Why Montrezl Harrell may not a good fit for the San Antonio Spurs
For all the intensity that he brings on the offensive end of the floor, Montrezl Harrell falls flat as a defender. His 6-7 height severely hampers his ability, or lack thereof, to be a viable rim protector, and while his effort and physicality are inarguably present, his natural disadvantage prevents him from being a reasonable defensive cog.
Among centers who played more than 20 minutes per game and appeared in more than 40 games, Harrell was 15th-worst in the league at rim defense, allowing opponents to shoot 61.0 percent from that area. While this may not be enough proof to justify his defensive struggles, remember that the Lakers were the best defensive team in the league. The contrast is jarring, right?
Also, Harrell is a frequent target of opposing teams who can exploit the interior with their high-scoring, towering bigs. This was evidenced in their first-round ouster where he didn't see the court much against the Suns and Deandre Ayton, and in the 2020 postseason where he was pretty much unplayable against Nikola Jokic.
Despite his healthy dose of minutes on the regular, he's only a situational player and a natural counter against teams that veer away from deploying an actual center. Notably, he was excellent in the 2019 playoffs against the small-ball Warriors. Nevertheless, his lack of acuity with shooting and passing strictly renders him as a rim runner, and designing an offense around his strengths is quite difficult, especially with San Antonio's lack of a creative playmaker in the second unit.
There is a precedent for a thriving undersized Spurs big (remember DeJuan Blair?), but today's game has prompted teams to only deploy one actual big at a time. Even in the Spurs context, last season's problematic offense was interjected more by the team's chronic lack of 3-point shooting than interior scoring, especially with San Antonio emerging as one of the association's most frequent driving teams anyway, ranking second overall.