Montrezl Harrell: Why He Joined the Lakers
Last season, new Laker Dennis Schröder led all bench players in scoring with 18.9 points per game … just ahead of the 18.6 points averaged by the only player that bested him in Sixth Man of the Year voting: Montrezl Harrell, his new pick and roll partner in Purple and Gold.
The Lakers announced the acquisition of the 26-year-old on Sunday night, as the 6’7’’, 240-pound big man decided to move down the hall from his former locker with the Clippers.
“In general, it happened pretty quickly,” said Harrell, who took a phone call from both Lakers VP of Basketball Ops and Head Coach Frank Vogel, who expressed their excitement for the possibility that he’d be interested in being a Laker. “It’s a team that wanted me, and it’s a team that was really highly on me. I’m honored and thankful for that and blessed to be here.”
When Pelinka was asked about his approach to free agency last week on a Zoom call about the Schröder trade, he talked about being aggressive.
“I think there are a handful of teams that hope to contend, and we’re not going to just sit back and not expect others to better their teams,” he explained. “We have to stay aggressive. The danger of winning is complacency, and we won’t allow that to creep in here.”
Complacency does not sound like part of Harrell’s vocabulary, nor something that creeps into his highly-intense style of play.
“When I was playing for the Clippers, I gave it everything I had every night I laced up my sneakers,” Harrell said. “Now that I’m here with the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s the same thing I’m going to do here. It’s my job. I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough, deep enough and had the talent enough to win the championship last year. Me coming into the mix, I’m just trying to do anything I can to try and help them get back to that same place. I wasn’t there last year and they won it, so I’m just trying to come in doing anything I can to help repeat.”
Harrell averaged his 18.6 points on an efficient 58.0 percent from the field, to go with 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 27.8 minutes per game last season. He often closed games at center for the Clippers, and excels at putting pressure on the rim offensively, and blitzing out to the perimeter on defense.
An unrestricted free agent, Harrell was asked why he chose the Lakers.
“I felt that it’s the right decision for me,” he replied. “I talked to my family, and this is where we decided we wanted to go. It’s as simple as that. I’m definitely going to be with a team that wanted me and with a group of guys that I feel that I’m going to gravitate well to, I’m going to build chemistry with fast, and going to try to get back into the same thing, the same feeling that they had, which this past year was a championship.”
In 318 career games (25 starts) for Houston and the Clippers, Harrell carries averages of 12.7 points on 61.4 percent field goals with 4.9 rebounds in 20.9 minutes. In fact, he’s the only NBA player with more than 1,000 points and 400 rebounds as a sub in each of the last two seasons, when he led the NBA with 28 double-doubles off the pine.
Harrell grew up in Tarboro, North Carolina, a small town of around 11,000 people that’s 100 miles east of NCAA powerhouses Duke and UNC. He opted to attend Louisville, where he helped the Cardinals to a National Championship in 2013 as a freshman, before being selected with the 32nd pick of the 2015 Draft by Houston following his junior year.
“From where I come from, just my upbringing, being able to make it out of that situation man, it’s just a fight in its own,” said Harrell. “But always being in that underdog position, always having to work and overcome, doing all the things that don’t really show up in the stat sheet every night, to still be noticed.”
Last week, we did a video about the pressure that LeBron James and Anthony Davis put on the opponent’s rim, plus how they protect L.A.’s basket. It’s easy to envision how an uber aggressive, athletic big like Harrell can eat off all that LeBron and AD create.
Harrell was asked about how his style of play fits alongside LeBron and AD.
“That’s not really a hard thing to do,” he offered. “You’re playing with two premier superstars in our league, LeBron and AD, these guys’ records speak for themselves, the names speak for themselves. When you have guys on the floor of that high caliber, I don’t feel it’s going to take that much getting used to. I don’t feel like I have to play one particular style really. Just basically want to do anything that it takes to win the game. That’s all that really matters.”
Head coach Frank Vogel had a great feel throughout the 2019-20 season about where his players best fit within the rotation, and he kept things fluid with the closing lineup depending on matchups, or who was hot that night. Harrell’s specific skillset will certainly have him playing alongside Davis in certain groups, where AD can space the floor for the rim-running Harrell on one end, and protect the rim for him on the other.
Indeed, Vogel can plug Harrell right in in as a dangerous pick-and-roll partner for LeBron or for Schröder, where he’s done a lot of his damage as a scorer in the NBA.
Regardless of fit and rotation, which will be determined eventually, the Lakers know they got a competitor who’s extremely hungry to win, and that fits right in with the team mentality.
“I play a role of whatever it takes,” Harrell concluded. “Whatever it takes to win.”
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