When NBA teams undergo the long, strenuous process of scouting prospects for the next draft, they look for a myriad of things – one of the most important of those being improvement. Over the course of Montrezl Harrell’s college career at Louisville, all he’s done is improved. In a limited role as a freshmen, Harrell averaged an impressive line of 13.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per 40 minutes. When Gorgui Dieng, a key piece on the Cardinals National Championship team, departed for the NBA draft after his team cut down the net, Harrell was called upon to step up and fill the huge void left in the front court. He didn’t flinch when given an increased role, averaging 19.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per 40 minutes in his sophomore campaign.
After his breakout season, Harrell naturally pondered taking the next step to test his mettle in the NBA. However, after weighing his options and consulting with multiple NBA teams, he decided it best for him to return to play one more year for the Cardinals and head coach Rick Pitino. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, but it looks like he made a wise decision. The 2014 draft class was loaded, and Harrell obviously believes he can be better than a mid-to-late first round pick, which was reportedly his projection from NBA teams after his monster season.
Intangibles and Measurements
If Harrell continues to improve and excel the way he has since he first stepped foot on a college court, it’s easy to see how he could fulfill his wish of becoming a lottery pick. But before any team considers taking him that high, they will need to scrutinize his measurements. Size, or lack thereof, can crush a prospect’s dreams. According to DraftExpress’s measurements database, Harrell was 6’6.5 in shoes in 2013. Despite possessing a great wingspan of 7’3, his lack of elite, or even marginal, height as a power forward is enough to give any NBA team serious pause. Right now, his unofficial measurement is 6’8. Hopefully for Harrell’s sake, he’s grown and that measurement is not just a hoax.
NBA teams will spin his measurements every which way (rightfully so), but a lack of elite size hasn’t affected Harrell’s play much in his two college seasons against staunch competition, and much of that can be attributed to his incredible work rate and non-stop motor. Guys that make hustle plays seem to often be able to make up for deficiencies they possess on the court, and that’s certainly the case for Harrell. He runs the floor as well as many guards, dives on every loose ball that is remotely near, and generally gives 100% no matter how big his team is winning or losing. He plays with a lot of emotion, and his effort is infectious. His teammates pick up on what he’s doing and strive to pick up their own games as a result. That attitude can’t be coached or taught, and Harrell demonstrates promise of being an excellent locker room guy at the very least.
Athleticism and explosiveness can’t be coached either, and Harrell possesses both traits in abundance. His athleticism allows him to excel in the pick & roll offensively. Being the mobile big that he is, it’s not a problem for him to play out near the perimeter as a screener. He has a good, wide base that makes it difficult for defenders to fight through his screens. On the roll, Harrell utilizes his explosive first step to free himself if the defense overplays the ball-handler, and he can get up easily to finish a lob at the rim. That skill will translate well in the screen-heavy NBA. If Harrell can show more of a mid-range game next season, which he started to seriously develop during his sophomore season, that would give him even more versatility as a pick & pop guy when serving as the screener. Harrell’s shooting mechanics are flawed, but he has a decent stroke for a big guy. It remains to be seen whether his jumper will ever become a major part of his game, but it’s in his best interest to attempt to make it so.
The closer Harrell plays to the rim the better, at least in terms of his scoring ability. He is mostly an above-the-rim finisher, and many of his buckets come via dunk. He’s excellent at sinking below his man on the baseline right on the low block and ducking into the paint at the last second to receive a dump off from a driving ball-handler for an easy slam. Harrell’s skill set would be best utilized in the NBA on a team with many above-average slashers that can create easy buckets for him, given that he doesn’t do much in the way of creating for himself.
Harrell is still incredibly raw with the ball in his hands. He can bang in the post using his sheer size, but he doesn’t possess any advanced, go-to move on the low block. On the plus side, possessing a thick frame and weighing 242 pounds counts for something when it comes to playing in the post. Strong as a bull, Harrell demonstrates the ability to seal his man deep under the basket, which allows him to catch the ball extremely deep for an easy finish at the rim. When around the rim, he’s demonstrated a propensity to utilize his size to finish through contact. However, he can be pushed away from the basket too often by bigger guys, an occurrence that could become far too prevalent when facing guys as big and strong as he is on a nightly basis in the NBA.
Right now, Harrell isn’t much of a threat as a face up post player. He excels when he can use his strength to get to the rim in a straight line, but those opportunities are few and far between. His rudimentary handles make it tough for him to create space to get a good shot off over longer defenders, and defenders are willing to let him shoot right now because they don’t feel like they have to respect his mid-range jumper. Until he changes that, defenders will sag off and make it difficult for him to drive to the rim. He has to be able to make his man pay for giving him space to shoot to open up other parts of his game.
When Harrell’s man does respect his size and tries to get up in him to aggressively prevent him from backing into the post, he has shown the ability to execute a quick spin move for a dunk that leaves his man in the dust. His post game would be helped a great deal if he could learn to finish a jump hook over either shoulder. Right now, he struggles to finish turning towards his weak (right) shoulder to finish with his left hand. This allows defenders to overplay on his left side to take away his right-handed jump hook. If Harrell’s offensive game doesn’t evolve much further, he will need to be either be paired with a center that can play in the high post to space the floor properly, or he needs to be drafted by one of the few teams that still plays with two traditional, post bigs on the court at the same time.
Defensively, Harrell is quite versatile. His mobility allows him to play the pick & roll, and his size allows him to compete down low. Having a guy like Harrell with great lateral quickness and a long wingspan would be a plus for any NBA team. Harrell’s mobility gives his team the option to defend the pick & roll so many ways, whether that be blitzing, aggressively hedging, or even switching entirely. His quickness makes it difficult for guards to drive on him, and his length makes it tough for them to shoot over him. He’s always been an aggressive, disruptive defender. Last season, he averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per 40 minutes. His often-perfect timing on his jumps allows him to go up and block a shot, while his explosive first step and long arms enable him to disrupt passing lanes with ease.
Harrell’s profile is more tricky as a post defender. He’s strong enough to keep most guys out of the paint, but his poor defensive stance often mitigates that strength. Rather than sitting down properly to give himself leverage, he stands almost straight up. This allows guys to push him back and get easy buckets at the rim. Also, Harrell will always struggle with length. That’s not his fault, but it’s the nature of being an undersized power forward. This will likely be one of the primary concerns of any NBA team that’s considering drafting him in the lottery.
On the glass, Harrell is a mixed bag. He dominates the offensive glass, but he struggles to grab defensive rebounds. For whatever reason, he seems to have a better feel for where the ball is going to carom off the rim when his team is on offense. It’s easy to see how a large portion of his points in the NBA could come on tips or easy second-chance points, and it’s worth asking whether that will be enough to give him much value offensively if he never develops an advanced post game or a consistent jumper. On the defensive end, he not only doesn’t possess great instincts on the boards, but he also doesn’t put a body on his man very well. That’s something that can be taught though, and he should be able to rectify that problem fairly quickly.
Approaching what is thought to be his final college season before he makes the jump to the NBA, he will need to continue to show great improvement in multiple areas while playing a big role to pique the interest of teams that project to be in the lottery. One thing he won’t ever be able to improve is his size, and that will be a huge difference maker in his stock one way or the other. Measurement issues aside, Harrell does enough well on both sides of the ball by fully utilizing his strength, athleticism, and relentless motor to still be an extremely enticing prospect for teams that will be picking in the lottery.