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Fight for 15: Shaq vs. the Canaan

Two players vying for that 15th Phoenix Suns roster spot and 3rd point guard role are Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

They never took the floor together last season, and in fact were never on the Phoenix Suns’ roster at the same time.

Yet they each played at least 19 games for the Suns last season, including one start, and each had exciting stretches of play to justify being on the NBA team next year as the 3rd point guard on the depth chart, behind Brandon Knight and rookie Elie Okobo.

Both Canaan and Harrison have non-guaranteed contracts for the 2018-19 season (Shaq’s has $50,000 guaranteed, which roughly covers a training camp battle).

The Canaan

Canaan’s season lasted from December 13, 2017 to January 31, 2018. After being originally signed off the street to play for the NAZ Suns, Canaan was quickly promoted to the big club when Mike James was released and offered a level of playmaking and defensive effort the Suns had not seen enough of from Mike James and Tyler Ulis.

Canaan’s best stretch of games were his first 10, where the Suns went 6-4 with Canaan as the first point guard off the bench. Canaan averaged 10 points (36% 3P shooting) and 4.9 assists in 23 minutes per game during that stretch from December 15 to January 3, with a net plus/minus of +1.2. Remember, this is a team that went 15-57 the rest of the season, so a 6-4 stretch was basically the highlight of the season.

But things couldn’t stay quite as rosy, could they?

His next 9 games were not quite as good, putting up 8 points (30% 3P shooting) and 3 assists in 20 minutes off the bench as the Suns went 2-7, but did see Canaan pass that magical January 10 date that guaranteed his new Suns contract for the rest of the season.

That second 9-game stretch more closely mirrored Canaan’s career (8.4 points, 1.8 assists) and culminated in one of the more gruesome injuries I’ve witnessed in the NBA.

The Suns documented Canaan’s comeback from major ankle surgery, and this 2018-19 contract is a make-good, feel-good ending to that recovery.

Now Canaan finds himself as the 16th roster player on a team that can only keep 15 players for the NBA season.

The player in that 15th slot?

Another fan favorite, of course, in Shaquille Harrison.

Shaq

Harrison played 23 games for the Suns from February 23 through the end of the season on April 10, with his best stretch being over the final 7 games of the season.

In that last 7 games, Shaq averaged 10 points (50% FG, 18% 3P shooting) and 4.3 assists, giving the Suns a bit of hope he could be a game-changing defender (three different games of 4 steals) on the perimeter while also adequately running the point some day.

Here’s Shaq’s best NBA game, the last of the season: 18 points, 10 assists, 3 dunks.

He played well enough early on to earn what they call a multi-year contract — guaranteed through the rest of last season, and non-guaranteed for this upcoming season.

He shined in Summer League for the Suns at the point guard position, averaging 12.2 points (45% shooting), 6.6. assists and 4.6 rebounds. He was one of the Suns two most consistent high performers, along with Davon Reed, and did everything he could to earn that next contract.

By staying on the team past August 1, Shaq got a $50,000 guarantee for next season, with the rest of his $1.3+ million contract non-guaranteed.

Who wins — Shaq or the Canaan?

Shaq (24 years old) and Canaan (27) have the only two non-guaranteed contracts on the roster at this time, and will be fighting for that last (15th) roster spot when the season opens.

Both offer supreme hustle, bad shooting and limited true playmaking. Both are, at heart, undersized shooting guards who can’t shoot but can at least put out big effort on defense off the bench.

Either would be a good 15th man and 3rd point guard, behind Brandon Knight and rookie Elie Okobo.

It’s quite possible the loser of the Shaq/Canaan competition will take the Suns’ second available two-way contract, but you can bet they would rather just be signed by another NBA team first. The difference between a two-way ($75,000 - $280,000 with no more than 45 days on NBA roster) and full NBA contract ($1.37 million) is as wide as the Grand Canyon, but it’s better than a straight G-League contract (up to $75,000), which is way better than staying home with nothing ($0).