As the Brooklyn Nets continue to assemble a roster that will contend for a title, they would be wise to consider Shaquille Harrison.
After struggling to find a spot in the rotation for the Utah Jazz, the 27-year-old wing was cut on Feb. 24 before his contract-guarantee date. While he is not someone who was playing a lot of minutes earlier this season, his skills as a defensive disruptor make him an ideal fit for a championship hopeful.
Since trading for James Harden, Brookyln’s defensive rating (117.6) ranks second-worst in the Eastern Conference. That’s why Harrison, a player known for his defensive versatility, would make a lot of sense for the Nets.
While he is 6-foot-4, he can guard one-through-three with ease and is known to hold his own against the opponent’s highest-usage player. His biggest skill, however, has been his ability to force turnovers both as a skilled pickpocket and a passing lane interceptor.
Last season, per Cleaning the Glass, Harrison recorded a steal percentage and block percentage that both ranked in the 99th percentile among wings. It is an incredibly rare accomplishment to be so successful on both steals and blocks.
In fact, his defensive playmaking since coming into the league is actually unparalleled. When looking at those who have logged at least 2,000 minutes since 1988-89, according to Basketball-Reference, Harrison is surprisingly the only player who currently has a steal rate above 3.0 percent while also recording a block rate above 2.0 percent.
Forcing turnovers is nothing new for Harrison, who was able to lead his collegiate conference in steals per game in both 2015 and 2016.
But he also does the dirty work, too, recovering a league-best 2.0 loose balls per 36 minutes (minimum: 800 minutes) in 2018-19. He then recovered 2.3 loose balls per 36 in 2019-20, an NBA-best (minimum: 450 minutes) as well. Harrison also caused 4.9 deflections per 36 in 2019-20, which ranked as the league’s third-best among those with the same aforementioned qualifications.
This is part of why the Bulls recorded a defensive rating of 102.5 when Harrison was on the floor but their numbers were much worse (111.5) when he was off, via PBP Stats. Similarly, in each of his first three professional seasons, his team has forced turnovers more often in the minutes with him on than in when he hasn’t.
Shaq Harrison, who was cut today by Utah, is the kind of guy that I think the Nets should be giving a look going forward. His lack of offense would be less of an issue there than it just about anywhere else, and he could make a real impact for them defensively.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 24, 2021
Harrison, however, is not the same player on offense that he is on defense. But as noted by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, that would hardly be as much of a concern on the Nets.
Brooklyn’s offensive rating (120.5) since trading for Harden would qualify as the best of all-time if the season ended today. Harrison fits in as a low-usage player on offense who can play alongside stars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving without needing the ball in his hands.
Generally speaking, the biggest shortcoming for Harrison has been his effectiveness as a floor spacer due to a lack of a strong jump shot. Harrison, who averaged 1.2 attempts per game from beyond the arc during his college career, shot just 21.6 percent on three-pointers while at Tulsa.
He was not a particularly good shooter during his first two NBA seasons, either. But by last year, Harrison finished the season at 38.1 percent from long distance. That is better than the league average mark (35.8 percent) in 2019-20.
The Nets wouldn’t need Harrison to be the next Joe Harris when shooting from three-point range. But if he can at least be league average, he can be a useful player for the organization.
Even if he does not immediately fill a role in their rotation, this is a long season that has been marred with unexpected absences due to health and safety protocols. Irving has missed extended time and injuries could plague any team on any given night.
If the Nets signed Harrison, they would immediately have someone who could hold their own on offense while also providing a major defensive uptick for a team struggling to find a defensive identity.