Alfes: Clippers unleashing Most Improved candidate Harrell

The ballots for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award will surely feature the undersized, bundle-of-energy center known as Montrezl Harrell.

Statistically, this makes sense.

In reality, though, the Clippers are just giving the 6-foot-8 monster — @MONSTATREZZ on Twitter — a chance to play legitimate minutes.

Following a 30-point performance on Friday, Harrell is averaging career-highs in points (16.1), rebounds (6.6), assists (1.8), blocks (1.4) and steals (0.9). Why? Well, because he also leads the NBA in games played (60) while logging 26.4 minutes per night, smashing his previous best of 18.3 minutes per game from 2016-17.

The year-to-year improvement of Harrell comes from the increased opportunities head coach Doc Rivers has given him. His overall production has risen from last season, but his play on the court has remained relatively the same…

Points scored per 100 possessions (offensive rating): 2017-18: 124 points vs. 2018-19: 124 points (no change)

Points allowed per 100 possessions (defensive rating): 2017-18: 109 points vs. 2018-19: 108 points (1-point improvement)

Points averaged per 36 minutes: 2017-18: 23.3 points vs. 2018-19: 22.0 points (1.3-point decrease) 

Win Shares per 48 minutes: 2017-18: .205 win shares vs. 2018-19: .203 win shares (.002 decrease)

Usage percentage: 2017-18: 23.8 percent vs. 2018-19: 22.6 percent (1.2 percent decrease)

Aside from playing time, nothing has really changed for Harrell — and that’s a good thing.

The Clippers enter play on Saturday with a 33-27 record, placing them eighth in the Western Conference. Despite the departure of Tobias Harris, the arrivals of Landry ShametIvica ZubacJaMychal Green and Garrett Temple — plus the advantage of having the league’s 10th-easiest strength of schedule after the All-Star break — still put them in position to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17. Lou Williams is still a scoring machine. Danilo Gallinari is still a plus option when healthy. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is still a top-10 rookie.

Harrell’s team-high 6.7 win shares might be the biggest part of Doc’s winning formula, though.

The 25-year-old veteran only moves one way — towards the hoop. He directs all his energy to the painted area, using his strength rather than size to slam and rebound the ball. He spreads the floor, and, on occasion, effectively dishes it off.

A game like last night shows why Los Angeles has decided to unleash Harrell this year…

Harrell is arguably the best bench player in the NBA, as few have come close to his level of play in 2018-19. Derrick RoseSpencer Dinwiddie and Jordan Clarkson have all been solid, but Harrell has provided the most value on the best of the four’s teams.

As a G-League alum who was once viewed as a throw-in piece of the Chris Paul trade, Harrell is finally making a name for himself in an elevated role. Based on the way he played last year — that shouldn’t be a surprise. Credit to the Clippers for giving him his long-awaited chance to shine.

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