Montrezl Harrell leading Lakers frontcourt without Davis, Gasol

Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell explodes to the rim against the Warriors (Noah Graham, Rohan Ali/Getty Images)

When the Los Angeles Lakers surprisingly signed Montrezl Harrell away from their cross-arena rivals, much of the optimism surrounding the move was predicated upon who would partner with him in the frontcourt. Both Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol were seen as perfect foils for the reigning sixth man of the year, their shooting and rim protection abilities seen as a way to hide his weaknesses.

But it’s been in the two veteran big men’s absence where Harrell has really shown his value to this Lakers team. As the purple and gold struggle to find their way in the doldrums of the NBA season with injuries occurring seemingly in every game, it’s been Harrell who has — more often than not — brought the energy, the tenacity, and the efficiency that gives the team a jolt of life.

With less playing time than last season, Harrell has still managed to make his presence known with gaudy production. The undersized big man has used hook shots, floaters, rim-rattling dunks, and even the odd jumper or two to score 14.2 points per game on a devilish — and career-high — true shooting percentage of 66.6%. His rebounding rate is also at a career-high despite playing alongside other players who love to crash the boards.

All that production has further increased since Davis suffered his latest injury. In those 11 games, Harrell has averaged 16.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, culminating in a season-high 27-point outburst against the Golden State Warriors and number two overall pick James Wiseman.

Harrell’s ability to find pockets of space in the paint among the trees compares favorably to a striker roaming across the defensive line on a soccer pitch. His finishing above and around them is even more impressive, like a poacher who somehow always finds himself on the end of a tap-in. It prompted Lakers head coach Frank Vogel to say, for the second time this year, that Harrell “catches everything and finishes everything” after the win over the Warriors.

Vogel continued his praise for his new frontcourt bruiser by saying that he “commits to trying to do it right,” a sentiment Harrell himself echoed by saying he felt he was being rewarded by the basketball gods.

It’s hard to disagree. Harrell is not the perfect player; his size leads to mismatches, his reading of the game defensively can sometimes be slow. But damn, does he put in the effort every time on the floor and for the Lakers, that makes him a perfect player in the absence of a dynamic superstar.

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