Montrezl Harrell would make the Jazz a title contender.
- Montrezl Harrell is set to hit the free agency market in 2020
- The Utah Jazz are looking for another piece to make them a championship contender
- Why a marriage of the two might make more sense than you’d think
Seeing Donovan Mitchell score 57 points, haul in 9 rebounds, and dish out seven assists in yet another overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday was just as impressive as it was frustrating.
On one hand, Mitchell has been an absolute terror for opponents- Particularly when he’s needed the most. In the absence of second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic and all-star point guard Mike Conley, Mitchell recorded the third-most points ever in an NBA playoff game and the most since Michael Jordan in 1986.
On the other hand, the Jazz still lost. And, despite Mitchell’s heroics for the second time in two games against the Nuggets, his squad fell short once again.
Yes, Utah was without two key contributors, but that shouldn’t take away from the bigger picture. Despite elite individual performances, the Jazz have not been able to get over the playoff hump in recent years.
What Utah needs is another dynamic piece that fits well with its offense. In order to do so, the organization has to make a big-time splash in free agency and trade away some key assets to free up cap space.
Montrezl Harrell a perfect fit with Jazz
Allow me to present 2020 free agent, and budding NBA star, Montrezl Harrell.
One of the NBA’s best sixth men has become a key piece for a Clippers team that earned the second seed in the Western Conference.
Harrell will have a huge decision to make in an offseason where he is going to take a massive pay increase whether he stays in LA or moves elsewhere.
The Jazz, meanwhile, still have All-Star center Rudy Gobert locked in for another year. He is set to make $26 million in 2020-21.
So why, then, would Harrell be a good fit in Utah when Gobert has carved out a key role in the Jazz lineup.
What I’m suggesting might sound like poor management on the outset, but taking a deeper dive into what the future holds for the Utah franchise will make the picture a bit clearer.
A move to throw the kitchen sink at Montrezl Harrell could be the first step that ultimately paves the way for the Jazz to finally go from a team with a second-round ceiling to bona fide title contenders.
Step 1: Good riddance, Rudy
While he still has value, the Jazz should trade away Gobert. The soon-to-be three-time reigning defensive player of the year provides an excellent defensive addition for any team in a league where elite shot blockers are difficult to come by. Wherever he were to land, Gobert could ultimately be transformational for that squad- But in Utah, he will never help the Jazz reach its fullest potential.
Step 2: Hello, Harrell
Instead of beating a dead horse with Gobert as its second piece in the lineup, the Jazz should opt for a player like Harrell- a high-energy, freak athlete, who creates tough match-ups and could operate cohesively with what Utah already has in place.
Step 3: Utilize remaining cap space
Harrell would be far cheaper to sign than keeping Gobert. While Gobert made just over $25 million in 2020 and is slated to make $26 million next season, Harrell is making $6 million in 2020, and according to sources, will be valued at anywhere between $15-20 million a season moving forward.
So, let’s say a team like the Jazz pay Harrell the full $20 million a year. That’s still trimming $6 million, or more, off of the Jazz salary cap.
This frees up room for Utah to add a second piece either along the front-line or in the backcourt if Jordan Clarkson goes elsewhere after his short stint in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz needs to take the pressure off Mitchell on the offensive end. They can’t continue to lose ground whenever their All-Star takes a quick breather.
Next season, Utah has a well-compensated Bogdanovic and a virtually untradeable Conley weighing down just over 44 percent of its salary cap. The team opted to sign Mitchell to a fourth-year deal and obviously has pushed almost all of its chips to the center of the table, ready to make a lucrative offer to the face of the franchise.
That leaves Gobert as the loose end in this situation. The Jazz can keep their three highest-paid players in the fold next season and remain handcuffed to a lineup that is likely playoff-bound, but certainly not championship-worthy, or they can take advantage of their final year they are guaranteed to have Mitchell in the fold and swing for the fences in free agency.
Why Harrell meshes better with the Jazz
Harrell can be a guy that creates all kinds of match-up nightmares for the Jazz while freeing up things on the offensive end by spreading the floor much more effectively.
In today’s NBA, a player like Gobert is extremely valuable, but he can also be a liability at times. He is less than sure-handed on offense, lacks touch, and cannot put the ball on the floor. He presents little value on offense in a league that is predicated on up-tempo pace and high-scoring games. He clogs things up in the middle on a team that is built to spread things out.
Harrell can bring everything that Utah lacks on offense while not being too much of a drop off on defense. Harrell is a solid shot-blocker and shot-deflector, and his drop-off in height does not negatively impact him as much as one might think. With a 7’4″ wingspan, Harrell actually has a longer wingspan than the NBA average at center.
In 2020, Gobert is averaging 2.1 blocks and 0.8 steals per 36 minutes. Harrell averages 1.5 blocks and 0.8 steals per 36.
But Harrell’s impact goes deeper than just blocked shots and steals. Over the last two seasons, Harrell has an average individual defensive rating of 107.85 to Gobert’s 105.1.
In the 2019-20 regular season, Harrell ranked 32nd in player impact rating among those that averaged more than 15 minutes per game. Gobert ranked 27th.
As Hoops Habit pointed out over the NBA break, Harrell is having a ridiculous season in 2020:
“Before the 2019-20 season’s abrupt halt, (Harrell) was putting up career-highs with 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Numbers matched by only 18 other players, Harrell the only among them playing fewer than 30 minutes a night.”
Harrell brings efficiency and energy to the game regardless of how much time he sees on the floor. According to Hollinger’s Efficiency Ratings via ESPN, Harrell is the 18th most-efficient player in the league and 6th among all centers. Well ahead of Gobert, who is 27th and 12th, respectively.
Is holding onto a player of Gobert’s caliber worth an extra $5-10 million or more a year? I’m not so convinced.
Going back to those same per-36 numbers, Gobert scores 15.8 to Harrell’s 24.1 points per 36 minutes played.
Utah needs more efficiency. They need players around Mitchell who can free things up offensively; Guys who can be more than just a pick-and-roll two-man game or nothing- Which is the limitation of Gobert’s game at the present moment.
Harrell brings energy, intensity, and a hunger to win to the LA lineup. These are assets beyond the numbers that have made him invaluable to the Clippers franchise.
Gobert has been the center of negative attention in Utah after his infamous tiff with Mitchell after the duo became the first two players to test positive for COVID-19.
As much value as Gobert brings to the Jazz, his abilities are limited where Utah needs help the most. Harrell is an ideal replacement if Utah is trying to shop it’s All-Star center this offseason.