The Los Angeles Lakers have a problem on offense. And with Anthony Davis out for at least five more games — with uncertainty about his explosiveness returning right after the All-Star break — the Lakers may need to quickly figure out a fix before they fall in the standings. With Davis out, an uptick in activity for Montrezl Harrell seemed inevitable. Although that has happened, it may not be in the best way to maximize the value from him and his time on the floor.
Looking at the statistics, he definitely is used more without Davis on the floor. As Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll pointed out here, many of Harrell’s highest usage games have come with Davis out including three of his four top usage games.
But still, this Montrezl Harrell we are seeing in purple-and-gold seems different than the one we saw in those terrible white, blue, and red jerseys last year (and not the Pelicans ones). The difference is all in the types of plays being ran on the floor with Harrell out there, with a severe decrease in pick-and-rolls happening this year between the Lakers guards and the big man out of Louisville, Kentucky.
In the 2019-20 season, Harrell was in pick-and-rolls for 17.3% of plays while on the floor. Other players around 17% frequency include names you’d expect surrounding Trezz on the list, with Clint Capela, Bam Adebayo, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Nikola Jokic all around that mark. However, Harrell was better than those four amazing players averaging 1.31 points-per-possession in the PnR. The closest of those four was Adebayo at 1.18 PPP.
What about this season? Well, names such as Bryn Forbes, Robert Covington, Grant Williams, and Carmelo Anthony are now averaging more PnR plays than Trezz. What about those four, extremely talented big men I mentioned previously? They’re still being used as the roll man plenty of times with the following frequency percentages, respectively: 20.0%, 15.9%, 16.3%, 16.7%. Below you can see the comparison between both of Harrell’s seasons in regards to the PnR.
2020-21: 0.9 possessions per game, 7.4% frequency, 1.36 PPP, 10.7% and one frequency, 64.3% scoring frequency
2019-20: 2.9 possessions per game, 17.3% frequency, 1.31 PPP, 3.3% and one frequency, 65.8% scoring frequency
So why have the Lakers used Montrezl Harrell so much less in the PnR than the Clippers (I was going to try and not bring them up in this article but oh well)? It may be a result of not having a Lou Williams on the team to pair up with Harrell. It was presumed before the season that Dennis Schröder could be that type of guy with Harrell, but those two barely even play each other with Schroder being a starter and Harrell coming off the bench. Williams and Harrell actually played the most minutes together of any two-man pairing on the Clippers last year, while Schröder is at 7th in terms of the most minutes of any player alongside Harrell.
If you’re wondering, Frank Vogel has definitely been asked about this. He even went as far to say that they discussed getting Harrell more in the PnR at a morning meeting before a game against the Celtics on January 30th. Here’s the rest of his quote below (per Silver Screen & Roll):
“Yeah, we talked about that. We feel like we’re not giving him the ball in the pick and roll game enough, so that’s something that we’ll continue to look at. We’re posting him a ton, we’ve been getting him touches that way most nights.”
I’m unable to pull up pick-and-roll statistics from specific date ranges, but it feels safe to say that his usage in the pick-and-roll couldn’t have increased too much considering the frequency is still at 7.4%. This seems like just as good of a time as ever to start putting Harrell in more PnRs, as the Lakers should be trying any way to get by offensively with continued absences from Davis and Schröder. As it stands, the Lakers are currently ranked 23rd in Offensive Rating in the past five games (as of Tuesday night), right behind the Raptors and right in front of the Cavaliers. Not a place they want to be, to say the least.
The Lakers used to use PnR actions last year between Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard to some success (shout out to the Laker Film Room podcast for this observation). Harrell may not have the verticality of Howard, but he can weave his way through the interior with the best of them. Harrell could also help Caruso feel more comfortable as a ball-handler in this stretch where the Lakers may need him to be one. The two have one of the better Offensive Ratings of 2-player combinations at 110.8. And again, Schröder would be a great option for this.
Either way, it’s time to buck the trend in some way. Maybe it’s time for Vogel to revisit that idea of using Harrell in the PnR to give the Lakers a needed boost offense.