Nine games of action were all former Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison saw for the Dallas Mavericks last season. The Mavericks tanked away the entire season, which gave Harrison a chance to showcase all the progress he made during his 41 games for the G League team, the Reno Bighorns (now named the Stockton Kings). Harrison averaged 18.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a G Leaguer before being called up to the pros. However, the player once known for having the coldest veins in college basketball looked like anything but that in the NBA.
At 23-years old, Harrison’s game is best defined as a sharpshooting wing who can make tough shots with a hand in his face. He didn’t get much of an opportunity to display that during his two-season run with Charlotte, where he played a total of 26 games and only 110 minutes. But for the Bighorns, that’s exactly what he was, as evidenced by his 42.5 percent mark from three on over six attempts per game. His short stint in Dallas, however, did not paint the same picture.
In nine games for the Mavericks – which included three starts and 233 total minutes – Harrison averaged 6.7 points and 2.2 rebounds while playing nearly 26 minutes per game. With the season well over for the organization, the Mavericks saw it as an opportunity to search for hidden talent that might be able to make a contribution in the future. The Mavericks were essentially holding regular season “tryouts” and Harrison, along with Johnathan Motley (Baylor), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), and Jalen Jones (Texas A&M), were invited along for the ride. Harrison didn’t even make his debut until the Mavericks 72nd game of the season. Starters such as Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Wesley Matthews were playing limited minutes (if any) in order to let the younger players get some run.
Instead of playing with the regular season rotation, Harrison was playing a high-level version of the G League. Which is something to keep in mind when evaluating his play from last season. After watching him play, the most obvious note I can make is that he did not look completely comfortable on the court. Playing with practically an entirely new team with little time to prepare was a noticeable downside in him being able to play to his abilities. The fact that those teammates were mostly compiled of other G Leaguers also plays a role in Harrison settling into a new offense and system with unfamiliar faces surrounding him.
To quickly sum it up, Harrison did not do enough for the Mavericks to prove that he’s worth another this offseason and his disappointing play at the 2018 Summer League surely didn’t help either. But there are plenty of positives to pull from the finite number of minutes he played this past season.
Harrison shot a lowly percentage of 20.9 from three during his nine games in a Dallas uniform. He attempted nearly five attempts per game, too, and took any shot he felt was open. Despite not shooting well, he was still taking shots. For Harrison, having confidence in his shot is a huge benefit, no matter how many times he misses. Hardly did he hesitate on open looks or shots with a defender in his face. Unfortunately, most of Harrison’s misses were considered “wide-open”. According to NBA.com, Harrison was 1-2 on threes that were considered “tight”, or where the defender was within 2-4 feet of him when he attempted the shot. On shots considered “open” (closest defender within 4-6 feet), he shot 1-10. As for the shots considered “wide-open”, where a defender was at least six feet away from him, he shot only 7-31, or 22.6 percent. I don’t believe it was a lack of confidence for Harrison, because he looked more than confident in every three he attempted, but having little rhythm is what impacted him the most.
In the last few games he played as the season dwindled down, he consistently showed more frustration as the ball refused to go in the basket. The open misses were clearly starting to get in his head down the stretch and there were several possessions where he would swing his head down after a miss and give up a fastbreak or get back on defense too slowly. The confidence in his shot was always there, but the confidence in his overall play appeared to diminish with every passing game.
When we take a look at the shots he did make, there is so much potential.
Harrison has one of the purest shooting forms in all of basketball. Not just the G League, but the entire NBA. It reminds me a bit of Klay Thompson’s jump shot. It’s incredibly quick, has a high release point, and he doesn’t need much from his legs to get the shot off. Being six-foot-six sure does help, too. He has the range to step back well-beyond the NBA three-point line, it’s just a matter of if he can do this consistently. He’s a career 39.8 percent shooter from deep in his G League career. We know he can knock down threes all day long, being able to execute that at the highest level is what has escaped him thus far. But I firmly believe the variables mentioned earlier, (being thrown into a new system, playing with mostly G League teammates, etc.) played a significant role towards his inability to find a rhythm with his shot. He exuded plenty of confidence in his shot, he just never looked comfortable in the game.
Harrison does do a good job of knowing where to be in spot-up situations. He has a solid understanding of how to rotate when there is a possibility for a kick out. These are tiny tools that can turn him into a spot-up specialist at the next level, but again, it comes down to making the shots when it counts. He doesn’t need much space to get off a shot so if he plants himself correctly, he needs only a couple extra inches to get off a clean look. Already knowing how to rotate and be in proper position is something a lot of shooters don’t naturally have. If he can find himself in a system where he has time to build chemistry with lead guards and decipher rotations, that’s where he would strive as an offensive threat.
He didn’t show many signs of being a threat at getting to the basket, limited to few dribble moves and a line-drive method of attack. He has a decent frame, but struggled to get to the rim and, more importantly, he struggled to finish. The shots that did go in usually weren’t shots he can reliably expect to make on a game-by-game basis.
If he’s given a mismatch against a clearly smaller and slower guard, Harrison does a good job of acknowledging that and can attack with some efficiency.
On defense, Harrison left much to be desired.
He overused the back tap method, where he would lazily (yet precisely) swipe at the ball after being beaten by a defender. He was actually rather efficient in doing so in comparison to most NBA players, but it is a poor way of going about defending on the ball. It means he’s being beaten too easily and the chance to poke the ball away last minute won’t always be there as evidenced by the play against Tyler Ulis.
What Harrison does do well on defense is always making sure his hands are active. He’s not a great rotational defender off the ball but has a sneaky ability to swipe his hands in at the perfect time and jar the ball loose enough for a transition opportunity.
The biggest negative regarding Harrison’s defense is his general unawareness. He gets caught ball watching and is constantly having to make up ground, chasing cutters all across the court and being mauled by screens in the process. This is less about a lack of comfortability within the system and more about his need to improve his overall anticipation of his opponents. Make sure to look where Harrison is at the beginning of each play in the clip below. He’s often in a favorable position but quickly loses it in the blink of an eye. He’s not aggressive enough to fight through screens or to keep penetrators from bullying him to the post. Even with a six-foot-eight wingspan, he can’t keep opposing players in front of him. His length helps him break up plays, but his lack of lateral quickness can often kill him.
There is a lot to like about Aaron Harrison. He’s the perfect size for the modern day two-guard and could one day play the three consistently if his defense improves. There aren’t many players with as pure of a shooting form as him and if he is able to make his way back into the NBA, a significant bump in his three-point percentage would skyrocket his overall stock. Another run in the G League similar to his 2017-18 season could easily earn him another 10-day contract for an NBA team, albeit, probably one near the bottom of the league standings much like Dallas was last season. But nonetheless, Harrison just needs another shot. There are some clear holes he needs to work on, but there’s no denying he has supreme confidence in his jump shot.