- Amin Elhassan
The rule changes that happened in the NBA about a decade ago greatly changed the dynamic of the perimeter defensive specialist. When isolation offenses ruled, teams could afford to field lineups with wings who were tremendous defenders, but who lacked discernible offensive prowess from anything other than point-blank range.
The implementation of the defensive three-second rule and restriction of impeding of progress brought more free-flowing offense to the game and more sophisticated team defenses, which meant two things for the defensive wing: on offense, he needed to be a threat to stretch the opposing defense and discourage overzealous help; on defense, there was more of an onus on being an aware, team defender instead of staying "hugged up" on your man off ball, which the old illegal-defense rules actually encouraged.
Although the rule changes happened a long time ago, the rise to prominence of the "3-and-D" wing, a 3-point shooter who is a defensive specialist, has occurred more recently, as more teams move to the type of pick-and-roll-heavy spread offense popularized by Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash in Phoenix.
It should come as no surprise that one of the earliest prototypes of the defensive 3-point specialist was Raja Bell, infamous for his defensive battles with Kobe Bryant, but also highly productive from behind the arc. Another forerunner of the position was Bruce Bowen, one of the elite defenders of the 2000s (often tasked with guarding Nash), who similarly developed into a proficient 3-point shooter from the corners.
Here are the eight best defensive 3-point specialists in the league today.
2012-13 3P%: 37.4 (65-of-174)
If he can keep turning in the types of performances he posted in the playoffs, Leonard might be well on his way to "graduating" off this list after this season, but for the time being, I'm still classifying him as a 3-and-D guy. He follows in the footsteps of Bowen as a premier defensive player and an integral cog to San Antonio's success. Leonard's size, length and agility give him the ideal physical attributes to be able to defend a wide variety of positions, and he's a smart, aware help defender off the ball. Like Bowen, Leonard fashioned himself from a liability on the perimeter to a deadly shooter from the corners (42.9 3-point percentage from the corners); unlike Bowen, Leonard did it practically overnight, going from shooting sub-30 percent in his last college season to 38 percent in his NBA rookie campaign.
Amin Elhassan outlines the NBA's top '3-and-D' wing players, or small forwards who are effective as both 3-point shooters and defensive specialists. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard tops the list.