Behind the Goon Squad: Montrezl Harrell

Coming into his own as a scrappy energy player off of the bench for the LA Clippers, Montrezl Harrell has been one of the best big man reserves and an integral part of the Clippers' bench rotation, dubbed the "Goon Squad."

If I asked you which LA Clippers big man was one of the most efficient producers on the team this season, you'd probably assume that I was talking about their All-Star center DeAndre Jordan. Odds are you wouldn't expect it to be their 6'8 pogo-stick-like center Montrezl Harrell, who came to LA as part of Chris Paul trade last summer.

Despite being undersized for the center position, Harrell has carved out his own niche with the Clippers, thanks to his never-ending motor and endless hustle. Harrell's electrifying highlights off the bench often send the LA crowd into a frenzy and produce valuable momentum for the team. He has been one of the most productive bench players in the league this season, excelling in multiple categories.

Pick and Roll Prowess

According to Synergy Sports Tech, Harrell is producing 1.467 points per possession as the roll man in pick-and-roll plays. In comparison, Jordan is producing 1.233 points per possession on those plays. Additionally, the former Louisville Cardinal is finishing at a scorching rate of 75 percent on pick-and-roll plays and is also drawing fouls on 20 percent of such plays. His point per possession mark ranks sixth in the league among players who have had at least 20 possessions where they attempted a shot as the roll man.

Harrell has been sharing the floor with two outstanding floor generals this season in Clippers' starting point guard Milos Teodosic and likely Sixth Man of the Year winner Lou Williams. Both of these guards are capable and willing passers who excel at passing out of traps to the roll man on pick-and-roll plays. Teodosic, who has assisted Harrell 17 times this season, makes passes that other NBA point guard dream about attempting, and Harrell has been on the receiving end of a few of these highlight passes. In the clip below, Harrell sets a nice hard screen to free up Teodosic from his defender and immediately rolls to the rim. Teodosic recognizes that Harrell's defender has moved out of position to cut off the ball handler and leads Harrell to the rim with a bounce pass, allowing the center to throw down a monster dunk.

While Harrell has seen a good bit of time on the floor with Teodosic, the majority of his minutes have come with Lou Williams as the primary ball handler. Williams has connected with Harrell 42 times this season, nearly three times more than Teodosic. The threat of Williams shooting off of screens, combined with Harrell's ability to sneakily slip to the rim as the roll man, has made the duo a formidable force on offense.

The difficulty of defending the Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll can be seen in the clip below.

Harrell screens William's defender, who is already trailing because of another screen, and Gorgei Dieng is forced to leave his assignment to guard Williams. If Dieng doesn't step up to Williams, the guard has a wide-open three-pointer. When Dieng steps up to stop the three, Harrell cuts hard to the basket, untouched, and Lou finds him with an overhead pass that leads to an easy and uncontested dunk. 

Tremendous Transition Play

Harrell has also been one of the most efficient players in transition this year, producing 1.338 on transition shot attempts, according to Synergy. This mark ranks him 34th out of all players who have attempted at least 20 transition shots this NBA season. Similar to his numbers as the roll man in pick plays, Harrell is finishing at an outstanding rate of 68.5 percent on transition shot attempts.

His explosive athleticism, combined with elite speed for a center, allows Harrell to get out in transition and ahead of defenders. Harrell is one of the league's most valuable hustle players; he never fails to run out on a fast break opportunity, which often results in easy baskets for the big man. Additionally, the LA Clippers play a very high-paced game that puts Harrell in the position to use a variety of different ways to finish at the rim, ranging from thunderous dunks to silky smooth reverse layups.

In the clip below, Harrell uses his active hands in the passing lane to secure a steal, and then he jets out into transition with the ball. While not a ball handler, Harrell's ability to push the pace with the ball in his hands allows him to attack the defender and convert on an easy basket at the rim.

Underrated Post Game

Oddly enough, for an undersized center, Harrell has produced at an above-average rate when posting up. He's doing so on 23.3 percent of his possessions on the Clippers' second unit, producing 0.881 points per possession when posting up, according to Synergy. His points per possession with his back to the basket may pale in comparison to his transition and roll-man numbers, but Harrell is still in the 55th percentile when it comes to post-up points per possession.

Oftentimes when posting up, Harrell uses smooth and quick footwork to get around his defenders and to the rim. In the play below, Harrell coaxes his defender into preparing to take a hit from Harrell's back down in the post. However, instead of backing the defender down, Harrell catches the ball while leaning forward, to absorb the contact, and uses quick footwork to spin to the baseline and explode for the strong two-handed throw down.

Harrell also has an odd sweeping hook move, which he loves going to when he has a smaller defender on him in the post. It isn't the prettiest hook shot, and it certainly isn't a skyhook, but Harrell often uses it to get an easy basket against smaller or less-athletic defenders. While Harrell has shown the ability to make these hooks with both hands, he seems more comfortable when moving to his right, as seen in the clip below.

Dynamic Defense

Despite being tasked to guard opposing centers with height advantages, Harrell's toughness and smarts make him an above-average defender. According to Synergy, Harrell is holding opponents to just 37.7 percent shooting and 0.814 points per position, placing him in the 89th percentile among NBA defenders. 

One of Harrell's strength on defense is his quick feet. His footwork and speed allow him to switch onto guards and forwards on the perimeter without getting shredded apart like most centers would. In the clip below, Harrell gets switched onto Jeremy Lamb because of the pick, but his quick feet allow him to block the shooting guard's three-point jump shot. 

When guarding the roll man on a pick-and-roll play, Harrell is holding his assignments to just 28.9 percent shooting and 0.599 points per possession, good enough for the 91st percentile. While Harrell is a good on-ball defender, his size hurts him when it comes to rim protection, although he can still get up there for some highlight reel rejections from time to time. 

The Heavy Artillery of the Goon Squad

Coming to the 2017-2018 NBA season, Harrell was set to split time with Willie Reed as DeAndre Jordan's back up off the bench. As the season progressed, Harrell quickly won over head coach Doc Rivers and became Jordan's primary back up. Rivers' confidence in Harrell became so strong that Reed began to rack up DNPs, allowing Harrell to play all the available backup center minutes. 

With Reed now elsewhere and Boban Marjanovic as the only other center coming off of the bench for the Clippers, Harrell will continue to receive a healthy diet of minutes. Because of Marjanovic's defensive liabilities, Harrell is likely to reap the benefits of Jordan's time on the bench. At just 23 years of age, Harrell is coming into his own as an energy player off the bench. He should be one of the Clippers' priorities when his contract expires at the end of the season. 

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