New Utah Jazz guard Shaq Harrison eager to ‘fill that void’ as team’s perimeter defense ace

(Photo courtesy of Utah Jazz) Guard Shaquille Harrison participates in a Utah Jazz practice on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The defensive specialist is recovering from a broken hand, but anticipates he'll be ready to roll soon.

No one foresaw the Utah Jazz making a roster addition right before their first preseason game of the 2020-21 season, but here we are. So then, Shaquille Harrison, come on down for a lightning-round of “Meet the new guy!”

First off, is it Shaquille or just Shaq?

“I really don’t care. The majority of people call me Shaq; my mom calls me Shaquille.”

Know anything about Utah before coming here?

“A lot of Mormons — that’s all I heard.”

First impressions when you arrived?

“Honestly, when I first got here, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘This is a nice airport.’ Where I’m from, Kansas City’s airport isn’t as nice as this.”

Direct and honest. Like it. Off to a good start. Where it goes from here, of course, probably depends on what Harrison does for the Jazz on the basketball court.

At the moment, it’s not much.

The fourth-year guard has been slowed by a broken hand, suffered in a pickup game at the Mamba Sports Academy in Los Angeles during the offseason when an undetermined body part from defender James Harden of the Rockets caused Harrison’s hand to bend back awkwardly. He didn’t even realize anything was wrong initially, but when some swelling subsequently occurred, an exam revealed “a little fracture.”

Still, he’s making progress toward a return.

“Right now I’m very close. My timetable, it isn’t for sure when I’m playing, but as of right now, I’m working out without my cast, and it’s been like that for three days now,” Harrison said. “My hand feels good — no pain in it. I’m just taking it slow and making sure we do it the proper way.”

Harrison’s injury was actually news to new teammate Joe Ingles, who knew nothing of it based on their admittedly limited first practice together Friday.

“I didn’t know he had a broken hand!” Ingles said with a laugh. “He looked fine today.”

They’ll be hoping for better than fine once he’s officially ready to go.

The 6-foot-4 Harrison probably isn’t bound for a huge role with the team, but he definitely fills a niche they were previously light on — a perimeter defender capable of hounding quick, jitterbug scoring point guards.

He’d already made an impression on the Jazz to that effect from his previous stops in Phoenix and Chicago.

Minnesota Timberwolves' D'Angelo Russell, left, evades the defensive efforts of Chicago Bulls' Shaquille Harrison in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

“Donovan and I were talking about it when we signed him, and Donovan had some bad memories of [Harrison] picking [him] up,” Ingles said. “He had some clips of [Harrison] kind of terrorizing him, which is obviously — for our team — a nice addition to add another defender with his quickness.”

Coach Quin Snyder agreed that Harrison’s dogged attitude on that end of the court was apparent.

“When you watch him play, it jumps out of you that he can defend,” Snyder said. “He can defend the ball, he’s got the physicality, and when you see a guy that can bring that, I’m excited for our staff and myself to have a chance to work with him.”

Harrison said that while he hadn’t had a specific conversation with the Jazz about what his role would be, it wasn’t really that difficult for him to discern.

“My goal is to come in and fill that void that they were missing,” Harrison said. “For me, I’m gonna come in every single day and bring 110%, and I truly believe in that — every guy coming in to work hard every day. You can’t control making shots, you can’t control the ball going in, there’s gonna be some off days, but you can come in and play hard every single day and that takes care of itself.”

Of course, he has the hand recovery and the lateness of his arrival to the team working against him for now. This season was already bound to be tough for newcomers, given the short run-up to the season and the lack of customary organized team activities ahead of training camp.

Harrison not signing with Utah until Thursday, when the team opens its three-game preseason slate against Phoenix on Saturday, won’t help matters. But the team will do what it can to get him up to speed — even if it’s not quite at a lightning-round pace.

“When are you coming into it, there’s terms and the language and obviously the style of play, and coach Q that you’ve just got to get used to. … Everything is different for him right now. We’ll help him along as much as we can,” Ingles said. “He was sitting there today like a deer in headlights trying to figure out what the play calls were and all those things, but he’s a smart enough kid — he’ll figure it out pretty quickly.”