Bulls

Strotman: The Bulls have something special in Shaq Harrison

Strotman: The Bulls have something special in Shaq Harrison

Oftentimes an overlooked aspect of an NBA rebuild is the supporting cast. Franchise players are critical, and creating a championship contender means finding Hall of Fame talent. Supporting cast starters come from those late Lottery to mid-first round selections, and free agency is critical to plug holes once those young players are ready to contend.

But what about the bench? What about the situational role players that can turn a game on its head at a moment’s notice? What about that tired-but-true cliché of players doing the little things?

It’s critical. It’s necessary. The Tony Allens, the Shane Battiers and the Shaun Livingstons make good teams great, and great teams elite. And what the Bulls have in small forward Shaq Harrison is the early stages of a glue guy, a role player and a defensive star who they’d be wise to hang on to.

Wednesday’s effort against the Wizards was vintage Harrison with an added bonus. Starting for the second time in as many games, Harrison finished with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting and four steals and provided more elite defense, this time on All-Star Bradley Beal. This came two nights after a four-steal performance against Devin Booker and the Suns, the team that cut him in training camp last September.

“Defensively he’s like a mad dog chasing a meat truck,” Jim Boylen said before Wednesday’s overtime win. “But he’s playing in a system now and it’s great to see what he’s doing.”

To say that Harrison has been good on the defensive end would sell him incredibly short. His on/off numbers won’t impress because he’s usually on a second unit that features players like Cris Felicio, Antonio Blakeney and Wayne Selden that hurt his numbers.

But in a league that’s increasingly focused on offensive numbers like never before – and it becoming difficult to find relevant defensive numbers – Harrison is absolutely thriving on the other end. Though he’s averaging just 18 minutes per game, Harrison is second in the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes (3.9), first in steals per 36 minutes (2.4) and his average defensive speed of 4.50 miles per hour is the fastest in the NBA.

Harrison isn’t just a really good defensive player; he’s a great one.

“Defense is 90 percent effort, 10 percent talent,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “I guess that 10 percent shows sometimes, but it’s 90 percent effort. Anybody can go out there and play hard any day and make things happen.”

Harrison is selling himself short. He was the primary cover on Beal in the second half and overtime, when Beal went 4 of 13 for 12 points. This is the same Beal who entered Wednesday’s game averaging 30.0 points on 50 percent shooting since Feb. 9. Harrison hounded him most of the second half and made life miserable for the potential All-Pro shooting guard.

“Grit, grind, fearlessness. He’s a very smart player, especially on the defensive side,” Kris Dunn said. “He’s in the right spots but at the same time you can put him on somebody and he’s going to go out there and work hard and try to make everything difficult for that person.

“He plays hard, great feet, great hands, athletic. He a dog. When you’re a dog on the defensive end that gives you a little extra.”

Perhaps Harrison’s defensive effort has given him more confidence on the offensive end. After all, two of his steals on both Monday and Wednesday led to his own fast break buckets. That’s a free 8 points on 4 of 4 shooting. But Harrison has done even more than that.

Wednesday was his best effort of the year as a scorer, filling that third option void for the Bulls who were without Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. Harrison’s 18 points were the most he’s scored since a 20-point effort in December, though that came in the infamous 56-point loss to the Celtics.

This time around Harrison did his damage in a win and it was a continued trend of efficient basketball. Prior to Jan. 29, Harrison was shooting a team-worst 50.4 percent in the restricted area and 22 percent in the paint. Since then, he’s 60 percent in the restricted area and 45.5 percent in the paint.

He’s never going to be a shooter – though he made his second triple in his last 19 games on Wednesday – so Harrison is focusing on what he does well. He’s living in the paint and moving the basketball when he can’t get to the basket.

“I’m watching film, I’m getting in before practice, I’m getting shots up and going over schemes with the coaches and trying to play at a controlled pace,” Harrison said of his improved offensive play. “And I think it’s paying off. I’m going to continue to keep working at it and get better.”

Anything Harrison provides on that end of the floor is a bonus. He’s going to make his money and stay in the NBA because of his defense. But what the Bulls have unearthed in Harrison is a keeper. The Bulls are 25th in defense this season and while Wendell Carter Jr. will improve them next season, this is still a team built around offensive talent in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr.

Harrison gives the Bulls something they desperately need: a talented defender on the wing. He’d give the Bulls a re-do on swapping David Nwaba for Jabari Parker this past offseason, he’d solidify the Bulls’ second unit with a defensive stopper and someone who could be an offense-for-defense substitution late in games.

He has a team option for next season that the Bulls will undoubtedly pick up, but they could go a step further by extending him to a longer-term deal. He’s already 25 years old, so this isn’t as if the Bulls have found a young hidden gem. But Harrison hasn’t stopped improving since he debuted in October. The defense has only gotten better, the offense has slowed down for him and he fills a need. His ceiling is capped by his offensive limitations, but there still feels like there’s a lot of potential there.

The Bulls have their frontline talent in Markkanen and LaVine, they have an excellent supporting cast with Porter, Carter and potentially Chandler Hutchison. They’ll also add a top-8 pick in June. Harrison couldn’t complement that cast of players any better. He could be the Allen, the Battier, the Livingston as the Bulls look to build a playoff contender.

“I think as much as this league is about playoffs and great players and great personalities and all those things, this league is about improvement (and) development,” Boylen said. “And seeing an undrafted guy come in and get better and grow, he’s improved his finishing, his ball handling, his decision making, his shooting.

“When you see guys improve and grow, I don’t think there’s anything better.”

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveny goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense.