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Los Angeles Lakers

How much better does Montrezl Harrell actually make the Los Angeles Lakers?

The biggest surprise so far in free agency? That would be the Los Angeles Lakers coming to terms on a deal with Montrezl Harrell.

Not only are the Lakers reportedly getting the best centre and one of the best players available in this year's free agent class, they are getting him at a bargain. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Harrell is planning to sign a two-year, $19.0 million deal with the Lakers.

The second season will be a player option, giving Harrell an opportunity to rehab his value following a disappointing end to the 2019-20 season with the LA Clippers.

This is a fascinating addition for the Lakers on a number of levels. First and foremost, it's a big-time pickup for their second unit.

The Lakers ranked in the top half of the league in bench scoring last season, but they didn't have anyone who was capable of scoring at the level of either Harrell or Dennis Schröder, the latter of whom the Lakers acquired in a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier in the week. On the season, Schröder and Harrell finished first and second, respectively, in total points scored off the bench. (Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers in bench scoring, but he scored just over half as many points as Schröder and Harrell did). They were both incredibly efficient, with Schröder posting .471/.379/.833 shooting splits off the bench and Harrell shooting 58.1 percent from the field.

The combination of Schröder and Harrell should take a lot of pressure off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the regular season (assuming Davis re-signs with the Lakers, of course, which he is expected to do), similar to how the combination of Lou Williams and Harrell took some pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last regular season. Schröder and Harrell should form a similar one-two punch as Williams and Harrell did on the Clippers, which was one of the best pick-and-roll tandems in the league during their three years as teammates.

MORE: Schröder makes the Lakers even scarier

Schröder isn't quite as good of a pick-and-roll scorer as Williams is - the biggest difference between them being Williams is a far superior 3-point shooter off the dribble - but he still ranked around the league average in efficiency last season. With two or three shooters surrounding them, Schröder and Harrell should give the Lakers enough firepower to rest James and Davis together more than they did last season.

For what it's worth, the Lakers' most-used lineup with James and Davis on the bench last season featured Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Dwight Howard. That unit logged a total of 29 minutes together and was outscored by an average of 6.8 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers, on the other hand, had three different lineups log over 50 minutes on the season that didn't include Leonard and George. Each one of those lineups were built around Williams and Harrell, and two of them had a positive net rating.

That's still a relatively small sample size, but it would be huge if the Lakers could find a competent five-man unit that doesn't include James and Davis.

Most used non-Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Clippers lineups (2019-20)
Lineup Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Lou Williams, Jerome Robinson, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell 94 109.6 93.2 +16.4
Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell 66 94.0 108.5 -14.5
Lou Williams, Reggie Jackson, Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell 60 124.6 88.9 +35.7

As for Harrell's fit next to James and Davis, it isn't quite as clear.

Offensively, Harrell is a huge upgrade from both Howard and JaVale McGee, who made up the team's centre rotation last season. The only player in the entire league who scored more points in the paint than Harrell last season was Giannis Antetokounmpo. (Harrell actually scored more points in the paint than Howard and McGee combined in 2019-20). Harrell is one of best cutters and rollers in the NBA, and he's greatly improved as a face-up scorer out of the post over the last couple of seasons.

If teams double team James or Davis, Harrell will make them pay with well-timed cuts to the basket.

While Harrell has played with some good playmakers in his career, he's never played with a passer like James. Pick-and-rolls between the two of them will be incredibly difficult to slow down as long as they're surrounded by enough shooting.

The Lakers probably won't run much offence through him when James and Davis are on the court, but Harrell can make a play for himself when needed. That's not something they had in Howard or McGee last season.

Harrell doesn't offer any spacing as a shooter - he's made 27.8 percent of his field goal attempts from midrange and 10.0 percent from 3-point range in his career - but Davis is a good enough shooter for him to play to his strengths when they're on the court together. According to NBA.com, Davis logged 59.9 percent of his minutes last season playing next to McGee or Howard. He has plenty of experience sharing a frontcourt with a non-shooter.

Where it gets complicated is on the other end of the court. Harrell is not a bad defender - he graded out as one of the most effective rim protectors in the league last season and offers some switchability at the centre position - but he lacks the size at 6-foot-7 to defend bruising centres like Nikola Jokic, which came to a head in last season's playoffs.

The NBA's matchup data is far from perfect, but it points to Howard having much more success defending Jokic than Harrell did. Whereas Jokic scored 28 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field in the 21 minutes he was defended by Howard in the Western Conference Finals, he scored 34 points on 13-for-20 shooting in the 18 minutes he was defended by Harrell in the Western Conference Semifinals.

It didn't help Harrell in free agency that the lasting image from last season was Jokic doing things like this against him in the playoffs:

Not every team in the league has someone who can punish Harrell in the same way Jokic did, but it raises an interesting question as to who the Lakers close games with at centre this season. Do they sacrifice offence by going with McGee? Do they sacrifice some defence by going with Harrell? Or do they simply go smaller with Davis?

The Davis-at-centre lineups will still likely give the Lakers their highest ceiling on offence and defence, but Davis has always preferred playing power forward. With Howard leaving the Lakers for the Philadelphia 76ers on a one-year deal, either Davis is going to have to match up with the likes of Jokic and Joel Embiid when push comes to shove or one of Harrell and McGee will. Howard is a far more limited offensive player than Harrell at this stage of his career, but he can make life difficult for some of the best centres in the league on defence, even if it's only for a handful of minutes at a time.

If it does become a problem, the Lakers could always pursue another centre before now and the playoffs, whether it is in free agency or in a trade. Centres with Howard's defensive ability don't exactly grow on trees, but neither do centres with Harrell's scoring ability. For the price, this is a no-brainer for the Lakers.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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