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2017-2018 Clippers Exit Interview: Montrezl Harrell

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Montrezl Harrell was spectacular for the Clippers this season, winning the hearts of fans and crushing the souls of opponents.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Montrezl Harrell

Age: 24

Years in NBA: 3

Key Stats: Averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 17.0 minutes per game (76 games played, 3 started). Shot 63.5% from the field and 62.6% from the free throw line (2.9 attempts).

2017-2018 Salary: $1,471,382

Future Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent

Summary:

Montrezl Harrell was not regarded as a key piece to the Chris Paul trade last June. Patrick Beverley was tabbed to be one of the Clippers’ starting guards. Lou Williams immediately took the role of sixth man. Even Sam Dekker had somewhat high expectations as a young, athletic wing. But Harrell was just a young, high-energy big man who hadn’t even been in the Rockets’ rotation much of the year. And with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the team (and Willie Reed’s addition in free agency shortly thereafter), it didn’t appear that Montrezl would be playing all that much for the Clippers either. How wrong we all were.

Montrezl started the season getting only scrap minutes behind Willie Reed, who was the firm backup center as a “poor man’s DJ”. As the team got increasingly beaten up, however, Harrell began receiving minutes alongside Reed at power forward. His superb play began to push Reed out of the rotation, and by mid-December Harrell was ensconced as the reserve center. As the season went along, Harrell got better and better, and his role increased correspondingly. With Lou Williams frequently drawn into the starting lineup and playing extended minutes, Montrezl was tasked with keeping the bench units afloat, a job he responded to with aplomb. His season probably culminated in the month of March, when his scoring per36 minutes was at a staggering 27.8, and he seemingly could not be stopped. Montrezl’s efforts were not enough to get the Clippers into the playoffs—but he became a legend along the way regardless.

Strengths:

Montrezl Harrell came into the season expected to be an energy big off the bench who could roll to the rim off pick and rolls and finish. While he did those things, and did them exceedingly well, his greatest asset this season was his unstoppable scoring from the post. When Trez got the ball within eight feet of the basket, either with his back to it or facing up, a bucket was almost sure to follow, usually from one of his patented running hook shots. He was a dominant scorer all season, and only improved as the year ran along. There were even times he flashed a little midrange jumper, a weapon that would unlock even more of his inside game if he gets more comfortable with it. For the season, Montrezl averaged 23.3 points per 36 minutes, and did so on ridiculous efficiency (3rd in the league in effective field goal percentage, 8th in true shooting percentage). As an added bonus, Harrell rarely turned the ball over, despite his high number of shot attempts and usage.

Montrezl’s energy carried over to other aspects of his game too. Despite being undersized as a center, Trez generally held his own on the boards: he clearly was nowhere near the rebounder DeAndre Jordan was, but most times that difference didn’t seem to harm the Clippers much. On defense, Harrell again made up for lack of stature (and middling defensive instincts) with his activity and effort. He dove on the floor for loose balls, ran into passing lanes, and swatted away shots, and did it all while also being the best Clipper big man at guarding shooters/smaller players out on the perimeter.

Montrezl had a spirit and vigor that was contagious, igniting both the crowd and his teammates. He quickly became a fan favorite, getting cheers and applause behind only DJ, Boban, and Lou for the latter part of the season. His one man fastbreaks were the stuff of legend, and each one was a blessing. He was just a blast to watch, perhaps the most purely fun Clipper on the court this season, and someone who could always be depended on to give his all. Montrezl was one of the best bench players in the entire NBA, and the trifecta of advanced stats (Win Shares, Box Plus Minus, Real Plus Minus, and Net Rating all had him as a strong positive), regular stats, and eye test all depict how much he contributed to the Clippers’ year. What a season.

Weaknesses:

Despite his greatness, Montrezl is not a perfect basketball player (just close). As mentioned above, his lack of size meant the Clippers gave up more offensive rebounds with him in the game and were a weaker defensive team around the basket. While Harrell is quick enough on the perimeter, he’s not a great defensive player, and was certainly a part (albeit a small one) of the Clippers’ defensive struggles over the last two months of the season. Although his recognition and awareness should continue to improve as his reps in the NBA increase, there’s nothing that can be done about the height.

On offense, Montrezl is somewhat limited outside of the post. His midrange jumper showed flashes of being effective, but he used it infrequently, partially due to a slow release on his shot. Sometimes teams would lay off him, and he couldn’t punish them for it. Trez also isn’t someone who looks to pass a whole lot. He’s not truly a black hole, but he definitely has blinders on when attacking the basket, and sometimes this led to poor shots when teammates were open on the perimeter. Again, more awareness of where teammates are on the court could do wonders.

Finally, Harrell’s tremendous output of energy meant he got tired swiftly. The effect he had on the court usually made that expense worth it. However, there were times where he ran out of gas and had to be subbed out when he had a real advantage over his opponent, which cost the Clippers. Montrezl is incredibly fit and chiseled, but conditioning can always be improved, and that along with superior pacing could enable him to play more minutes per game in the future.

Future with Clippers:

Montrezl is a restricted free agent this summer, and whether the Clippers re-sign him might largely come down to factors outside his (and even their) control. DeAndre Jordan has a player option, and if he opts out of it to go elsewhere, the Clippers would have a massive hole at center—a hole that could at least partially be filled by Trez. On the other hand, the Clippers will probably have two lottery picks in the draft, and it’s a strong possibility that one of the players chosen will be a big man. If the Clippers really like the guy they get, and think he can contribute in his rookie season, the need to bring Montrezl back diminishes.

The most likely course the Clippers will take is to discuss things with Montrezl, but not offer anything officially (unless they believe they can get him for cheap), instead letting other teams dictate the market. After all, the Clips can match any deal for Trez if they wish. While Harrell had a phenomenal season for the Clippers, there are real doubts as to whether or not he can be a starting player due to defense, rebounding, and fatigue issues, and those might be enough to scare a lot of teams away from a big offer. Hopefully, the Clippers can bring Montrezl back on a reasonable deal, and he can continue destroying opposing bench units as a Clippers’ reserve for years to come.