Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.
Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen |
Preseason expectations: There wasn’t all that much hype – if there was any – surrounding the Bulls’ signing of Harrison in late October. He joined a Bulls team stockpiled with similarly talented depth at the point guard position, including Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, Cameron Payne and Tyler Ulis. Though he had started a handful of games in Phoenix at the end of the previous season, there wasn’t much thought to him becoming a contributor.
What went right: A combination of Dunn’s knee injury and Payne’s lack of ability pushed Harrison into the rotation in early November. After playing in just three of the Bulls’ first 10 games, he was part of the rotation in the final 72 and didn’t miss a single one. His arrow began trending up when Jim Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. The defensive-minded Boylen fell in love with Harrison’s defensive prowess and endless motor; Harrison averaged 16.3 minutes under Hoiberg and 20.1 under Boylen.
Simply put, Harrison was a defensive star. He led the NBA in both steals per 36 minutes (2.1) and loose balls recovered per 36 minutes (2.1). His 3.7 deflections per 36 minutes were 4th best in the NBA and only Bruce Brown and Derrick White had a better block rate than Harrison among qualifying guards. He didn’t play nearly enough minutes to warrant consideration, but Harrison’s skill level was All-NBA Defensive Team good this season.
What went wrong: There are two ends of the floor in basketball. Harrison is a budding defensive standout and he’s also a non-contributor on the offensive end. He finished the year strong in a high-usage role with the Bulls’ top five leading scorers out, averaging a respectable 13.7 points on 45.6 percent shooting and 2.4 assists. But the reality is he simply didn’t get enough done offensively to warrant a larger role.
He made just 21 3-pointers at a 25.3 percent clip – for reference, Robin Lopez shot 23.1 percent from deep – and wasn’t a great facilitator. He played his role to a T and understood his strengths and weaknesses, with better than 75 percent of his attempts coming in the paint, but he just didn’t offer much as a fourth or fifth option. He played out of necessity this season but unless he offers more on offense, he won’t find consistent minutes on a healthy roster.
The Stat: 89-30-1,500.
Just how good was Shaq Harrison’s defense? He recorded 89 steals and blocked 30 shots in fewer than 1,500 minutes. They’re odd thresholds, but hear us out: Those defensive numbers in that few amount of minutes from a guard has only been done two other times in NBA history: Tony Allen (2011) and Dudley Bradley (1988).
2019-20 Expectations: Harrison is one of a handful of end-of-the-bench players who John Paxson and Gar Forman will have to consider bringing back next season. It’s easier to teach offense than it is defense, which probably works in Harrison’s favor – he’s got a $1.5 million team option for next season. If Boylen returns as expected, it’s clear he’d be in favor of bringing Harrison back. He’s the best defender on a team that just finished in the bottom 3 of efficiency for the second straight season.
Assuming he is back, Harrison will make his money on the defensive end. But he needs to improve his 3-point shooting. Even a jump to 30 or 31 percent would make him a far more valuable asset and someone the Bulls could use more than just situationally. Harrison was 33 of 153 (21.6%) from beyond the arc in four years at Tulsa and is 27 of 109 in two NBA seasons, so it won’t be easy. But that’s what it’s going to take for the 26-year-old to take the next step.