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Clippers 2018-2019 Exit Interviews: Montrezl Harrell

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Montrezl Harrell broke out in a big way, helping to form the most devastating bench-scoring duo in NBA history while staking a legitimate claim to Most Improved Player.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Key Information

Name: Montrezl Harrell

Years in NBA: 4

Position: Power Forward/Center

Key Stats: In 82 games (5 starts), Harrell averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game on 61.5% shooting from the field and 64.3% from the free throw line in 26.3 minutes per game.

2018-2019 Salary: $6,000,000

Future Contract Status: Harrell has one year left on the 2 year/$12,000,000 deal that he signed last offseason.

Summary

I’ll start this article with a disclaimer that it will be chock-full of cliches. My apologies. They are hard to avoid when Montrezl Harrell is the poster child for the undersized, once-overlooked big who succeeds given his unrelenting style of play. If there was an NBA cliche dictionary I’d submit his highlight reel right alongside Patrick Beverley’s for the “high-energy,” “high-motor,” and “wants it more” entries. He and Lou Williams formed the league’s most terrifying bench tandem, regularly carving up opposing defenses and leading the bench to 53.2 points a game (the two of them accounting for 36.6 combined), the highest output of the entire NBA in the last twenty years. It’s not often that two of a team’s best players come off the bench, but both men accepted their roles without hesitation, and if not for a truly exceptional offensive season from Williams, Harrell would be firmly entrenched in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.

Harrell’s breakout season culminated in an outstanding playoff series against those pesky Golden State Warriors. In the Clippers’ two victories (both on the road), he scored a combined 49 points on 20-of-23 shooting, as the Dubs clearly had no answer to the lethal Lou-Trez pick and roll combo. In the series, Montrezl not only showed off his propensity for decimating defenders in the paint, but his improved passing ability and defensive impact as well. After their 31-point comeback in game two, coach Doc Rivers (lovingly) referred to the team as “roaches.” Harrell embodies that inexorable quality that Doc so evocatively captured as much as any other player in that locker room. To his credit, Pat Bev might be tough to unseat when it comes to the title of “heart and soul” of the Clippers, but Trez proved this season that he isn’t far behind.

Strengths

The strength that Harrell demonstrated time and time again this season was his ability to finish around the rim. He ended the year shooting 63.8% from within 10 feet, and his 61.7 effective field goal percentage placed him tenth league-wide among qualified players. Though his quick feet make him a problem for lumbering bigs who he can take off the dribble, his soft hands and his combination of strength and touch make him a nearly unstoppable force as a roll-man. Montrezl certainly doesn’t lack athleticism in the traditional sense, but arguably his best skill is his ability to gather in traffic and then patiently wait for defenders to get up in the air or off-balance before he explodes to the rim (check out how he waits for Andre Iguodala, the help defender, to fly by without exposing the ball below). Whether it’s an interior feed from a guard into a crowded key or a contested offensive rebound, Trez routinely finds crafty ways to throw down dunks that seem like they should be impossible for someone standing at just 6-foot-8.

Despite his height, Montrezl’s ability to affect shots gave the Clippers’ defensive unit a much needed presence in the paint. His rim protection numbers may not jump off the page at 1.3 blocks per game, but keep in mind that was in just 26 minutes per night. He has great instincts off the ball (as evidenced below as he senses Pat sliding over to help on the driving Kevin Durant and falls back to meet Kevon Looney at the rim) and an impressive leaping ability that allows him to challenge larger players. That said, his defense is not without its limitations. He sometimes gets jump-happy, taking himself out of plays and defensive rebounding opportunities by over-aggressively pursuing a block. Further, his size will always be a disadvantage when dealing with more physically imposing post players, but Harrell’s willingness to compete regardless makes him one of the Clippers’ most important defensive players.

Finally, it’s said that the best ability is availability, and though it may seem reductive, Harrell’s ability to stay on the court despite his bruising approach was critical to the Clippers’ success this season. An injury would have left the lineup with a gaping hole in the frontcourt that the team simply had no ability to fill. His presence for all 82 games of the regular season and six games (that’s right, six!) of the playoffs helped weather an underwhelming season from Marcin Gortat and an uneven, yet promising, Clippers debut for young big Ivica Zubac.

Weaknesses

It feels a touch ungrateful to nitpick what was such a stellar season, but seeing as this template requires it, I’ll oblige. Harrell’s main weakness in his game is his free throw shooting. He started the year on a hot streak after hovering just above 60% in his last two seasons, but ultimately succumbed to inconsistency and averaged 64.3% from the charity stripe on 5 attempts per game. It’s encouraging that his percentage is trending upwards, but for an undersized big who plays so physically and sees consistent trips to the free throw line, his game would be most improved by a significant leap rather than an incremental climb.

Let’s call this next one an “area for growth” as I don’t feel entirely comfortable designating it a weakness, but Montrezl also stands to improve his ability to extend his range beyond the paint. We saw flashes of his willingness to shoot from the mid-range as the season progressed and though the numbers show it to be an inefficient shot for him at present as he shot 27.8% in pull-up situations (on only about one attempt per game), he could further utilize his quick first step if defenses are forced to respect his ability to shoot the ball, even if just from 12 to 14 feet. His form isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s relatively fluid and repeatable.

For a player who has improved as much as Trez has in just four years in the league, the question is not whether or not he will continue to improve in both areas. Rather, it’s whether he’ll be able to improve enough to more reliably knock down freebies and further unlock the rest of his offensive repertoire with the threat of a jump shot.

Overall Season Grade: A

From a supposed throw-in piece of the Chris Paul sign-and-trade two years ago to a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player, Montrezl exceeded virtually all expectations for the Clippers this season. He served as an excellent pick-and-roll finisher, the squad’s most versatile rim protector, and reliably provided overwhelming energy off the bench that allowed the Clippers’ bench to hold leads and spurred several memorable, and improbable, comebacks. Lawrence Frank and associates owe this man an Edible Arrangement (and probably a more lucrative deal after next season) for helping to propel forward the well-earned narrative that this Clippers front office has become one of the sharpest in the league.

Future With Clippers

Under contract with the Clippers for one more season (barring a blockbuster trade that I don’t see on the horizon), Harrell will surely be a significant factor in pitches to any number of free agents the team figures to pursue. Assuming that the Clippers match offers for restricted free agent Ivica Zubac and/or sign a veteran big man in the offseason, Montrezl will stay in his bench role while again playing the most minutes (and having the greatest impact) of the Clippers’ rotation of big men. After showing out in extended playoff minutes, and with his running mate, Lou Williams, also under a similarly friendly contract for next year, there is no reason to believe that Trez will do anything other than continue his steady ascent.