Bulls

Season in Review: Shaq Harrison shows his value with elite defensive production

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Shaq Harrison shows his value with elite defensive production

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to season opening loss to Hornets

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to season opening loss to Hornets

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, Dave Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 126-125 loss to the Hornets on opening night.

0:45 - Welcome to season 2 of Outsiders

2:20 - On Bulls blowing a 10 point lead w just over 6 minutes left

5:10 - On Boylen’s rotations in the 4th quarter

7:50 - On Lauri Markkanen’s performance, lack of touches down the stretch

9:40 - Viewer comment on the loss

11:05 - Viewer comment on Coby and Dunn in 2nd unit

13:00 - Viewer comment on negative reaction to LaVine- Matt gets fired up

16:10 - On Coby White and his rookie debut

18:45 - Viewer comment on White not playing down the stretch

20:40 - Viewer comment on Markkanen and all-star chances

23:20 - Our bold predictions for the upcoming season

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls' late collapse in season-opening loss is ugly on many levels

Bulls' late collapse in season-opening loss is ugly on many levels

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Zach LaVine finally knocked down a 3-pointer, his only one of Wednesday night, pushing the Bulls ahead by 10 points with  6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the season opener.

The Bulls had rallied from a sluggish start, particularly at the defensive end, to take their second 10-point lead of the final quarter. Then, the wheels fell off.

The Hornets stormed back with a 15-1 run that featured all the elements that had defined the sluggish start---poor transition defense, lack of rotations to cover open 3-point shooters, more dribbling than passing offensively.

"We need to do a better job of executing down the stretch," coach Jim Boylen said. "When the ball sticks, we’re not as good a team. I thought the ball stuck a little bit at the end there. We gotta get good shots."

Consider this: The Bulls followed LaVine's 3-pointer with turnovers by LaVine and Coby White, who otherwise played well in his NBA debut with 17 points and seven asssists. Devonte Graham sank back-to-back 3-pointers around three point-blank misses by the Bulls, including Wendell Carter Jr.'s tip attempt of a missed driving layup by White. LaVine clanked two more 3-pointers. Otto Porter Jr. missed a 3-pointer. The Bulls inexplicably committed a shot-clock violation.

"We have to put the ball in our playmakers' hands," LaVine said. "I have to do a better job of commanding the ball, getting in pick-and-roll. Lauri had it going, put Lauri in the pick-and-roll. Spread them out. We’re playing up and down. I think we got a little bit too happy because that was our first time really getting into the game and playing like that. That’s how we want to play. At that time of the game, we can’t do that. We have to settle down. It really hurt us. We let them back into the game."

The Bulls slowed the bleeding by getting Markkanen to the line. He attempted six of his 10 free throws in the final 2 minutes, making five. But Dwayne Bacon sank the Hornets' franchise-record 23rd 3-pointer with 71 seconds remaining, which pushed their lead to four.

And then came the most curious decision of all. After Graham sank two free throws with 11.3 seconds left for a three-point lead, LaVine, with the Bulls out of timeouts, drove for a layup with 4.5 seconds left.

"I knew we were down by three. I was looking for the 3-pointer. That’s what I always look for," LaVine said. "Marvin Williams stepped out and they switched, so I knew there wasn’t that much time left so I had to get something. I knew they weren’t going to foul me at the rim, and if they did it could have been an 'and-1' opportunity. Just trying to get something and then play the foul game."

Instead, the Hornets inbounded the ball to the backcourt and killed the clock. Ballgame.

Boylen confirmed he had called two plays during the previous timeout, giving LaVine the freedom to make the decision on whether to shoot a 3-pointer or attack the rim.

"I mean we had something called, but at that time you’ve got to create," LaVine said. "I tried to go out there and make a play, got what I could. Give us a chance at the end, like I said, to play the foul game, get a steal, something like that. Just something where we’ll give ourselves a chance.’’

 Instead, the Bulls came up short.