Frank Vogel wants to get Montrezl Harrell some easier shots. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is creating 4.2% more of his own shots with the Lakers than he was during his breakout season with the Clippers, and after Vogel admitted that he and the rest of the coaching staff were focused on trying to figure out ways to get Harrell the ball more out of pick and rolls rather than asking him to go get a shot in isolation, I theorized that one solution might be playing him more alongside the team’s young standout, Talen Horton-Tucker.
The sophomore guard has developed some solid chemistry with his Klutch agency-mate and new Lakers addition, as Horton-Tucker has assisted Harrell (15 times) more than any Laker other than LeBron James (20 times) despite playing 103 fewer minutes together than Harrell has with James. So earlier this week, I asked Vogel what he thought of that pairing so far, and he had a theory on why they’ve worked so well together.
“Talen is getting the ball in a lot of different ways. He has a good mindset at the rim to be able to finish or make that late dump-off pass,” Vogel said. “He had two or three of them in the Boston game, and it’s a credit to Trezz’s finishing ability and Talen’s ability to get to the paint as well as anybody on our team.”
It was actually two — both of Horton-Tucker’s assists in that win — and he’s only increased his total since then. Of Horton-Tucker’s 366 passes this season, 59 have gone to Harrell. The only teammates he’s passed to more is James (89 times). His 15 assists to Harrell are still far more than he’s had to any other teammate, with Alex Caruso (4 times) a distant second.
But it’s actually not on offense — the end both players are mostly known for — where what I’m officially dubbing the THTrezz combo has been most effective as a pairing. Of the 24 Lakers duos to play more than 200 minutes together, Harrell and Horton-Tucker rank 12th in net rating, outscoring opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor. But their offensive rating is actually the fourth-worst among such duos, scoring just 102.7 points per 100 possessions, a worse rate than the league-worst Cleveland Cavaliers (104).
It’s actually on the other end of the floor where lineups featuring Harrell and Horton-Tucker have been incredible. They are strangling opponents to just 95.9 points per 100 possessions, nearly 10 points fewer than the Lakers’ already league-best defense.
Is that solely attributable to their presence? Unlikely. But of Lakers’ lineups to play more than 25 minutes together, THTrezz are in both of the five-man groups with the best defensive ratings: The Horton-Tucker, Harrell, James, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso lineup that is destroying worlds for the team and holding opponents to 79.8 points per 100 possessions, and a James, Harrell, Horton-Tucker, Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris group that has only allowed 81.7 points per 100 possessions in 29 minutes together.
By selectively going small, the Lakers have been able to generate 25 turnovers in around 70 minutes with those two lineups. For context, the Raptors’ defense that creates the most turnovers in the league forces opponents to cough the ball up 12.6 times per 36 minutes, meaning that the Lakers’ small lineups are creating almost exactly the same amount of giveaways from opponents as the best defense in the league in that area, allowing them to get out and run, taking advantage of their speed and athleticism on the break.
And regardless of larger lineup context, it’s just clear that Harrell and Horton-Tucker do benefit one another. Horton-Tucker’s net rating has been 7 points per 100 possessions higher with Trezz on the floor, while Harrell’s is 4.5 better alongside Horton-Tucker than it is without. There is some kind of secret sauce here, and a symbiotic relationship between the two Klutch clients. Whether it was developed in offseason, inter-agency pickup games or just the result of a natural blend of talents between a young, long athlete who loves to get into a lane and an undersized garbage man who loves to clean up the scraps, these two are working well together for the Lakers.
With Horton-Tucker looking set to be a fixture in the rotation moving forward after another strong night in the team’s win against the Nuggets on Thursday, the Lakers continuing to explore this pairing looks to be a smart move as they keep trying to find their best combinations for the postseason. Whether it’s just to get Harrell easier shots or to see if these smaller lineups can keep putting the clamps on the opposition, the THTrezz duo is worth a longer look.