBA.com.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are set to be one of the more interesting teams to watch in free agency. With the above mentioned Ibaka on their list, the Raptors could lose Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet from their championship core.
After a breakout 2019 playoff run, VanVleet continued his surge as one of the more impressive two-way guards in the league, thriving in Nick Nurse's diverse defensive scheme. VanVleet stands to earn a big money deal this offseason, it just remains to be seen whether the Raptors will be willing to part with enough money to entice him to stay.
If the Raptors enter the 2021 season with the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and VanVleet they could once again contend for home court in the first-round of the postseason, if they lose the latter it could force a short reset on their time at the top of the East.
Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls
On a struggling Chicago Bulls team, Kris Dunn is an interesting free agent in this year's class.
While his offence continues to be a work in progress, Dunn's defence at the guard position was noteworthy and the numbers don't lie.
With Dunn on the floor, the Bulls registered a DEF rating of 103.6.
With Dunn off the floor, the Bulls registered a DEF rating of 110.4.
Tony Snell, Detroit Pistons
Coming off a sizable contract originally signed with the Milwaukee Bucks, Tony Snell is a versatile defender with excellent length who can guard the 2-4 positions at 6-foot-6.
Definitley one for the under the radar catagory, but don't be shocked if you see the 28-year-old show up in the rotation of a contending team in 2021.
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