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LA Clippers 2017-18 Player Previews: Montrezl Harrell

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Can the big man acquired from the Rockets this summer carve out a role for himself in a crowded frontcourt rotation?

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Basic Information

Fast Facts
Name Montrezl Dashay Harrell Position PF/C
Height 6-8 Weight 236 lbs
Experience 2 seasons Contract 1 year/$1.5 million (RFA)

2016-17 Per Game Stats

MPG PTS REB AST BLK FG%
18.3 9.1 3.8 1.1 0.7 65.2%

Breakdown

Clippers fans likely are most familiar with Montrezl Harrell from his career-high 29-point outing against LA in late December of last season, which came during a six-game losing streak with both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul injured. Joining a Doc Rivers-coached team less than 12 months later, even if only through a trade and not via free agency, won’t quell the low-hanging jokes anytime soon, but Harrell is capable of being far more than a one-hit wonder.

These highlights pretty neatly encapsulate the breadth of Harrell’s offensive arsenal. He’s an adept roll man and a talented finisher with a little more touch and creativity around the rim than most other bigs in that genre (although don’t be fooled, he can still throw it down with the best of them). His 65.2% shooting from the field last season placed him 5th in the league, only behind DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, Rudy Gobert, and Lucas Nogueira — all much larger human beings than the undersized Harrell.

In Houston, Montrezl earned praise from Mike D’Antoni for being “an energy guy,” renowned for his hustle (another trait on display in the highlight video linked above). Although he struggled to stay in the Rockets’ rotation last year, stuck behind Clint Capela and Nene at center and without the range to earn any time at the 4, he made hay whenever any sun shined his way. From The Dream Shake’s Darren Yuvan:

[Harrell’s] per-36-minute stats look sparkling: 17.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks... He also had an effective 15-game stretch in December/January filling in for starting center Clint Capela, who was out with a leg fracture. During that time frame, Harrell averaged 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He also had a 29-point game and a 28-point game. He had a four-game stretch where he was in double-digit points scored every game. Other than Nene, he was the most physical front court player on the Rockets.

Did I mention he has a wingspan well over 7 feet? What can’t Montrezl do?

Well, just about everything else. If you scrolled past the per-game stats, take another look until you realize what’s wrong here. For all his length and hustle and athleticism, Harrell is a terrible rebounder, truly absymal, perhaps the worst of any player in the league who spent most of their time at center. Per-36 minutes, his 7.4 rebounds came behind James Harden and only fractions ahead of fellow Clippers Sam Dekker (7.2) and Patrick Beverley (6.9).

Harrell’s inability to clean up the glass stems directly from his undersized nature — a factor which also comes into play on the defensive end, where he leaves a lot wanting in the department of rim protection. He had the worst on-court defensive rating and defensive rebounding percentage of any player in the Rockets rotation last season.

While he has the physical tools to improve in other aspects of defense, his size will always be a limiting factor in the middle unless he’s able to extend his range past the three-point line, which would allow him to see time at power forward alongside a more traditional big man. Per Sports Illustrated, that’s something he’s already been working on, although I wouldn’t expect him to translate it to game action anytime soon:

Houston’s sophomore big man spends extra hours nearly every day trying to better his game, launching shots so he can become a consistent threat from outside, working on his footwork so he can seamlessly move between the “dunking zone” on the baseline and the corner three, and banging down low so he can become a more effective defensive rebounder.

What would that improvement look like? Harrell says he’s already comfortable shooting corner threes if called upon, but he wants to become a valued shooter from above the break as well, saying it would help the team “tremendously” if they could play five three-point threats at once. Harrell has attempted only three three-point field goals in his entire career, so moving his game to the outside would be quite a sea change.

In a lot of ways, Harrell is like a weird inside-out version of the man whose role he’s trying to replace — Marreese Speights, but a version with much better taste in scalp accoutrements.

Outlook

Odds are that Harrell will be competing mostly with Willie Reed and Brice Johnson for minutes at backup center, with him and Reed both likely to see rotation time at different points of the season. Like in Houston, there’s little chance of any time outside the 5, as Doc like D’Antoni prefers his 4s with a bit more stretch to them. Between Wes Johnson, Sam Dekker, and smallball minutes for Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin in addition to the regular center depth chart, this looks like a steep uphill climb for Harrell.

The composition of the rest of the bench may work against him too. With one or both of Milos Teodosic and Lou Williams riding the pine (plus time with Blake or Gallo if Doc finally decides to stagger), Willie Reed’s size and defense should put him in the early lead heading into training camp. It’s unfortunate because in WeJo and Dekker the Clippers have two wings strong enough at rebounding and on defense to get away with putting Montrezl in the middle.

Montrezl in the Middle Adithya