Houston Rockets: Determining Montrezl Harrell’s Ceiling


When Montrezl Harrell got picked 32nd by the Rockets, it looked like a steal. It still does, but how much of a steal is it? Thankfully all questions around his future are clarified as he signed a three-year deal with Houston.  He even had his heroic moment when helping save a driver from an overturned vehicle. Now it’s time to sit back and watch his development.  As he enters his first season in Clutch City I decided to examine his benefits and take a stab at predicting his potential ceiling.

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Draft Selection

Looking back at Draft Night it was shocking Harrell fell all the way to 32. I don’t usually pay attention to mock drafts, but knew that Harrell was at worst a fringe 1st round prospect. The general feel a couple days before the draft was that he ranked somewhere between 18-26: Chad Ford of ESPN had him at 26th, as did USA Today and Bleacher Report.  Chris Mannix from Sports Illustrated ranked him at 25th and Scott Howard-Cooper from NBA.com ranked him at 18th where he believed the Rockets would select him as their first pick.

So, what happened?

Mar 12, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell (24) dunks over North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) in the second half during the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 70-60. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

There’s plenty of explanations as to why a player drops on draft night. The most common ones revolve around unknown injuries (or seriousness of an injury) or the unending debate between roster necessity versus available talent.

I believe, and it’s been a talking point for a lot of sport analysts that Harrell’s slip was due to his lack of height for a power forward (he is only a 6’8).  Louisville entertained the idea of playing him at small forward, but it now seems like a long shot unless Harrell develops a somewhat decent jump shot or gets better beyond the arc. Given he only hit 24.3% of his three-point shots in college and didn’t attempt a single one in summer league it’s looking less likely this move will occur.

This doesn’t mean he can’t  be a useful player in the league especially because he plays with intensity and has shown a commitment to work ethic to develop his game.

Can He Immediately Contribute?

The former Louisville man, does have a lot of upside if given time and taking the necessary steps, we may eventually see a leap in his game. He does have to improve… and a lot. Let’s reflect on that for a while

Firstly, let’s take a look on his Summer League highlights, that should give us a nice place to start:

There is no denying the man’s physical attributes, I mean just look at him! He is tenacious, is ridiculously strong and his wingspan (7’4.25) is out of this world for someone of his size.

Harrell runs the floor well and can lead the fast break. In addition his intensity and powerful dunks are also great weapons. As a Rocket he’ll very likely be a second unit guy who coach McHale uses to play small ball or to re-energize the players in games they are losing.

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  • Montrezl is definitely ready to perform like that as of season opening. With Motiejunas out he might see some minutes and dare I say, those may be the most important minutes of his career.

    He can start making a name for himself as Kevin McHale and others from around the league figure him out and immediately begin to quiet some of their hesitations as to whether he is fit for the 4.

    His early performance will determine if he can develop a reliable post game or become a stretch four. More importantly it will allow time to assess how he’ll perform against bigger, seasoned power forwards from around the league.

    Nevertheless, there are plenty of areas his game requires improvement. He definitely exhibited an improved jump shot in the summer league, which is commendable, but his shot still needs work. Harrell didn’t attempt any three-pointers as I said; that may imply that he is focusing on his strengths being his inside game. Or potentially that was one side of his game he wasn’t confident enough to display.

    Currently, playing for the Rockets, the ability to at least knock down some three point shots is pretty much a requirement, unless playing center. This may change in the future, but almost everyone not a center on the Rockets team attempt some outside shots (and when Motiejunas played the 5 even he hoisted some threes).

    Mar 29, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Matt Costello (10) puts up a shot with Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell (24) defending during the second half in the finals of the east regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    We have a recent history of playing undersized bulky players as centers in Joey Dorsey and Tarik Black who were about the same size as Harrell. So, I entertained the likelihood of him playing the 5 as well.

    Perhaps Harrell at the 5 seems far-fetched at best the reality is Dorsey and Black were utilized at center. Nor am I going to pretend Dorsey or Black did an incredible job at the five; they were nice players, with intensity and tried their best every time. But, going forward the Rockets need more quality from this position which should come from Clint Capela. Regardless, Harrell already looks better than Dorsey or Black, so I believe if given the task he will perform at a higher level.

    In his first summer league game he displayed some great sense of offensive positioning and reflexes which resulted in him grabbing offensive rebounds. Furthermore, his style of play looks fit for offensive rebounds as he is a hustle player.

    His positioning, I believe can be polished. Montrezl Harrell is a NBA ready player, but needs to perform better on some aspects of his defensive game. And if that happens, that’s where he may excel. His  build and general defense might help to propel him further. Like Black and Dorsey his free-throw shooting requires work as his percentage falls between 50-60%.

    With Louisville he used to defend the wings and block shots with his incredible wingspan. That won’t work if bigger players post him up and shoot over him. He needs to work on crashing the boards on the defensive end and improve his positioning to become an accomplished defensive rebounder and rim protector.

    Up until now he made up for that with his explosiveness going for the block. I’m not sure if that is going to work with stronger resourceful NBA players.

    In review it surely seems like a lot for him to improve, but then again, if he manages to cover some of those holes defensively, he could become an elite player.

    Because he is fast he can cover up and defend almost everyone on the court. With determination and work ethic he could turn out to be a 1-through-5-defender type of player. Montrezl Harrell is not afraid to sacrifice his body, so he’ll generate a lot of charges. He will determine his ceiling and what type of player he becomes will depend on him discovering his niche (or creating it) in the NBA.

    Comparisons and Season Prediction

    That’s right, now it’s the time to scold the blogger after he for the millionth time compares Harrell with Kenneth Faried. First, let’s just talk about that for a second.

    Is Harrell the next Kenneth Faried? Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    Most of Harrell’s profiling I’ve seen does compare him with Faried, and I won’t lie, it’s a very attractive suggestion. Let’s face it, they are both intense, powerful, ferocious and they even resemble each other a little!

    However, those profiles a take a rather unfair approach to Harrell when comparing him to the Manimal, as most believe the best he can achieve is being the poor man’s Kenneth Faried.

    I don’t feel that way. Do we even know if Kenneth Faried can be the next Kenneth Faried? I Mean, a lot was expected from him this year and in my opinion he failed to achieve it.

    While I’ve seen comparisons to J.J. Hickson as well as a few others, bear with me while I consider a player I think he could aspire to become: Draymond Green.

    Certainly this is ambitious for the young guy and puts an incredible weight on his shoulders, but I think he could do it. They are about the same height (6’8 for Harrell and 6’7 for Green) and weight (240lb for Harrell and 230lb for Green). I think Harrell might have problems with one aspect of Green’s arsenal which is his outside shot. But other than that, I don’t think of it as that big of a stretch. Harrell is fast, and assuming he proves to be a fast learner, in due time and with concerted practice he can get there.

    Can he become an All-Star caliber player? I mean, you never know as it’s too soon to tell.  I believe Montrezl Harrell can grow into an elite defensive player that may blossom into a sixth-man. He can be an impact reserve given the intensity and energy he can offer which are both game changers.

    For this year Harrell has a chance of seeing some minutes thanks to D-Mo’s injury. I trust he can be a 4pts/4rbs/1bk player from the start and beyond that, who knows? I feel it’s going to be pretty fun to follow his progress.

    So, what do you think of Harrell? Do you feel there’s another player that he better resembles? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below and give us your take.

    Next: The Donatas Motiejunas Era

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