In watching nearly all of the LA Clippers’ games this season, there are two constants. One is seeing Lou Williams get the ultimate green light, and more often than not, being the hero the Clippers have needed all season. The second is that his bench “Robin”, Montrezl Harrell, will eat opposing teams alive in the pick-and-roll, bury opposing teams with dunk after dunk, out-sweat, grind and hustle everyone on your team, and showcase a dizzying array of baby hooks, rim attacks and post moves that will have fans wondering who this 25-year-old, four-year veteran is.
Nowhere was this more apparent than Monday’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks — when Harrell set a new career high with 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting, adding five rebounds and five assists in only 29 minutes. Harrell was seemingly everywhere on the court and the Mavericks literally had no answer — throwing Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, Salah Mejri, and even a bit of Dirk Nowitzki at him to no avail. He dunked, shot, dribbled past, hoodwinked and bamboozled the competition to secure a nine-point victory, 121-112. With this game in tow, Harrell is currently averaging career highs in points (16.3), rebounds (6.5), assists (1.9), steals (0.9) and blocks (1.4).
We all know that Montrezl Harrell is no longer the Clippers’ (and maybe the NBA’s) best kept secret. No longer is he the only player in the league to average double-digit points in only 17 minutes of play, as he did in 2017-18. No longer is he the guy who you watch and say, “Wait who is that?!” He’s no longer, “oh he’s that guy from Louisville.” Harrell has become one of the better bigs in the NBA. In a league where being 6’8” now means you’re a wing who needs to develop an outside game, Trez bucks standards, and with a 7’4” wingspan and enough moves in the paint to make you dizzy, has opposing teams shaking their heads and wondering what’s next.
It’s been said time and time again, both here on Clips Nation and in the surprising amount of national press he’s been getting – people are running out of nice things to say about Harrell because he is doing nice things on the court so frequently. This while being completely undersized at the center position, and being out-inched every night. However, it’s nearly impossible to find him being out-hustled or out-energized when on the floor. Harrell has quickly become a Clipper fan favorite, and one of the most underpaid players in the league. This will change in the 2020 offseason (signed a two-year, $12 million deal this past summer) but for fans of this tough, misfit Clippers squad, Harrell exemplifies their scrappy ways and underdog approach.
Harrell might be a victim of the time in which he plays in the NBA. In 2019, All-Star level players need to go inside-out, defend multiple positions, knock down a three, handle the ball, know how to speak French, have a cameo on a Netflix series, and raise sheep. Back before all of this variety, a more traditional back-down, solid rebounding power forward was essential to a winning squad. It also helped if they were athletic (a la Shawn Kemp). Heck, even four-time All-Star Paul Millsap (who’s also listed at 6’8”) is a good comparison for Trez if we’re talking new-age NBA. An undersized PF/Center whose range has never been great, but does the dirty work, has touch around the rim, and can rebound well. If he’s playing in the NBA before 2013-ish, Harrell would be in All-Star consideration.
If we’re talking about other comparisons, as a boxing fan, Harrell reminds me of Mike Tyson in some ways (on the court). Tyson was an undersized heavyweight in an era where length and height played big factors in boxing success. At 5’10”, Tyson was shorter than pretty much every heavyweight opponent he faced. Guys like Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, Larry Holmes, and Michael Spinks towered over Tyson by four-plus inches, yet Tyson used brute strength, incredible hand-speed, sly athleticism, a deft ability to get “within” an opponent and eliminate space and reach, and smarts to avoid big hits.
Trez is only 6’8” and going up against trees every night, but he is able to use his strength and body to get into opponents to create and-ones, where he ranks second in the league at 52 on the season. He also uses a litany of finesse post moves, subtle quickness, and good footwork to maneuver around his competition and get open paint shots where many can’t. He also has incredible hands (rarely do we see him dropping passes) and the ability to block bigger competition by timing jumps well. For every mismatch he has, Harrell has the ability, and motor, to overcome it. Just as Tyson was different, yet very successful, Harrell has the opportunity to be just as special and be just as much of an anomaly as an undersized big in today’s NBA.
The funny thing is…there’s no chance Harrell feels as though he is a victim of the times. If anything, he enjoys being underrated in people’s eyes. He enjoys playing with a chip on his shoulder and being doubted. In scrolling through his Twitter feed, Harrell takes pride in his improvement, as a man and player and in some oversights not mentioning him:
It’s ok bra lmao this what fuels me every time https://t.co/fsq811I8R8— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) February 17, 2019
great great team win, in the gym heavy tomorrow on free throws unacceptable great win fellas https://t.co/gRYYu4vU7s— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) November 26, 2018
In talking with Slam Magazine earlier this season, Harrell spoke to this underdog mentality and his ability to outwork his competition.
“I was never one of those guys who had the hype coming into the basketball game or had a big name,” he says. “Always playing with that chip on my shoulder and going about the game…being a hard worker and never letting anybody outwork me in general.”
Despite the NBA trending outward towards the three-point line, Trez has carved an important niche for himself in today’s league. He’s not a brute who just overpowers people on his way to the rim (although he totally will do that), he’s a crafty, subtly quick and efficient undersized center with incredible touch around the rim (fourth in the league in field goal percentage at 62.8 percent) and an ability to get under the skin of opponents. Sleeping on this man is dangerous for your team’s health and record. Hitch your wagon to Montrezl Harrell quickly because there’s not a lot of room left!