Lou Williams is the back-to-back reigning Sixth Man of the Year, the all-time leading scorer off the bench in NBA history, and he even named his son Syx last year. And yet Williams was the first to say that Montrezl Harrell was the deserving winner of this year’s Sixth Man trophy, unless the two Clippers could somehow share the award together.
The voters agreed, and Harrell was named the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year, the first such honor of his career, per a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic. This is the first time a big man has won the award since 2011.
Harrell averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds this season in 27.8 minutes per game, all career-highs. He also improved his free-throw percentage to a career-best 65.8%. Harrell was arguably the most consistent Clipper as he played in 63 games (second to only Ivica Zubac) and for 1749 minutes (eight minutes less than Lou Williams) before the restart, which is when the award was voted on.
It’s surreal to think about the ride Harrell has been on since he arrived in Los Angeles in the Chris Paul trade in 2017. Back then, the Clippers had so many new players arriving from Houston that Doc Rivers briefly considered not even inviting Harrell to camp.
“It wasn’t a long discussion to be honest, and it wasn’t that close, but we actually discussed it, you know what about Montrezl? Do we want to bring Trez to camp?” Rivers said back in November. “Well, he does play hard, and he does have a lot of energy, so let’s check him out and see. And I would say it took us about four days in camp to know that we had gotten lucky, that he was far more than just an energy player, that he could score and he could do things. Luck happens. It’s good when it does, on your side.”
Even though the Clippers kept Harrell, they tried other players like Willie Reed at backup center before realizing Harrell was clearly the best option. Harrell never settled after cracking the lineup; he just gets better and better each season. He worked out in the summers in Atlanta with Williams as they developed a formidable chemistry, and now Harrell has emerged as a productive player in his own right, not just as the roll man with Williams.
This season, as defenses honed in on the Williams/Harrell pick-and-roll, Harrell spent more time in isolations and post-ups, and he improved his efficiency in both play types. He ranked in the 84th percentile in isolations and 72nd percentile in post-ups, showing his ability to score without a playmaker feeding him the ball.
Harrell also improved his defense this season to a career-best 105.8 defensive rating, even better than LA’s team defensive rating of 106.6. It wasn’t just that Harrell was on the floor with other good defenders; He never plays with Zubac, and even when Kawhi Leonard was off the floor, Harrell’s defensive rating was still 106.5. Harrell used his mobility to his advantage to defend on the perimeter, and though he’s limited as a shot-blocker due to his height, he tied for second in the league with 30 drawn charges, per PBP Stats.
If Pat Beverley is the heart of the starting lineup, Harrell fills that same energy role in the second unit. He changes the complexion of the game when he comes in for the Clippers off the bench. That’s the mark of a great sixth man, and that’s what Harrell was this season. He is the deserving winner of Sixth Man of the Year.