SAN FRANCISCO -- If you were unaware of the bond between Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell and his teammate Lou Williams, you need look no further than the wardrobe Harrell sported after the Clippers' thumping of the Golden State Warriors in the Chase Center debut last week. Harrell stood in front of his locker, and underneath three glistening custom-made gold chains, you could make out a black shirt with the printed image of Williams on the cover of "Slam" magazine with the headline, "Underground GOAT".
If that doesn't speak to the strength of their relationship, nothing does.
Harrell and Williams comprise one of the most formidable pick-and-roll duos in the NBA. They're each incredibly efficient out of the popular action, and Clippers lineups featuring the two of them have a 124 offensive rating this season -- the highest of any tandem in the league who have played over 60 minutes together (Williams and Harrell have logged 108). Clippers coach Doc Rivers said they're the best pick-and-roll combo he's ever coached, and puts them right up there with any pair in league history.
"They just fit each other, they read each other," Rivers said. "Lou is just such an exceptional scorer. Trez is smart enough to know that. They just play off each other very well."
The tremendous chemistry between Harrell and Williams didn't happen overnight. It's taken over two seasons, plus summer workouts in Atlanta, to cement the pair's deadly half-court attack, and Harrell says the extra sessions have carried over into this season.
"You see the numbers?" Harrell asked of the pick-and-roll metrics between himself and Williams. "I don't think it's effective, I see it's effective, brother. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
He's not lying. Here are the numbers Harrell was talking about. As you can see, Williams is adept at both scoring and distributing out of the pick-and-roll (the points-per-possession figure includes passes and scoring opportunities), while Harrell is an elite finisher, according to Synergy Sports Technology's data from last season.
|Clippers 2018-19 season||P&R PPP||Percentile|
Lou Williams (including passes)
Montrezl Harrell (roll man)
Williams and Harrell worked their magic on the biggest stage during the largest comeback in NBA playoff history against the Warriors last April. If you watched the game, your jaw surely dropped at how utterly unstoppable the duo appeared.
The Clippers didn't try to "fix" what wasn't broken, as Harrell cautioned, but they certainly threw a wrench into the works with the addition of Kawhi Leonard, one of the league's top isolation scorers last season. Leonard's occasional ball-stopping could, in theory, disrupt with the offensive flow the Clippers have cultivated. Instead, Leonard has embraced being a playmaker in Rivers' offense, and has been deadly in the pick-and-roll -- even more effective than Williams, according to Synergy.
So far at least, Leonard is isolating much less frequently and getting into pick-and-roll sets much more, with great success. Last year Kawhi averaged 3.3 assists per game, and the most he's ever averaged in a season is 3.5. In four games this season he's averaging 7.5 assists, including a career-high 10 in a surprising loss to the Suns. His pick-and-roll numbers are off the charts.
|Kawhi Leonard offense||Iso Frequency||PPP||P&R Frequency||PPP|
For reference, Leonard is running pick-and-roll almost as frequently as Kyrie Irving this season, and more frequently than Stephen Curry. Rivers said he noticed Leonard's playmaking improve around the second round of the Raptors' championship playoff run this past spring, but even the veteran coach has been blown away by his superstar early on.
"What he's doing with us is even another level," Rivers said. "So you can tell that is something that he's focused on over the summer -- to be a better playmaker. His passing ability is unbelievable."
With both Leonard and Williams able to work so effectively off of screens from Harrell or Ivica Zubac, even the rangiest, most switchable defenses will have serious problems -- and serious decisions to make -- on a nightly basis. That's why Harrell says his primary job is simple: Set a strong screen, get his talented teammates open, then let them go to work.
"I do a great job of getting [Williams] as open as possible, man," Harrell said. "He's another great scorer, like Kawhi is, that draws a lot of attention, and by me doing my job and getting him as open as possible, now the defense has to react to me -- rotating, making plays -- and I just try to do my best and make the right plays, really. Like I said, I do a great job of getting these guys open. I take pride in that, setting screens, because I know ultimately as open as they're gonna be, I'm gonna be even more open than they are."
As if the Clippers weren't already scary enough, it now appears they've unlocked a new tool in Leonard's seemingly endless storage container of skills. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Paul George was in the 91st percentile as a pick-and-roll scorer last season. The rich get richer, indeed.