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Should Shaquille Harrison render Smart, Beverley unnecessary?

NBA: Summer League-San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

To be a good fit, any point guard playing next to Devin Booker should be able to play strong defense, make the occasional point guard-y play and generally NOT be a ball hog.

Let’s list his point guards of 2017-18 in descending order of awfulness, in terms of their plus/minus when playing next to Devin Booker.

For reference, Devin Booker

  • With Elfrid Payton, a whopping -99 in only 274 minutes and net rating of -16.3 points per 100 possessions (which is roughly the equivalent of a single NBA game)
  • With Eric Bledsoe, -51 in 118 minutes with a -31.2 net rating per 100 possessions
  • With Tyler Ulis: -108 points in 684 minutes, net rating of -8.9 points per 100 possessions
  • With Mike James: -30 in 343 minutes, net rating of -3.4 points per 100 possessions

In shorter minutes, Booker did post better numbers with a couple of his point guards last year.

  • With Isaiah Canaan, they were a +8 in 144 minutes, but they had a net rating of -2.9 per 100 possessions together.
  • and with Shaquille Harrison, they were a +7 in 71 minutes and had a net rating of -0.4 per 100 possessions

His play with Canaan actually represented the Suns’ best stretch of basketball last season in December, after Canaan replaced Mike James. Unfortunately, Canaan’s leg split in a tussle under the basket and we’ll never know if Canaan’s 36% shooting would have caught up to him and Booker and the rest of the Suns.

Booker did get some playing time with Shaq Harrison last spring after Elfrid Payton lost favor and before Booker went down for the last month due to injury and tank-mode, and the results were... not awful.

Is it possible that a good point guard next to Booker is a defensive-oriented guard who can make the occasional offensive play?

Payton, Ulis, Bledsoe (in three games) and James were all quite awful defensively in their own ways, while Canaan and Harrison were praised for their efforts in that area.

Hence, the desire for the Suns to acquire a starting caliber version of Harrison or Canaan.

The names most often floated this summer are Marcus Smart, with a career 36% shooting mark, and Patrick Beverley, who is coming off a severe knee injury.

Both are defensive dynamos while being iffy offensively.

Just for grins, let’s compare the three players’ stats — Smart, Beverley and Harrison.

For sure, on raw stats, Beverly and Smart outshine Harrison by a mile.

But when you compare per-36 numbers, they aren’t that far off.

And somehow Shaq posted an even-steven net rating while the Suns were losing nearly every game and actively tanking throughout his whole tenure with the big club.

Look, I’ve never been a fan of extrapolating small minutes to a per-36 number and assume no degradation.

But after watching Shaq in summer league, and hearing his teammates talk about him in reverent terms, I think he deserves a shot at least at backup point guard next season while Elie Okobo develops.

“He’s strooooonnnng,” rookie center Deandre Ayton said of Harrison. “He just takes the ball out of guys’ hands.”

Shaq’s per-36 numbers last season compare favorably to his showing in Summer League.

  • per-36 in 2017-18 (23 games, 384 minutes): 14.2 points on 47% shooting, 5.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.4 steals
  • in 27.5 minutes per game in 2018 Summer League (5 games, 136 minutes): 12.2 points on 45% shooting, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.4 steals

In both cases, Harrison is known for his defense being effective and relentless — traits very much needed next to Devin Booker.

I’m not saying that Shaquille Harrison is better or even the same as Beverly or Smart. But maybe he brings the best bang for the buck?

Let’s look at money.

  • Harrison: $1.4 million for 2018-19, expiring
  • Beverley: $5 million for 2018-19, expiring
  • Smart: wanting $10-14 million per year, for 4-5 years

Recommendation

Yes, I would take Beverley, plop him into the starting lineup and have Shaq grow as a backup who might be able to take over in a year when Beverly is a free agent.

But could the Suns acquire Beverley? It would have to be by release/sign or by trade.

Beverley is currently playing for the Los Angeles Clippers and they really like him, but they just drafted two on-ball guards so maybe he’s available? The Suns don’t have any cap room left to absorb the contract, so they would have to trade at least $2.5 million to the Clippers for CBA/cap purposes. Troy Daniels makes $3.25 million, Marquese Chriss about the same. Reed and Harrison together make about $3 million.

The Suns could do it if the Clippers play along.

But short of acquiring Beverley, I’d just keep Harrison over Smart.

The Suns have to decide on Harrison’s minimum-salary contract by August 1.

My money is on the Suns guaranteeing that contract and keeping Harrison for the 2018-19 season.