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Free agents that can salvage Cavs’ perimeter defense

Basically this is a Kris Dunn appreciation post.

Sacramento Kings v Chicago Bulls Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

As this series has gone along, we’ve come to learn the Cavs are good at some things but bad at so much more. The most glaring issue for the Cavs in at least the last two seasons is their perimeter defense. It doesn’t help that Cleveland is starting Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, both defensive turnstiles, in tandem in the backcourt. Alongside them is another not great wing defender in Cedi Osman and Kevin Porter Jr. — a potential stud defensively but has a propensity for fouling his opponent. Right now, the Cavs best wing defender is Larry Nance Jr., a power forward by trade, or Alfonzo McKinnie. In a league that’s becoming trigger happy with their three p-int attempts, this is something the Cavs need to shore up right away.

There’s always the draft, which has a few options in Isaac Okoro and Devin Vassell, but that shouldn’t stop Cleveland from pursuing other avenues to improve their perimeter defense. That’s how bad it is. Thankfully, there’s also the route of free agency. As always, the Cavs will be strapped for cash this year and at the moment can only offer a $9.8 million mid-level exception and minimum contract deals in free agency. The reason the Cavs are so strapped for cash is Andre Drummond is planning on picking up his $28.7 million player option for the 2020-21 season. The options could be limited but there are some players the Cavs could shoot for.

So, let’s talk about Kris Dunn.

The 2019-20 Chicago Bulls were a tire fire in almost every way imaginable other than whenever Dunn played defense. Seriously - Dunn was so good he would’ve been a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, joining Drummond, if he played more than 1,269 minutes this season. Sure, Dunn benefited from Chicago’s aggressive defensive scheme, but the numbers he put up were superb. He stole the ball on 3.8 percent of opponent possessions, the highest mark in the NBA in half a decade. The Bulls also gave up 6.8 points per 100 fewer with him on the court, forced more turnovers, and actually fouled less as a team, by 2.6 percent, according to Cleaning the Glass.

With how talented Dunn is defensively, it seems like the Bulls will do whatever it takes to lock him up long term. His future in Chicago is actually up in the air. Dunn’s rookie contract is now expired, but Chicago is able to make a qualifying offer of $7.1 million which would turn him into an restricted free agent. The offseason prior to this, the Bulls added Coby White and Tomas Satoransky to their roster, perhaps showing a lack of faith in Dunn’s ability as a lead guard. This led to a decrease in minutes and overall touches, and in turn, Dunn’s per-game numbers dropped in points (7.3), assists (3.4), and rebounds (3.6). His assist percentage also tanked with it going from 30.4 percent to 19.4 percent. At 26 years old, there are a lot of questions of who Dunn is offensively. And with him already struggling to find minutes in Chicago, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both parties mutually agree to split.

If that were to happen, Cleveland general manager Koby Altman and his staff need to try and sign Dunn to the full mid-level exception immediately. Sure, Dunn isn’t great offensively after four years in the league but he isn’t a trainwreck by any means. Thankfully, Sexton and Garland can more than produce enough offensively to cover for Dunn. What Dunn can do instead is to help cover for the Sexton-Garland tandem’s defensive woes. He could plug in alongside either of them, and could create some fun roster versatility if Cleveland were to add either Okoro or Vassell in the draft.

If the Cavs aren’t able to sign Dunn, especially if Chicago’s new regime ends up learning how valuable he is defensively, there are a few other options for them. Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr., a versatile defender that can disrupt passes and close out shooters, is an unrestricted free agent that the Cavs are interested in, per league sources. If not Jones, players like Justin Holiday and Kent Bazemore, both defensive specialists that can provide a veteran presence, could be available for the mid-level exception or a minimum deal respectively.

But, in all seriousness making Dunn a Cavalier should be a done deal for Cleveland. He fills so many needs for this team, but he covers the most pertinent need of all. Being able to add a plus defender on a relatively cheap deal is a steal, and a lot of teams will likely be looking to add Dunn to their roster this offseason. But, none of them can guarantee the playing time Cleveland can, and that should give them the edge during free agency.