With the NBA season being put on hold, we're taking this week to look ahead at some of the biggest X-Factors in the league.
That is, we're putting the microscope on players that might represent a playoff team's tertiary or fourth option but are ultimately a key piece in allowing that team to reach the height of its potential.
Toronto Raptors small forward OG Anunoby was up first next, is LA Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell.
There's no question that the LA Clippers are still one of the favourites to win the NBA title should the season resume.
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the way, the Clippers have one of the best one-two punches in the entire league. But no matter how good and even great they are, Leonard and George aren't quite enough on their own to carry the Clippers to their first-ever championship - they'll need help.
And they have it.
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Montrezl Harrell, arguably the best reserve player in the NBA, is the biggest X-Factor the Clippers have. Without Harrell, the Clipper could be in trouble navigating through the Western Conference. With him, they have the ability to rip through the playoffs as few other teams could.
Let's take a look at what makes Harrell so special and why the Clips need him if they plan on hoisting Larry O'Brien at the end of the season.
Harrell is putting up career numbers this year with averages of 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He's taken on more responsibility offensively, averaging almost two more shots per game along with a minuscule drop off in his efficiency rating.
His scoring has become so valuable to the Clippers that it has even eclipsed that of super-sub Lou Williams on a per-minute basis. Harrell's point total accounts for 16% of the Clippers offence, a noticeable chunk and when it's not there it shows. The one game Harrell sat out this season - with Kawhi, George and Williams in the lineup - LA got manhandled by the Utah Jazz back in December.
His role offensively a season ago was primarily a screen and roller for Williams. This year, however, he's been asked to do more and is thriving. Only Kawhi and George average more isolations per game than Harrell, and Trez is averaging more isolation points per game than George while scoring at a similar level of efficiency as Leonard.
|Player||Iso's per game||Points per game||Points Per Possession||FG Percentage||Score Frequency|
*per NBA Stats
He's also getting to the line more than any other Clipper from those isos with a free throw frequency of 26.5%. His 5.6 free throw attempts per game rank second on the team and are one of the major reasons why the Clippers lead the league in free throws attempted per game. Remove Harrell's free-throw attempts from LA's grand total, and they would fall from first in the league to 25th.
"(Harrell) means the world to our team," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said after a win over Orlando. "When you have a guy like that coming off the bench with him and Lou (Williams) and that whole group ... JaMychal (Green).
"We don't go down. A lot of teams when they go to their bench they're holding their breath just trying to see how many minutes they can give the starters a rest. We look at it like, 'Hey let's stretch the lead' and they've done that and it's been terrific."
Defensively, he's been one of the Clippers' better performers as well. Harrell is tied for the league lead in charges drawn alongside Kyle Lowry and although he's not known as a shot-blocker, he's in the top five of contested shots behind only Hassan Whiteside, Brook Lopez, Rudy Gobert and Brooklyn Nets big man Jarrett Allen.
No disrespect to Ivica Zubac, but with the Clippers potentially having to face bigs like Nikola Jokic, Gobert and Anthony Davis throughout the playoffs, Harrell's value goes through the roof on the defensive end of the court.
When you factor in what Harrell's brought to the table this year offensive, his worth defensively and his overall take-no-prisoners attitude, he more than any other Clipper is the team's biggest X-Factor.
It's simple: If Montrezl Harrell doesn't replicate what he's done so far in the regular season through the playoffs whenever they do happen, the Clippers won't win the NBA championship this season.
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