How Bulls’ Shaq Harrison impacts games, even with limited playing time


NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Shaq Harrison.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky | Kris Dunn | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter Jr. | Chandler Hutchison | Denzel Valentine


2019-20 Stats

4.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG | 46.7% FG, 38.1% 3P, 78% FT | 17.6% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 26

2020-21: RFA (QO: $1,744,548)

(via Spotrac)


No, he’s not 6-foot-7, but Harrison is a defensive wrecking ball, nonetheless. Or maybe a heat-seeking missile would be more apt. Shaq’s deceptively stretchy wingspan and standout athleticism make him a terror in passing lanes, and his radar for loose balls (plus, the energy to both create and chase them) is nearly unmatched. Deft hands and shifty footwork around screens have led to quite a few poke-outs and swipe-down blocks in his young NBA career.

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A bevy of advanced metrics, though derived from a tiny sample size, back up Shaq’s impact. ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus rated him third among point guards in 2019-20, one spot behind Kris Dunn and two ahead of Chris Paul. If you toggle the minutes minimum down to 479, Five Thirty Eight rates him second among point guards in defensive RAPTOR, and fifth in overall RAPTOR (don’t trust everything you read on the internet, kids). The Bulls were 11.6 points per 100 possessions better in 2019-20 with Shaq on the floor than off (10.3 points per 100 better defensively), and, of players that logged 400 or more minutes, he ranks near the top of the league in deflections per 36 minutes (4.9, 4th) and loose balls recovered per 36 (2.3, 2nd). 

Even while registering just 484 minutes over 43 games in 2019-20 (11.3 per, lowest of his career), Shaq left fingerprints all over the appearances he made. A testament to his stay-ready attitude, and status as a splendid high energy reserve (and, by all accounts, a great practice player, at that). His burst and bunnies add some fun to his transition opportunities, granted a bit of breathing room.

Areas to Improve

The flip side of the small-sample-size qualification is that it’s difficult to say definitively that Harrison’s defensive impact would translate to a larger load. Labeling him a less expensive version of the Kris Dunn archetype is more complicated than it seems. Shaq is a pest, not a stopper.

But that’s not a fault of his, more a symptom of his role. One area Harrison can go about significantly improving his value in the modern NBA is by refining his jumper — he’s a career 29.3% 3-point shooter and 29.7% from outside of five feet (449 of 715 career field goal attempts — 62.8% — have come within five feet). He made strides on that front towards the end of 2019-20. In six games leading into the pause, he canned 64.3% of his long-balls on 2.3 attempts per night, which translates to 9-for-14. Talk about a small sample. Still, it pulled his season-long mark to 38.1% and he looked increasingly comfortable rising and firing. “Zach LaVine has taught me a few pointers,” Harrison joked after a 5-for-6 night from deep against the Pacers on March 6.

Ceiling Projection

Harrison’s peskiness is undeniably noticeable and borderline admirable, but it’s unclear how much it might translate to a larger role. With a turn towards league-average jump shooting, he should continue to be a fine defensive specialist capable of hounding an opponent’s best guard or wing for spot minutes.

Will his future be in Chicago? The Bulls find themselves with a glut of energy guards in him, Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono. Only Arch is under contract for next season. It’s probably a bit soon to speculate too far into the new front office regime’s opinion on Shaq, but rolling with all three on the roster for much longer might not make a ton of sense, given the Bulls’ position.