PHOENIX SUNS

Shaq Harrison believes he belongs: With the Suns, he just might

Mar 30, 2018, 6:04 AM | Updated: 12:56 pm

Phoenix Suns guard Shaquille Harrison drives against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second hal...

Phoenix Suns guard Shaquille Harrison drives against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — After the Phoenix Suns face the Houston Rockets on Friday, five games will remain. If they lose, they will have captured one victory, against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, in the months of February and March.

The Suns and interim coach Jay Triano have treated the end of 2017-18 like an open tryout.

Who has made the most of it? It might be Shaquille Harrison, the midseason Northern Arizona Suns call-up, who can defiantly say so because he’s proven that he can help reverse one of the Suns’ biggest flaws.

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out Phoenix is well on its way to becoming the first team to finish with the worst offensive rating and defensive rating in a regular season since the league began tracking points per 100 possessions.

For a Suns team that desperately needs three-point shooting and perimeter defense to compete, the players who make next season’s roster better be able to do at least one of those things — especially at the point guard spot. Harrison, for sure, can provide the latter.

Coming off a career-high 17-point performance Wednesday against the Clippers, Harrison flashed a more dynamic game. He went 6-of-12 from the floor, scoring all of his points at the rim, while pulling down four rebounds, dishing two assists and recording four steals.

“The work I put in over the summer and over the years, that’s what I expect of myself,” he said Thursday. “I’m a defensive guy, but you know what I mean, I work hard at other things. That was a great opportunity for me. Spots opened up for me to score, so I took advantage of it.

“It’s not shocking at all. I feel like I belong here and I just do my thing.”

For the Suns, who lack one above-average perimeter defender, he just might belong long-term.

At point guard, the Suns don’t have a player under contract for next year other than Brandon Knight, who is coming off a torn ACL. But they do have control over where Tyler Ulis (team option), Elfrid Payton (restricted free agent) and Harrison (team option/non-guaranteed deal) play in 2018-19, and the team has also expressed interest in bringing back Isaiah Canaan, whose season ended with an ankle fracture.

Harrison, like Ulis and Payton, has a long way to go in refining his jumper. But his defense has stood out among the Suns’ youngsters and veterans.

“He is what we had hoped. Great defensive player who can never let down with the energy he brings,” Triano said. “If you’ve got something you can hang your hat on, make sure you hang your hat on it everyday.

“He’s got to be more consistent with his shot, decision-making as a point guard. But so many times, his energy can erase some of those deficiencies.”

Harrison has shot just 23.5 percent from deep, but he’s making up for it by hitting 45.5 percent from the field.

His sound 2.08 assist-to-turnover ratio is thanks to the third-lowest amount of turnovers on a per-minute basis among the team’s perimeter players; only Davon Reed and T.J. Warren best him.

The rookie point guard doesn’t force shots or passes, though he can go a long way in learning how to manage an offense. His major issues come in pick-and-rolls, where he’s still learning to navigate NBA defenses with the pass and at times has dribbled into trouble.

Defensively, his athleticism and energy has helped him thrive. The bouncy 6-foot-4 guard recorded three games of four or more steals in his 17 appearances, becoming the first rookie to do so since Leandro Barbosa’s first year in 2003-04.

Harrison has caused problems for opponents in an array of ways — jumping passing lanes, ripping ball handlers and even recovering against power forwards to nab post-entry passes.

In 238 total minutes after signing two 10-day contracts and minimum deal to close out the year, Harrison has a net rating of -0.1, the second best on the team behind Canaan’s 0.0 rating (if we don’t include Alan Williams’ two games).

That becomes more telling when compared to Payton, who the Suns acquired for a second-round pick at the trade deadline.

Phoenix has been outscored by 223 points with Payton on the court in 446 minutes played since the All-Star break. When he’s off the court, the Suns have been exactly even.

Meanwhile, Harrison has the best on-off data on the Suns. Phoenix has scored 25 more points than opponents in 238 minutes with the 24-year-old out of Tulsa on the court since the All-Star break. Without him, the Suns are a -248 in 578 minutes.

Harrison has a team option and is only guaranteed $50,000 of his $1.4 million deal next year if he is on the Suns at the beginning of August, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That’s significant considering his path here: After spending time fighting for his chance with the Northern Arizona Suns since going undrafted in 2016, he was technically Phoenix’s fourth G League call-up from the point guard spot alone (Mike James, Canaan and Josh Gray came before him).

And unsurprisingly, Harrison’s journey to this point never swayed how he approached his dream of making the NBA.

“A guy like Josh Gray, I’ve seen him work so hard. For him to get his opportunity, that’s great,” he said. “That gives me hope. It motivates because it’s possible. It’s hard to make the NBA. You see your boy, you see other people grinding hard just as you, you see them make it. You see the end result will end well.

“It’s going to be a huge summer for me and, you know, the rest of these couple games so I can learn and grow.”

INJURY UPDATE

– Shooting guard Devin Booker (right hand sprain) participated “lightly” on Thursday, according to Triano, and is questionable for Friday.

– Additionally, Payton (left knee tendinopathy), Warren (left knee inflammation) and Alex Len (left ankle sprain) did not practice on Thursday. Payton and Len are questionable, while Warren is ruled out.

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