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How Montrezl Harrell fits in with the Hornets

Explaining how the big man will help Charlotte on both ends of the floor

Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

zIn a somewhat surprising move, the Charlotte Hornets added big man Montrezl Harrell at the trade deadline. They shipped out Ish Smith, Vernon Carey Jr., and a second-round pick - a surprisingly cheap price for the former Sixth Man of the Year.

Harrell has now played two games in a Hornets uniform, going 1-1. Charlotte beat up on the Detroit Pistons on Friday before taking a beating of their own the very next day vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. (Although a crazy fourth-quarter almost saw the Hornets climb all the way back.)

It’s a very small sample size, but these first two games in a Hornets uniform give a pretty good idea of what role Harrell will play in Buzz City. So let’s take a look.

First and foremost, Harrell was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate for a reason - he’s a sixth man. In 435 career games, he’s only started 29. Mason Plumlee is almost certain to remain Charlotte’s starting center for at least the rest of this season.

With that out of the way, the best word to describe what Harrell brings to the table is electricity. Whenever he steps on the court, expect there to be fireworks. Just look at the last few minutes of the game against Memphis. After an and-one with under two minutes left, Harrell walked over the crowd and screamed. The Spectrum Center was going nuts.

Harrell is from Tarboro, North Carolina, and the hometown kid has already endeared himself to the Hornets’ faithful. After their win over the Pistons, it became clear that the feeling is mutual.

But everyone who watches the NBA knew that was coming. Throughout his entire career, Harrell has played the role of the sparkplug guy. Whether he was grinding out wins with the LA Clippers or leading the Washington Wizards on an early-season run, his energy is infectious wherever he goes.

Getting into some of the specifics, it’s clear that Harrell can be a primary option for the Hornets. Maybe not in the sense that he will lead them in scoring, but in the sense that he will touch the ball on every single possession.

In the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies, Harrell got the ball on the left block almost every possession. The first few times, Harrell blew right past Jaren Jackson Jr., muscling his way to the basket. After that, the Grizzlies were forced to double-team him on the catch, allowing him to pass out and generate open shots for his teammates.

When Harrell is cooking in the post, there aren’t many people in the league who can stop him. And he doesn’t get the job done with pure brute force like a lot of other centers in the league. While He certainly uses plenty of force, since he’s only 6-7, Harrell needs to get crafty. His soft touch and fancy finishing around the rim are what makes him really effective.

Not only is Harrell great when he gets the ball on the block, but the pick-n-roll game projects to be elite. Although he’s not the tallest of the bunch, his knack for rolling at the right time will make life easy for LaMelo Ball and other Hornets guards. Here are a couple of prime examples:

Harrell just knows how to position himself well under the rim, making it easy for teammates to find him, or putting himself in a great spot to grab an offensive board. Positioning is just as important, if not more so than height in the NBA.

Past that, another underrated aspect of Harrell’s game is his quickness. He’ll sprint the floor for an easy transition three or cut to the rim for a jam in a millisecond. Having an athletic big man capable of those sorts of things could work wonders for Charlotte’s offense.

Two of Harrell’s first buckets as a Hornet were in transition. He’s smart enough to know when to get out and run, and quick enough to make it happen.

This quickness isn’t just applicable on the offensive end, either. While Harrell isn’t the best defender in the world, he gives Charlotte a different look on that side of the floor. Mason Plumlee is a more traditional big. He’s not the best at switching onto guards and often finds himself dropping back in the paint on switches. Not Harrell.

Harrell’s quickness allows him to get out on the perimeter, switch onto guards, and still rotate over for a block if he needs to. His first act in a Charlotte uniform was blocking Killian Hayes in the paint after guarding Isaiah Stewart out near the three-point line.

Having a mobile center could do wonders for Charlotte. Plumlee is a big guy, and isn’t exactly quick enough to keep up with most wings and guards. In addition, he’s quick enough to recover if he finds himself dropping back or out of position. Harrell is.

This example is perfect. Don’t focus on the result, as Hayes nails a contested three. Harrell didn’t quite get out in time, but the fact that he’s willing to get out on the perimeter and run with guards is a huge advantage for the Hornets.

That energy and hustle are what makes him such an intriguing player on the defensive end. When looking at it through the lens of the league, Harrell isn’t a great defensive big man. But when comparing him to Charlotte’s other options, he’s an interesting fit. At the very least, his mobility gives James Borrego plenty of options to work with. (This was made evident by the Plumlee-Harrell-JT Thor fourth-quarter lineup against the Grizzlies.)

From purely a talent perspective, Harrell is the best center the Hornets got. Is there an argument to start him? Sure. But based on his track record, that’s not going to happen. Plus, it’s about who finishes games, not who starts them.

Harrell’s constant effort and unwavering motor are going to make him a fan favorite very quickly in Buzz City, and rightfully so. His contract is up at the end of the year, but if things work out, Charlotte could look to bring him back long-term. He’s certainly happy to be back with former Louisville teammate Terry Rozier. (As evidenced by the video above.)

He’s been a primary option in each of his first two games with the Hornets. Plus, with how poor their defense has been, he could give them a different look on that side of the floor.

The fit may not be perfect. Harrell’s not an amazing defender, he’s on the smaller side for a center, and he can’t space the floor. But with everything he brings to the table, Harrell has a serious chance to help the Hornets down the stretch here.

At the very least, it’ll be super fun to watch.