While free agency may be in the back of the minds of Arturas Karnisovas and new Bulls’ management at the moment, the Chicago Bulls have an important decision to make this offseason. They need to eventually decide on what to do with upcoming free-agent guards Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison.
Both are stellar defensive players who offer a combination of hustle, versatility, and consistent impact on games, however keeping both around on new contracts makes little sense for the Bulls as essentially they would have two of the same player tied up to the roster. This isn’t ideal when you consider you could use cap space in other areas of need, such as adding bench shot creation or other veterans to add balance to the roster.
Before we dive into both of these players and who the Bulls should prioritize bringing back this offseason, I’ll give a quick rundown on how their free agency situation looks for anyone unfamiliar.
Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning that he can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the team he was under contract with can retain him by matching that offer. Essentially that means if the Atlanta Hawks, for example, were to offer Dunn a contract worth $24 million over three years, the Bulls would be able to match that if they wanted to retain Dunn. They did this with Zach LaVine back in 2018 when the Sacramento Kings offered him a four-year, $78 million contract offer sheet, which the Bulls proceeded to match.
Dunn also has a qualifying offer which was recently boosted from $4.6 million to $7.1 million thanks to new NBA rules brought about by the Bulls’ shortened 65-game season. The 26-year-old initially needed to average 41 starts to hit this mark and was only at 38 when he got injured, but the updated criteria is now 36.75 starts due to the season being cut short.
A qualifying offer is designed to give a player’s current team the right of first refusal. In Dunn’s case, if the Bulls want to retain him they have to extend him to make him a restricted free agent where they will have the opportunity to match an offer sheet. Due to a lowered salary cap as a result of the suspended league, very few teams with significant cap space, and potentially very few teams interested in overpaying Dunn, he may not find any offers that draw his attention and teams likely won’t offer him anything over the qualifying offer.
This would mean he could return to the Bulls on a one-year, $7.1 million dollar qualifying offer for the 2020-21 season, assuming they don’t let him walk to another team. Dunn would then have the opportunity to build his value up and chase a bigger, lengthier contract during free agency in 2021, where almost every team will have significant cap space as they all try to make their bid for superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
As for Shaquille Harrison, his free agency situation is similar to Dunn’s. Harrison has a qualifying offer of $2,025,705 which the Bulls must submit to make him a restricted free agent. Unlike Dunn’s however, Harrison becomes a restricted free agent due to being in the league for three years, whereas Dunn is a restricted free agent due to him completing the fourth year of his rookie “scale” contract for first-round picks.
When trying to evaluate what type of deals these players could be receiving during free agency, it would be hard to see both Harrison or Dunn be offered anything significantly more than their qualifying offers. This is due to such little cash floating around and as previously mentioned, very few teams with considerable cap space.
There is a chance the front office lets one of them walk regardless, but if it comes down to the qualifying offers, it is a possibility that the Bulls would be more than fine with bringing both Harrison and Dunn back. At the same time, however, it is also quite likely that the Bulls would let one of these players walk in free agency by not matching any offer sheet if it’s over the cost or length of the qualifying offer. Either way, Dunn is going to end up being a lot more pricey than Harrison.
Now that we’ve got the details out of the way, let’s break down which one of Kris Dunn or Shaq Harrison should be the Bulls’ priority come free agency.
Talking Dunn first, in his three seasons with the team it is more than evident as to what he brings to the table. Defense. Dunn came into the league with the reputation as a strong defender and continued to build on that as he gained more experience in the league. This season really was Dunn’s best year on that end as he led the Bulls to a top-ten defense before injuries while leading the NBA in total steals and steals per game until he suffered a season-ending injury at the beginning of February against the Nets. Dunn also led the league in steal percentage by a wide margin and ranked fourth in deflections per game, some quite impressive numbers.
Dunn is extremely tenacious defensively and proved he has the quickness, length, and strength to guard both guard positions and wings. His lockdown defense this season was so good that he ranked second among guards in DRPM, and eighth in the entire league.
Picking opponent’s pockets is another huge strength with Dunn as his combination of a 6-foot-10 wingspan and aggressive hands against ball handlers help him nab a lot of steals. The Bulls’ aggressive trap pick-and-roll scheme did allow Dunn to take more gambles in passing lanes and he was reliable in that area, where he ranked in the 100th percentile in both deflections per 75 possessions and passing lane defense.
