A great passer is often the difference between a team being good and great.
Just as teams need players who can knock down shots and finish in today's era of pace and space, they need passers who can get the ball to these scorers in the best possible position. This year's free-agent class has a number of exceptional passers capable of making an immediate impact wherever they land.
FREE AGENCY 2020: Best shooters | Best 3-and-D players
And while we typically think of point guards as the only players capable of being such distributors, the best free-agent passers aren't exclusively lead guards.
That being said, here's a look at the top passers of the 2020 free-agent class.
Note: Brandon Ingram (Restricted), Gordon Hayward (Player Option) and DeMar DeRozan (Player Option) are not included as all signs indicate they will remain with their respective teams.
Rajon Rondo, G, Los Angeles Lakers
Status: Player Option
With a career assist average of 8.3 per game and three assist titles to his name, this game hasn't seen too many passers quite like Rondo.
While he'll be turning 35 next season, Rondo is only getting smarter and his passes are getting sharper, as we saw throughout the 2020 postseason. The Lakers probably don't capture the title this past year without Rondo, who, after averaging 5.0 assists during the regular season, upped his output to 6.6 assists over 16 playoff games, including nine games with seven or more assists.
That Rondo Vision 🧐 #BestOfLakersNets pic.twitter.com/3DUpq3i6D4- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) June 23, 2020
Rondo serving lobs underhanded 🥶- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 21, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/q1CcBQyGqi
The Lakers will make it a priority to bring Rondo back if he declines his player option for next season but he'll be a highly sought-after guard during this free agency period.
Fred VanVleet, G, Toronto Raptors
If it feels like VanVleet is popping up on most lists of free-agent superlatives, it's because he is.
Already considered one of the best shooters and 3-and-D players, VanVleet is arguably the best free agent set to truly test the market, assuming Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram remain with the Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively.
VanVleet has made great strides to each facet of his game each year, and his passing is no exception. Last season, VanVleet averaged a career-high 6.6 assists, dishing out 10 or more dimes nine times after doing so twice in the first three years of his career.
Assist of the Night: Feb. 10th- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 11, 2020
👉 Fred VanVleet of the @Raptors pic.twitter.com/GIxPCkn2WL
In averaging just 2.2 turnovers per game, VanVleet boasted a better assist to turnover ratio (2.95) than elite passers in LeBron James, Chris Paul and Rondo.
Goran Dragic, G, Miami Heat
Dragic's playmaking ability lifted the Heat to another level once he was inserted into the starting lineup ahead of the postseason and was a driving force to the team's improbable run to the NBA Finals.
Similar to Rondo, the 34-year-old Dragic's mind is only getting sharper as time goes on and he has proven to seemingly get better with time, averaging 5.1 assists to go along with 16.2 points per game last season. You can count on Dragic to make the right play each time, which is something that even assist numbers don't always reflect.
What a pass, @Goran_Dragic! #Dragic6MOY 🐉 pic.twitter.com/JujY9DfQYt- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) February 29, 2020
As we saw as he missed time during the Finals, Miami can only go but so far without Dragic's playmaking, so he could be of high priority to retain, at least for the upcoming season.
Bojan Bogdanovic, G, Sacramento Kings
Bogdanovic is one of the more intriguing free agents as his future in Sacramento is very uncertain, despite the fact that the team can match any offer he receives on the market.
Originally drafted in 2014, the 28-year-old Bogdanovic is entering his fourth NBA season and has firmly established himself as a solid scorer and playmaker in the league. He's crafty in pick-and-roll situations and averages 3.5 assists per game for his career, a figure that would likely be higher if he did not share ball-handling responsibilities with De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield.
Behind-the-back Bogdan! #NBAIndiaGames- NBA (@NBA) October 4, 2019
📺: @NBATV pic.twitter.com/rjw0AZNM3y
As it appears Sacramento will be forced to choose between one of Bogdanovic or Hield, who recently signed an extension last offseason, there is sure to be some movement. A team in need of playmaking could entrust Bogdanovic with a bigger role in that regard, one he has proven to be more than capable of taking on.
Marc Gasol, C, Toronto Raptors
While Gasol's average of 3.3 assists per game is fairly impressive for a centre, the number only begins to tell the story of his efficacy as a passer.
Since acquiring Gasol in Feb. 2019, the Raptors have enjoyed the luxury of being able to run their offence through him, with him making key passes from the top of the key and the elbow, among other places. Gasol has slowed down in many respects and will be 36 this upcoming season but his age fits the theme of the older players listed as his IQ is up there with the best of them.
Gasol sets up Lowry with the tough backdoor pass!#WholeNewGame on ESPN pic.twitter.com/pxsyyETD8G- NBA (@NBA) August 12, 2020
Big Spain knows how and when to make the right play, and his teammates are better because of it.
D.J. Augustin, G, Orlando Magic (Unrestricted) - Augustin is yet another savvy veteran who can be trusted to make the correct pass and correct play. Over the past two seasons in Orlando, the soon-to-be 33-year-old averaged 5.0 assists while posting an assist to turnover ratio of 3.21.
Matthew Dellavedova, G, Cleveland Cavaliers (Unrestricted) - Delly saw his role fluctuate throughout the 2019-20 season but right before the season came to a halt, he was inserted into the starting lineup alongside Collin Sexton, resulting in an average of 9.2 assists over five games in March. It's a small sample size but shouldn't go unnoticed.
Jordan McLaughlin, G, Minnesota Timberwolves (Restricted) - The undrafted McLaughlin is largely unknown as he spent his rookie season on a two-way deal with the Wolves. Still, he logged some impressive numbers over his 30 NBA games (two starts), including an average of 7.6 assists per 36 minutes.
Shabazz Napier, G, Washington Wizards (Unrestricted) - With John Wall returning to the lineup, there might not be much room for Napier, who averaged 3.8 assists over 20 games (10 starts) with the Wizards last season.
Kelly Olynyk, C, Miami Heat (Player Option) - Again, the assists numbers don't do Olynyk's ability as a passer much justice as he is more than capable of making the correct plays to enhance offensive flow. It's unclear whether or not Olynyk will choose to run things back in Miami or seek a longer-term deal as he is set to turn 30 this season.
Mason Plumlee, C, Denver Nuggets (Unrestricted) - It sometimes gets overlooked (because he backs up a pretty darn good passing centre), but Plumlee is a very good passing big man. When Plumlee spells Nikola Jokic, Denver is able to stick with many of its sets that rely on passes from the centre position. Plumlee's passing ability makes that possible.
Jeff Teague, G, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted) - After averaging 6.1 assists over 34 games with Minnesota to open the season, Teague was traded to where his career began, averaging 4.0 assists as Trae Young's back up with the Hawks. The 32-year-old is one of the better point guards on the free-agent market and is sure to command some interest this offseason.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.