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Not a lot of players go undrafted and go on to play meaningful minutes in the NBA. However, undrafted Chicago Bulls point guard Shaquille Harrison found a way to make an impact in his second season.
Harrison is a 6-foot-4 point guard. He played four years at Tulsa before going undrafted in 2016, then spent almost two seasons in the G-League before his first NBA game.
“My first NBA game, it was amazing,” Harrison told Amico Hoops. “Going into it I knew I was an NBA player.”
The journey up to that point was something that Harrison said humbled him, because he truly realized how hard it is to make a 15-man roster. After saying a prayer before the game on Feb. 23, 2018, he made his debut for the Phoenix Suns, contributing four steals and a block.
Harrison only played 23 games for the Suns but played 84 games for their G-League team.
“It was great playing there,” he said. “Unfortunately things didn’t work out there, but that’s just the NBA in general. You’re not gonna be in one place forever unless you’re like Kobe Bryant or something.”
This past season he found a more permanent home in Chicago with the Bulls, a rebuilding team with plenty of young talent. He appeared in 73 games and started 11. In under 20 minutes per game, he averaged 6.5 points and a noteworthy 1.2 steals. The important thing is Harrison found a team that gave him a chance to show what he could do.
“I think it worked because I put the work in over the summer,” he said. “I had a great coaching staff over there. They gave me a opportunity to display my talent.”
Confidence was another reason he was able to become a spark plug off the bench.
“You gotta be confident when you step out on that floor no matter what,” he said. “It’s killers out there; the NBA you can’t be scared.”
One of the lost arts in the NBA is defense, the rules have changed, teams score more than they used to and players just don’t seem to care enough on that side of the floor. In Harrison’s case, defense is every bit as important as offense.
He has excelled at that end on every team for which he has played. In four college seasons, he never averaged less than 1.7 steals and in the NBA playing limited minutes, he’s never averaged less than 1.2.
At one point, when he was in the G-League, Harrison was seeking help from his coach on how to make the NBA and was told the answer was defense. Thankfully for him, that’s always been an asset to his game.
“I’ve always had a defensive mindset because every coach I’ve literally played for has preached defense since I was a little kid.”
Playing for Chicago last season meant a lot for Harrison, and not just because he was in the NBA. His grandmother’s favorite team was the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. Harrison lived with his grandmother his whole life. She passed away two years ago.
“It would’ve been dope for her to see this in real life,” he said.
Harrison is aware what he needs to do to stick with the Bulls. After shooting just 27 percent on 3-pointers last season, he has been working on becoming better and hoping to shoot around 35 percent on threes in 2019-20.
“I think everything else opens up for me if I shoot a respectable 3-point shot,” he said.
As with most teams, there was drama involving the Bulls last year. Fred Hoiberg was fired as coach and replaced by Jim Boylen midway through the season.
Things did not seem to transition smoothly initially.
Boylen doesn’t sugarcoat things and can rub some the wrong way. But after a rocky transition period, the Bulls responded exceptionally well to Boylen and he was even given a contract extension.
“When you got a guy that is going to war for you, you going to go to war for him,” Harrison said. “We already know Jim is gonna have our back. That makes us want to have his back. How he coaches and how he practices it just translates.”
Harrison has been in touch with Boylen frequently throughout the summer. The two even spoke as recently as last week.
The Bulls are now familiar with their coach and are loaded with young promise. Some suspect they can make a run at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve got the pieces, we’ve got the players, we’ve got the talent,” Harrison said. “We’ve got the grit, we’ve got the coaching. I think we’ve got everything we need to make the playoffs.”
Harrison has spent a lot of his summer training and is currently in Los Angeles getting ready for Chicago. In addition to 3-point shooting he wants to get better at distributing the ball and making the game easier for his teammates.
“Making it easier on guys like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter,” he said. “Making it easier for them rather than having to get tough buckets every single time.”