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Phoenix Suns Free Agency Target Breakdown: Adding physicality with Montrezl Harrell

Wanted: A physical, high motor, intense, fun-to-watch bench addition. Checking all of those boxes? Trez.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t lie when you answer this question: would you be interested in adding more physicality to the Phoenix Suns roster? I wouldn’t say the Suns are soft by any means, but they aren’t exactly the ’88 Pistons either. As much as I love Deandre Ayton and his improved defensive prowess, few utter his name in the same sentence as “physical” or “enforcer”.

The likely loss of Aron Baynes via free agency this off season will open the door to exploring potential suitors to fill his role. I’ve mentioned Serge Ibaka as a target. Perhaps his age and declining skill sets are a turn-off for fans. Okay, I get it. Although signing a name like Serge to the Suns might spark interest from the rest of league as Phoenix being a place players want to play, Ibaka might not be sexy enough for you.

How about a free agent from the Suns’ favorite draft class, the Class of 2015? We have Devin Booker, Cameron Payne, Kelly Oubre, and Frank Kiaminsky. Why not complete the collectors set with the 32nd overall pick from that year?

Remember the days in which Montrezl Harrell was a coveted prospect for Phoenix Suns fans?

Tweets like these excited us. Per, Harrell was a “dunk machine” and “an absolute monster around the rim”. They graded him out at a 92 overall. Clearly the Suns made the right choice, opting to draft Devin Booker at #13, but many of us were ready to welcome the 6’8” PF/C from Louisville to the Valley.

The NBA was different in 2015 (it feels weird to say that considering it was a mere 5 years ago) and teams did not understand how Harrell would fit within the confines of their rosters. His draft stock fell due to his size and lack of outside shooting (he shot 40 three-pointers in 3 years at Louisville, making 11). He dropped considerably on draft day and went at #32 by the Houston Rockets.

In 2017 Harrell was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers as a part of the massive Chris Paul deal. The trade, which sent 6 players including Harrell, cash, and a 1st round pick to the Clippers, was the chance for Harrell to garner more playing time and display his abilities. In Houston he had become expendable due to Clint Capela’s emergence as a consistent starting 5. He had averaged just 6.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 14.9 MPG in two season with the Rockets.

Trez has taken advantage of the move to Los Angeles and made plenty of franchises ponder why they passed up on him in the 2015 NBA Draft. What he lacks in size he makes up for with grit, determination, hustle, and flare. In 2019-20 he averaged 18.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG in 27.8 MPG.

Those are great numbers for a starter; he has produced that stat line coming off the bench. Montrezl is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year for those efforts. He truly is a monster...

The Fit

If you hear that he is 6’8” and dismiss that he can be an effective addition to the Phoenix Suns, go ahead and walk into traffic. He is an athletic center. His 7’3” wingspan, coupled with his aggressiveness and tenacity, allows him to play much bigger than he actually is, height wise. Trez is 240 pounds of power and muscle.

He is talented is numerous facets of the game. Per BBall Index, Trez earns the following badges:

  • Contact Finisher (Gold)
  • Microwave (Gold)
  • Rim Protector (Silver)
  • Putback Boss (Bronze)
  • Consistent Performer (Bronze)

If Baynes were to depart into the land of free agents, Trez would be a plug-and-play to replace his minutes. And honestly, he would be a serious upgrade.

Adding Trez will fortify the offensive boards, perimeter and rim defense, and post play. Harrell’s offensive rebound positioning (distance of average offensive rebound to the rim) is 4.2 feet compared the Baynes’ 6 feet. This equates to more opportunities for offensive rebounds as well as put backs. His put back index-per-75 is in the 88%tile (A-); Baynes is in the 6%tile (F).

Some might argue that Harrell’s flooring spacing on offense may negate his effectiveness on defense. If he is living so close to the basket he must have a hard time getting back to effectively defend. The metrics say otherwise.

Harrell’s adjusted rim points saved per 36 minutes is +1.20 (97%tile). His three point contests per 75 possessions is 4.6 (84%tile). His has 1.4 blocks-per-75 possessions (A- grade, per BBall Index) compared to Baynes’ 0.9 (B).

Good defense leads to good offense.

Around the rim is where he lives. While players like DA display finesse, Harrell is a 100% aggressive beast. He is in the 97%tile of the “getting to the rim rating”. His overall finishing talent is in the 99%tile as well (compare that to Deandre Ayton’s 63%tile). If only you could insert his motor into Ayton’s body...

This is a long way of saying that Harrell is a clear upgrade over what we had this past season. Duh. We love Baynes and Saric, but neither match the skill set Harrell possesses. He is an electric player who would increase the effectiveness of the second unit. The intensity he provides would be an ideal match with the passionate back court duo of Jevon Carter (if the Suns can resign him) and Cameron Payne.

Payne and/or Carter could run the pick-and-roll with Harrell at will, much akin to how Harrell and Lou Williams exectued it in Los Angeles. Add his ability to operate via isolation, and he has an game that is hard for opposing teams to stop.

The disadvantage to signing Harrell would be his perimeter shooting, or lack thereof. We know James Jones likes his shooters, especially with the second unit. Trez went 0-for-18 from downtown this past season. He makes his money by the rim and allows other players to shoot confidently from deep, knowing that if they do miss, Montrezl Harrell will mop up the glass.

The Finances

Here is where it can get tricky.

Harrell is coming off of a 2 year, $6 million contract with the Clippers. What a bargain deal that was, eh? Trez is entering his 6th season in the NBA and most likely will be looking to earn his first big paycheck. When you carry the “Sixth Man of the Year” title heading into unrestricted free agency, however, you expect to get paid.

Working against him is the uncertainty of the 2020 cap and how eager teams will be to provide him with those funds. Perhaps a COVID season discount is on the horizon?

Knowing that the Suns will have just shy of $18 million to play with (click here to view Kevin Smith’s extensive breakdown), it is possible to envision a world in which Harrell comes to Phoenix. It could be on a one-year deal as he hopes to play the market again next season. The disadvantage of this for Harrell is his value will decrease against the plethora of big names slated to be available at the completion of the 2021 season.

The Suns could sign Harrell for $12 to $15 million a year and still allow themselves an opportunity to fill the rest of the roster with the likes of Jevon Carter. It will be interesting to see where Harrell’s value falls within the market.

It is possible to a back loaded contract, something along the lines of 3 years/$42 million. In this case Harrell would receive $13 million in 2021, $14 million in 2022, and $15 million in 2023. This would allow the Suns to navigate the 2020 cap (whatever that might be) and be appealing enough to make the signing.

If he comes the Phoenix he would have the opportunity to beat up on the Clippers four times a year, if he is so inclined. I do not know how much of a “revenge” guy Harrell is, but it could be an enticing opportunity.

The addition of Montrezl Harrell would benefit the Suns tremendously. Not only would the team add a proven bench player with a high motor, but it would be a statement to the rest of the league that Phoenix is a viable free agent destination. The culture in Phoenix has allowed for potential suitors to fly by Phoenix, waving at Camelback Mountain from the plane, as they fly towards the coast. The culture and reputation of the organization is to blame.

Yet last season Kelly Ourbe decided he wanted to stay here. James Jones and Monty Williams have begun to reshape the culture and re-envision the narrative of the franchise. The Suns bubble success was an opportunity to let the league know that things ar changing in Phoenix.

Perhaps someone like Montrezl Harrell desires to be a part of something special and assist in changing the course of the team. If so, Trez, please sign at the dotted line.........

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