Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Montrezl Harrell.
How did he play?
The surprise acquisition of last offseason, Montrezl Harrell came into the year with mixed expectations. He was the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but joining a roster where — unlike with the Clippers — his role was not immediately clear.
The worst thing that can happen, then, for a player trying to find their role is virtually no offseason, a condensed schedule and a regular season marred by injuries. At times, Harrell looked like the difference-maker the Lakers hoped they would be getting. At other times, he flew under the radar.
Harrell wasn’t a different player across the hallway in the purple and gold this season. Per Synergy, he ranked in the 95th percentile as a roll man in the pick and roll. The problem was that he had his amount of possessions per game in the pick and roll halved this season.
Those possessions were largely replaced with cuts and dump-off passes under the basket, which rose from 13.5% of his plays with the Clippers to 23.1% with the Lakers. He still ranked in the 73rd percentile on those possessions in general, and in the 85th percentile on basket cuts and passes under the basket, specifically. In fact, across the board, Harrell was as efficient or better offensively this season. He graded out as a 96th percentile player, up from the 89th percentile last season.
Where, then, was the downside to his season?
The most noticeable part was how much fewer possessions he had this season. Despite playing six more games this season than last, he played just under 200 fewer minutes. He had almost 5.4 fewer possessions per game offensively, per Synergy. What made him so effective — and served as the team’s downfall — with the Clippers was that he was their preferred big man. With the Lakers, he was balancing those minutes with any number of other role players, along with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Not everything simply boils down to a lack of minutes, though. The same defensive shortcomings that plagued Harrell with the Clippers existed with the Lakers. Not having a healthy Davis to help cover those shortcomings also did not help either.
It’s also always telling who coaches turn to with the season on the line. In Game 6 against the Suns, Frank Vogel played Harrell just eight minutes, preferring Marc Gasol and Markieff Morris over him.
Add it all up and it’s a frustrating season of starts and stops for Harrell, leaving nearly as many questions about how he could realistically fit with this group as there were before the season started.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Harrell has a player option for the 2021-22 season worth $9.7 million. He certainly won’t get that amount annually next season, but he could get a long-term contract worth at least that amount. As noted above, he actually had a more efficient season than the year he won the Sixth Man Award, which means the market should exist for him still.
Should he be back?
The argument could be made either way for his future with the Lakers.
But Harrell might be taking the argument out of anyone’s hands. Recent comments he made on Instagram about how he views excuses for benching him shine a light on how easy it is to say you’ll commit to a reduced role, and how hard it is to actually do it.
What’s clear after this season is that some clutter in the frontcourt needs cleared out. There were too many bodies for too few minutes this season. Harrell seems like a good contender to opt in and then be shopped around to teams around the league for a suitable landing spot for both the team and himself.
For Harrell, opting in would secure him a guaranteed $9.7 million that may not be available even across multiple years on the open market. Per Spotrac, only nine teams will have cap space this season, which does put a limit on Harrell’s market.
A trade would open up options for other teams to attempt to acquire Harrell that would not be able to in free agency. It would also allow Harrell a season to prove this season was an aberration before entering unrestricted free agency next summer. It would also allow him to play in a situation more suited for him that he could flourish in and earn a bigger payday next season.
If he stays, he’s likely doing so with a better understanding of his role and the expectations for him based on his first season. If he leaves, his sometimes impactful, sometimes frustrating season will be a microcosm of the 2020-21 campaign for the Lakers as a whole.