As well as being an exceptional individual defender, Dunn was infectious on the team’s defense. Previously mentioned, he anchored the Bulls to a top-ten defense pre-injury, and the Bulls held a 106.4 defensive rating with Dunn on the floor — which would rank fourth in the league. It would be extremely disrespectful to exclude Kris Dunn from a list featuring the best guard defenders, and he certainly should be considered for an All-Defensive team this season.
While Dunn does cause havoc defensively, what really holds him back from being the clear front-runner in this decision is his horrendous offense, where at times he was somewhat unplayable for the Bulls due to a lack of floor spacing and poor shot creation ability.
To be fair to Kris, in his first season with the Bulls he flashed some sort of offensive promise. He averaged a respectable 13.4 points and 6.0 assists while running the Bulls’ offense under Fred Hoiberg. However, he completely declined as a scorer, shooter, and a distributor when Jim Boylen took over in his third year.
Blaming Jim Boylen for Dunn’s offensive decline isn’t fair at all, as Dunn was never an adequate shooter, but he is yet to take the necessary step forward in his game as a three-point shooter to make him a much more valuable player. When you look at a player like Marcus Smart, he came into the league, like Dunn, as a poor shooter. Smart shot under 31% from three in his first three seasons with the Celtics but developed into a legitimate threat from range, where he now shoots around league average on extremely high volume.
Dunn, like Smart, is a solid passer but isn’t capable of running an efficient offense as a secondary ball-handler as Smart can. This is where trying to find a comparison for Dunn is hard. Saying someone like Patrick Beverley doesn’t make a lot of sense right now too, as Beverley provides impressive value shooting 38% from three with the Clippers.
Kris Dunn’s offensive struggles extend more than just the three-point line. He struggled from the mid-range, shooting 36%, and finding a home for him on offense really is an extremely difficult job for a coach. The best role for Dunn on offense is a stationary corner shooter player even though he shot 30.3% on unguarded catch-and-shoots and 27% from the corner. The key for Kris is just to be respected as a shooter so defenses don’t completely ignore him. This hurt the Bulls on a lot of occasions this season as opponents would often build a wall around guys like LaVine and force Dunn to shoot from the corners — often resulting in clanks.
One thing Dunn does have going for him is being a solid passer out of the pick-and-roll. He does have the ability to make reads that other guards can not, and he has always been regarded as a somewhat respectable passer.
Providing elite lockdown defense on one end while being absolutely nonexistent on offense really does hurt Dunn’s value entering free agency. However, one potential deciding factor on whether to pay Dunn or not is when you consider his inability to stay on the floor.
Kris has never been able to stay healthy in his NBA career. He hasn’t played over 52 games in a season with the Bulls and was on track to miss the entirety of the 2019-20 season after injuring his right knee.
A lack of durability makes the decision difficult on what a fair offer for Dunn really is, and in a league focused on two-way play, how reliable can Dunn be if given significant minutes in a playoff-type game? If Eric Bledsoe (who is a better shooter than Dunn) can’t see the floor after being exploited and forced to shoot against the Raptors in a conference finals, how would Dunn hold up in a similar situation?
Coming off his rookie deal, Kris Dunn is already 26 and will turn 27 in March, which also adds another element of risk in terms of giving him a long-term contract. Assuming Dunn is entering his prime, just how much better can he get, and can he ever develop into a reliable offensive player?
On the other hand, Shaquille Harrison offers a similar skillset while being the same age and viewed as a player set to receive a much cheaper offer.
While he doesn’t possess the defensive awareness and IQ that Dunn brings to the table, Harrison is a great guard defender in his own regard. He is easily the Bulls’ best athlete not named Zach LaVine, he’s extremely quick on his feet, and like Dunn, he’s active in passing lanes. To some extent and keep in mind a much smaller sample size, Harrison was actually a better defender than Dunn too.
He ranked in the 99th percentile league-wide in steals per 75 possessions, deflections per 75 possessions, and defensive miles covered per 75 possessions. Harrison also led the league in loose ball recovery rate, so his hustle is one thing that stands out from others as Harrison consistently gives top-notch effort.
