While it has improved the Sixers’ roster for the regular season, the Montrezl Harrell signing exposes deeper concern.
For a moment, it seemed like the Philadelphia 76ers‘ offseason may be over. The additions of De’Anthony Melton, PJ Tucker, and Danuel House provided notable upgrades to the supporting cast surrounding James Harden and Joel Embiid. It was an impressive off-season where the Sixers covered some notable holes as inconsistent bench production has plagued the team for several years.
The lone remaining question was if there would be an upgrade at the backup center position. Andre Drummond had an impressive 49 games with the Sixers last year but had to be included in the trade package with Ben Simmons that landed James Harden in Philly.
Philadelphia picked up DeAndre Jordan to finish the season, but he did not have as positive of an impact. Jordan was ultimately benched in the playoff run in favor of Paul Reed, who provided arguably the best postseason backup center minutes of Joel Embiid’s career.
The addition should not be a surprise as Doc Rivers has made it clear he prefers veterans when constructing his rotations. Going into the season with Paul Reed and Charles Bassey would have left the Sixers a little thin especially considering the track record Joel Embiid has for missing games.
However, fans have itched for each guy to be given a true chance to earn the backup center role. Considering Reed’s impactful playoff stretch and the fact that the critiques he carries are fixable and could be improved with more playing time, the addition of Montrezl Harrell is especially disappointing to him.
The fact of the matter is Montrezl Harrell improves the Sixers’ chances of winning this season which makes the signing make sense. However, there is also the chance Daryl Morey gave Doc Rivers enough rope to hang himself in the postseason.
Doc Rivers’ History with Montrezl Harrell
Doc Rivers’ favorable treatment has been well documented, and Montrezl Harrell is one of the prime examples of this. Harrell played under Doc Rivers during the two’s time together with the Los Angeles Clippers. The 28-year-old was named Sixth Man of the Year in the 2019-20 season and played three seasons under Rivers with the Clippers.
Montrezl Harrell was also initially drafted by Daryl Morey with the 32nd overall pick in the 2015 draft and began his career with the Rockets. The big man spent the first two seasons of his career with the Rockets playing alongside James Harden, who reportedly played a major part in the decision to bring Harrell in.
The biggest controversy comes from Doc Rivers’ postseason management of his big men with Montrezl Harrell at the forefront of the criticism. Despite holding a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets, Denver came roaring back in the 2020 Western Conference Finals.
During the series, Nikola Jokic dominated Montrezl Harrell during the moments they were on the floor. In the minutes that Harrell matched up with Jokic, the Clippers had a -27.1 net rating. There were +9.2 in minutes Montrezl Harrell was on the court with Jokic on the bench. In comparison, the Clippers carried a +8.8 rating in the minutes Ivica Zubac matched up with Jokic and a +25 net rating in the three minutes he was on the court without Jokic.
This disparity was considered a major reason for Rivers’ departure from Los Angeles. The Clippers were frustrated that there was not more time spent developing Ivica Zubac during the regular season and the lack of commitment he made in the postseason. Rivers was fired following the 2019-20 season postseason exit following seven seasons with the Clippers.
While Montrezl Harrell will be a positive regular season asset who can provide bench production, Rivers’ track record of overplaying him in the playoffs is a real concern. The Louisville product is a below-average defender and struggles to move his feet on the perimeter. His 6’7″ height and career averages of 0.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game do not make him the exact backup center the team has been in search of.
Why this is Different
To get the elephant out of the room, the presence of Joel Embiid drastically alters how Rivers will manage the rotations. In Los Angeles, Rivers’ was balancing two big men who had different arguments for why they deserved more minutes.
Joel Embiid is the unquestioned best player on the Sixers and a top-five player in the NBA. It is clear Montrezl Harrell will carry a backup role, and his expectations will be revolved around this.
However, the concerns about Harrell’s ability to play in the postseason remain. It is unlikely his footspeed has gotten much quicker or that his shot-blocking ability has improved. Every weakness is magnified in the postseason, and the veteran has not been one to flourish with the bright lights on him.
The non-Embiid minutes have continued to be the Achilles heel of the Sixers in the postseason, and this could continue to be the case if Montrezl Harrell is relied on in this role.
Stunting Growth of Young Players
While it is an overall positive that Montrezl Harrell will be set to log a large number of regular season minutes, it also takes away opportunities from some of the young guys that Sixers fans have been itching to see.
The concerns in Bball Paul’s game are very fixable, and he is a player who would benefit from regular season minutes. It also seems increasingly likely that Charles Bassey will be taking his talents to another organization.
Following the Montrezl Harrell signing, the Sixers have 17 rostered players for 15 roster slots. This will not be in effect until the regular season but is a decision the team will need to make regardless. As the roster currently stands, they have four players with deals that are non-guaranteed or not fully guaranteed.
These players are Charles Bassey ($74,742 guaranteed), Trevelin Queen ($330,000 guaranteed), Isaiah Joe ($0 guaranteed), and Paul Reed ($0 guaranteed).
The best case scenario for all parties is certainly to find a trade that sends multiple Sixers players for another rotation piece. This would strengthen the Sixers bench unit even further and provide the players sent away with a clean slate on a team that would likely give them a true opportunity. Bball Paul seems to have played himself into a roster spot, but cutting two out of the other three would still be a tough decision.
The bottom line is that Montrezl Harrell is a win-now addition that will help the Sixers. It should never be a bad thing to add an improved weapon to the arsenal, even if the concerns of his usage are legitimate.
To Doc Rivers’ credit, he did break down and play Paul Reed in the postseason last year when it was all said and done. It may have taken a near mutiny from the city of Philadelphia to force his hand, but in the end, he made the decision that was best for the team. Whether this trend continues or if Doc Rivers’ demons appear once again is still to be determined.