Chicago Bulls: Shaquille Harrison could be next Royce O’Neale

One of the underrated gems deeper down the bench for the Chicago Bulls, Shaquille Harrison, could have a reference point for a future role.

There’s a number of contract decisions that the Chicago Bulls are set to decide ahead of this cycle of free agency for their younger guards on the current roster. Most of the younger players that the Bulls have up on contract years during the current season, which is on hiatus due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. One of those key guards that is up for for free agency possibly this coming offseason is the 6-foot-4 former Tulsa Golden Hurricane defensive standout combo guard Shaquille Harrison.

Look I get it, Harrison’s impending contract situation is not the sexiest one to follow for Bulls fans and he’s definitely not the most polarizing player on the current roster. He had an extraordinarily efficient 2019-20 season where he significantly raised his productiveness in an increased spotlight. Harrison improved on both ends of the floor so far this season, and that should only continue from here on out.

In 43 games played this season (10 of which he started), Harrison averaged 4.9 points per game, 2.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.4 blocks. He shot a solid 46.7 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc, and 78.0 percent from the free-throw line. That amounted to a career-best effective field goal percentage of 51.5.

Moreover, the advanced metrics further prove the point that Harrison was good in the spots that head coach Jim Boylen allowed for him to in the season so far. He registered a box plus/minus rating of 2.8, 0.6 value over replacement player rating, 116 offensive rating/105 defensive rating, .153 win shares per 48 minutes, 1.5 total win shares, 3.4 percent steal rate, 3.7 percent block rate, and 55.9 true shooting percentage.

For the first time in his career to date, between two seasons with the Bulls and one with the Phoenix Suns, Harrison has an offensive box plus/minus rating in the positive. And his defensive box plus/minus rating is sitting at a career best 2.4.

There are two cases to present here in favor of Harrison’s growth and development early in his NBA career. The first is that he should be getting more playing time in certain roles with the Bulls starting next season, if he’s re-signed this coming offseason. He played in a career-low 11.3 minutes per game in the 43 outings he played in during 2019-20 regular season.

And the second point for Harrison here is that he could be looking to have a similar progression and developmental path to that of the Utah Jazz 6-foot-4 shooting guard/forward Royce O’Neale. Both Harrison and O’Neale are former undrafted free agent signings out of schools in Texas and Oklahoma (the latter of which hails from the Baylor Bears basketball program), and they’re the same height. O’Neale and Harrison both are also 26 years old.

O’Neale played in 64 games with the Jazz in the season that is currently placed on pause. He averaged 6.3 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.4 blocks, in those 64 games played. And he shot 43.9 percent from the field, 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, and 73.5 percent from the free-throw line.

Moreover, O’Neale posted a defensive box plus/minus rating (2.1), true shooting percentage (around 58.0), and offensive rating (119), very similar to that of Harrison. The main difference in the numbers and usage between the two is the raw amount of playing time and current role.

O’Neale played in a career-high 29.1 minutes per game, and started in 55 of the 64 games so far this season. He has more than five times the amount of starts as Harrison, and three times the amount of minutes on the floor per game.

The Jazz do often use O’Neale as an effective perimeter defender that can draw a lot of turnovers and frequently matchup on talented offensive threats that are a bit more sizable than himself. Harrison might be able to do something similar if he’s able to play at the two or the three in a competent second or third unit with the Bulls.

What the new-look Bulls front office regime can learn from the Jazz’s usage of O’Neale is that Harrison can be good and efficient in spots offensively, and his shooting continues to improve. He’s not going to be an overwhelming ball dominant offensive threat, but he can still be productive on that end of the floor.

But the main usage for Harrison is that, as his game continues to grow, he’s used against some of the better offensive threat that the Bulls face night in and night out. The Bulls posted a 110.1 offensive rating when Harrison was on the floor this season, compared to a 106.1 when he was off. And they posted a 103.1 defensive rating with him on the floor, compared to higher than 111 with him off.

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The numbers do more than prove that Harrison is deserving of not only a new contract with the Bulls (albeit still a team-friendly one), but more playing time under whoever is head coach next season. He’s an efficient player who is still growing his game heading well into his mid-20’s.

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