Harrison’s heart and hustle is well and truly evident as an interior defender too, where he ranked in the 99th percentile in block rate on shot contests and was in the 85th percentile in blocks per 75 possessions.
Let’s not be fooled by the small sample either — Shaq Harrison built his reputation as a great defender last season as well when he was the Bulls’ best guard defender. Just how good of a defender last season was he, you ask? Well, he led the NBA in both steals per 36 minutes (2.1) and loose balls recovered per 36 minutes (2.1). His 3.7 deflections per 36 minutes were fourth-best in the NBA and only Derrick White and Bruce Brown had a better block rate than Harrison among guards. He didn’t play enough minutes to warrant consideration due to a bench role, but Harrison’s skill level was All-NBA Defensive Team good that season.
While Dunn ranked eighth in the league in DRPM per 100 possessions (2.62), Harrison was right behind him at ninth (2.52). Obviously, Harrison hasn’t proven he can anchor a defense like Dunn can, but he is more than capable of being a 15-20 minute guy off the bench that brings ultimate energy and lockdown defense. He rebounds really well for a guard and he can guard both guard positions and the three at a high level.
One thing that did go unnoticed about Harrison this season, however, was his much-improved offensive game. Before the season was suspended, Shaq was easily playing his best stretch of ball. He scored a career-high 25 points against the Indiana Pacers three games before the league suspension. He also shot 5 for 6 from three that game too. In the game before that, he put up 17 points on 3 for 3 from three against the Timberwolves, and in the last two games of the season averaged nine rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2 blocks.
To say Harrison is a great offensive player would be a stretch, but he definitely made huge strides with his shot in particular. He improved from a 27.0% three-point shooter on 1.2 attempts per game to a 38.1% shooter on 1.0 attempts per game. His free-throw numbers also drastically increased from 66.7% to 78.0%. Again, the sample is smaller due to Shaq not playing regular minutes until the backend of the season, however, he put forward a solid shooting effort.
Shaquille Harrison has never been regarded as a sniper from range, but when talking mechanically I’d take my chances on Harrison becoming at least a close to league average shooter on decent volume. His release is slightly quicker than Dunn’s, and his shot motion looks somewhat smoother with less arch. Harrison boasted impressive numbers on both the catch-and-shoot (38.7%) and corner three (37%) indicating improvements.
One massive plus Harrison does have in his favor is durability. He was active in almost every Bulls game this season, and the same went with last season. They say durability is the best ability, and Harrison’s ability to be ready when called upon and play at the same level every night is huge when putting a price on his next deal.
Who should the front office bring back?
That’s the tough question. Both Dunn and Harrison offer similar skillsets, however, Dunn is a better playmaker, steals guy, team defender, and finisher at the rim — whereas Harrison is a better effort player, offensive player, shooter, man defender and interior defender. We are yet to see how the new front office will operate, but what would make sense would be to offer the qualifying offer to both and see how free agency plays out.
As for Harrison, his qualifying offer is a mere $2,025,705, meaning it is basically minuscule. It seems likely a team like the Hawks could offer him a deal worth more than the qualifying offer in free agency, meaning the Bulls would have the option to match that deal.
There is also a chance that the Bulls opt to offer both the qualifying offer but let anything multi-year be off the table. The Bulls have a lot of players with chips on their shoulders entering next season, and it would make sense to give them another year to play for a bigger contract.
If a different team does choose to offer both players long-term deals, it would likely mean that Karnisovas and the front office would feel more inclined to pick one over the other rather than matching both deals.
What would I do?
In a league that now relies on two-way play especially when it comes to the playoffs, Harrison makes a little more sense for me. The Bulls would be able to save cap space and lock him up long term at a much cheaper price than they would with Dunn, and Harrison provides similar defense and better offense while being far more durable.
Ideally, I would offer Harrison a deal similar to what Ryan Arcidiacono received last summer (3 years, $9 million), and let Dunn walk if any team offers him something worth more than the qualifying offer. Anything multi-year for Dunn above the recently increased qualifying offer makes little sense for the Bulls, but trying to bring him back on the qualifying next season for a “prove it or lose it” type season would definitely make sense for both parties.