NBA Trade Buzz: Should Bulls go for Harrison Barnes or Jerami Grant?

Jerami Grant

Getty Jerami Grant drives on Andrew Wiggins.

The Chicago Bulls have long been rumored as a landing spot for either Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes or Detroit’s Jerami Grant.

But if the choice is up to the Bulls, which player should they choose? Let’s break it down.


Offense

There’s no question that Barnes is a superior fit from an offensive perspective. Not only is he the better shooter between the two, he’s also far more selective with his shots than Grant.

Barnes, almost exclusively, shoots the three-pointer or shoots near the rim. Only 3.7% of his total shots come from the mid-range area, fully leaving that area to DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Grant on the other hand takes 27.5% of his shots from that area.

In Chicago, Barnes would make a seamless addition and slide right into the spot currently occupied by Javonte Green or Derrick Jones Jr, pending availability. While Green and Jones provide excellent defense and energy, they are not natural shot-makers. Defenses routinely leave them alone in the corner to help on LaVine and DeRozan.

With Barnes in the lineup, defenses are forced to pick. If they cheat off of Barnes, that’s an easy pass from LaVine or DeRozan out to the corner for an open three, where Barnes is currently knocking down 54.5% of his corner attempts, per Basketball-Reference. If defenses are nervous about Barnes’ shooting capability, they’ll be less inclined to send double-teams on LaVine and DeRozan, offering both them a chance to create in 1-on-1 situations, where both have significant advantages.

Grant, despite being longer and more nimble with the ball, is considerably more difficult to peg down offensively. He averages 20.1 points per game to Barnes’ 16.8, but it takes him 4.4 more shots to get there.

Grant is hitting 33.1% from downtown, 41.4% overall, and sports a TS% of 54.0, which pales in comparison to Barnes’ efficiency of 60.8 TS%.

Also worth noting is that Grant deliberately took the same contract from Detroit as he was offered in Denver – a much better team – to spread out his wings. By being traded to the Bulls, where he would become the fourth option offensively, it’s fair to wonder if he would even accept such a role.

With that said, Grant does offer some shot-creation that Barnes doesn’t. He is more comfortable creating off the dribble and is assisted on 60.1% of his shots, compared to Barnes’ 69.4%, which does show more creation versatility.

However, do the Bulls need another creator? They’re pretty loaded with shot-creation with LaVine, DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Coby White (though White would likely be part of a trade package). Even Nikola Vucevic takes up a fair bit of the offensive responsibility.

This begs the question: Would Grant’s superior creation ability even be used, and is he even good enough in that department to get on-ball chances if it comes at the sacrifice of the aforementioned group of Bulls players?

Probably not.

That means, from an offensive perspective, there is considerable risk in trading for Grant as it’s simply impossible to predict how he’ll fare in a lesser role and with less of a shooting ability than that of Barnes.

Of course, the counter here is that head coach Billy Donovan can implement some off-ball cutting action for Grant to lift his efficiency. While that in theory sounds like a good idea, it will crowd the paint for DeRozan, who needs to have the free throw line area clear, in order to create off the dribble.

Sure, Donovan could try staggering DeRozan and Grant, but in the playoffs when rotations shorten, every team wants its best players out there together, in order to optimize their respective abilities.

Barnes offers that immediately to Chicago’s current group. Grant does not.


Defense

On the other side of the ball, things flip, in part due to Grant’s long arms and legs. He moves more fluidly defensively than Barnes, is more of a threat to block shots and can switch onto smaller players for longer stretches if the need arises.

At 210 pounds, Grant is also more agile and changes direction almost as quickly as the player he defends. There’s more defensive upside to his presence in Chicago, particularly when paired with Ball and Alex Caruso.

Barnes is no slouch himself, but his 230-pound frame makes him more of a physical defender than one of finesse. He can shadow players just fine, and he’ll contest shots near the rim, but he’ll find himself in trouble if switched onto a shot-creating guard for a large duration of the shot clock.

It’s also worth noting that Grant’s experience as a defensive stopper in Oklahoma City and Denver has readied him for such a role. Barnes has covered many of the same players as Grant, especially during his days as a Golden State Warrior, but it was never his primary assignment to be a lock down defensive stopper.

During his stop in Dallas and now Sacramento, Barnes has been focused on advancing his offensive game, per NBC Sports, which means there simply isn’t the same focus on the other side of the ball.

In fairness, however, Grant has also spent the last year and a half with the Pistons experimenting with his offensive game, which has led to a lesser defensive focus.

Is Grant willing to return to the role he previously occupied in Oklahoma City and Denver? He has the abilities – far more than Barnes – to become a game-changing defender, but his own motivations matter a great deal. If he’s not up for such a role, his clear defensive advantage here diminishes greatly.

As for rebounding, Barnes is simply more reliable in that category, grabbing 6.1 per game in 33.6 minutes, compared to Grant’s 4.8 in 33.2 minutes.

Grant has always been underwhelming on the glass when taking into account his athleticism and reach, which doesn’t help his case. That’s of course not the be-all, end-all of Grant’s defensive influence, but it matters.

Essentially, Grant is by far the more influential defender, pending an acceptance of role. Barnes is by no means a lost cause, but the Bulls don’t make a substantial defensive upgrade by acquiring him.


Timeline

The time is now for the Bulls, with DeRozan (32), Vucevic (31) and LaVine (26) being in their primes, and Ball (24) not far behind.

At 29, Barnes is two years older than Grant, but both are ultimately on the same timeline as the rest of Chicago’s core.

Contractually, both Barnes and Grant have another year on their deals after this season, making their financial timelines the exact same. Barnes’ deal however declines in value going forward, meaning a lesser cap hit next season of over $2.6 million compared to Grant. Effectively, Barnes is cheaper during the remainder of the two contracts.

Will Grant develop more due to him being two years younger? It can’t be ruled out, but it’s also no sure thing. Grant made a huge offensive leap after arriving in Detroit, whereas Barnes has steadily improved and refined his shot profile over the years. Each got better, but in his own way.

Should the Bulls wish to extend their new acquisition, whoever it would be, it makes sense that Barnes would be willing to accept less due to him being 31 when his contract is up.


Conclusion

Regardless of who the Bulls acquire, either would upgrade the roster significantly and should catapult Chicago into a whole new tier.

However, all things considered, Barnes edges out Grant when taking into account his high offensive floor and overall efficiency. He’s flat-out the more reliable player and his polish allows him to be added to the existing group truly as a plug-and-play option.

Grant, while unquestionably a defensive upgrade, is all over the place offensively. He doesn’t offer great efficiency, isn’t the knock-down shooter the Bulls will need him to be, and he’s historically a weak rebounder, which isn’t helping his case.

Those issues could all be ironed out if the Bulls learned he was 100% willing to pivot into a more opportunistic offensive role, that saw him re-dedicate his efforts to defense. If so, he raises himself up to the same type of level as Barnes, making this theoretical choice a lot more difficult.

Given that no one knows whether Grant is willing to do that, however, that makes Barnes the clear winner and more attractive piece.

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