Three weeks ago, Shaquille Harrison was playing in the G-League for the Northern Arizona Suns. Now, he’s getting defensive assignments like Damian Lillard and Russel Westbrook on a nightly basis.
Before late February, every hardcore NBA fan would give you a pass if you didn’t know about Shaquille Harrison. Same goes for Jaylen Morris, Jarell Eddie, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and the myriad of other 10-day contract players around the league. A 10-day contract is basically the NBA’s version of an audition. They look at you in practice, then maybe, if you’re lucky, give you a chance to play in a real NBA game, score some real NBA points, and play some real NBA basketball. When your contract is up, you wait for a second 10-day to come your way. If it doesn’t, you make your way back to a G-League roster.
After Isaiah Canaan’s devastating ankle injury, the Suns were looking for a player who could differentiate himself from Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ulis. Josh Gray proved himself to be another decent distributor and okay scorer, something both Payton and (occasionally) Ulis provide. The last thing the Suns needed on their roster was another decent offensive player with no defensive spark, so Josh Gray only played out two 10-day contracts.
Let me briefly interject about Tyler Ulis and his sophomore slump. Let’s face the facts here: Tyler Ulis is (sadly) not that good. After 2017’s All-Star break, Earl Watson decided to rest Bledsoe for the rest of the season (we all know how that turned out). Tyler Ulis rose to the occasion, receiving Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors in April, and votes to make the All-Rookie team. Fast forward to now, and Ulis is a DNP in 9 of his last 10 games. His shot isn’t falling, his passes aren’t crisp, and as of now, he doesn’t seem to be a part of the future of a team so desperately looking towards the future. So, noow it’s late February, the Suns have lost Canaan to injury and Ulis to the sophomore slump. Josh Gray didn’t work. Who to turn to now, in these desperate times?
Enter Shaq Harrison, a 6’4 lefty point guard from the University of Tulsa, who performed well in his sophomore campaign with the NAZ Suns. Through five NBA games, Harrison had more steals than assists, and four or more steals in two of his first four games. He’s also the only current Suns roster member with a positive +/-. Talk about distinguishing yourself from your competition. And that, dear readers, is why 10-day contracts are important. They give a player a chance to play, and they give a team a chance to find exactly who they need on their roster.
Giving Harrison a chance to play has been nothing but beneficial for Phoenix, and for Harrison. Currently on his second 10-day contract, Shaq is drawing all kinds of attention for his defensive performance. He can pick pockets with the best of them, rebound the ball better than most NBA guards, and provide a spark just by being on the floor. Coach Jay Triano told Arizona Sports 98.7FM last week, “He changes the game with the way he defends.”
Harrison has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary few weeks for the Suns, providing clutch scoring and defense in the team’s only win in the month of February. With a line of 7pts-5reb-4stl-2ast in Memphis, Harrison buried a clutch three-pointer to put the game out of reach, on top of all the defense he played down the stretch.
The Suns have seemingly always had a reputation of putting defense last on the court. Harrison himself won’t change that. He can’t will Phoenix’s net defensive rating out of historical lows. He can’t make everyone try on defense, he can’t make everyone contest shots or stay in front of their man. He’s just a rookie (despite being 24–older than many of his teammates). But if the praise the coaching staff has given him, the attention he’s getting from Phoenix media outlets, and the admiration his teammates seem to have for him are any indication, Shaq Harrison might have a future on the Suns roster as the key energy player off the bench. With blossoming defensive stalwart Josh Jackson and Shaq Harrison coming off the bench and locking guys up, the Suns might be able to claw their way out of the bottom five in defense in 2019.
Alright, let’s recap: we have a player in his sophomore season in the G-League, with the defensive prowess of a NBA-caliber pro. The Suns have a vacancy at the backup point guard position due to injury and Tyler Ulis appearing to be bad at basketball. Shaq Harrison and the Phoenix Suns are a match made in heaven, and that’s why 10-day contracts are important. Without them, Shaquille Harrison wouldn’t be on an NBA roster, and Suns fans and coaches alike wouldn’t be in the process of falling in love with his defense. So, the next time your favorite team signs a Kyle Collinsworth, a Larry Drew II, or a DeAndre Liggins, give him a chance and it might just pay off.