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How much better does Montrezl Harrell actually make the Los Angeles Lakers?

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The biggest surprise so far in free agency? That would be the Los Angeles Lakers coming to terms on a deal with Montrezl Harrell.

Not only are the Lakers reportedly getting the best centre and one of the best players available in this year’s free agent class, they are getting him at a bargain. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Harrell is planning to sign a two-year, $19.0 million deal with the Lakers.

The second season will be a player option, giving Harrell an opportunity to rehab his value following a disappointing end to the 2019-20 season with the LA Clippers.

 

This is a fascinating addition for the Lakers on a number of levels. First and foremost, it’s a big-time pickup for their second unit.

The Lakers ranked in the top half of the league in bench scoring last season, but they didn’t have anyone who was capable of scoring at the level of either Harrell or Dennis Schröder, the latter of whom the Lakers acquired in a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier in the week. On the season, Schröder and Harrell finished first and second, respectively, in total points scored off the bench. (Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers in bench scoring, but he scored just over half as many points as Schröder and Harrell did). They were both incredibly efficient, with Schröder posting .471/.379/.833 shooting splits off the bench and Harrell shooting 58.1 percent from the field.

The combination of Schröder and Harrell should take a lot of pressure off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the regular season (assuming Davis re-signs with the Lakers, of course, which he is expected to do), similar to how the combination of Lou Williams and Harrell took some pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last regular season. Schröder and Harrell should form a similar one-two punch as Williams and Harrell did on the Clippers, which was one of the best pick-and-roll tandems in the league during their three years as teammates.

Schröder isn’t quite as good of a pick-and-roll scorer as Williams is – the biggest difference between them being Williams is a far superior 3-point shooter off the dribble – but he still ranked around the league average in efficiency last season. With two or three shooters surrounding them, Schröder and Harrell should give the Lakers enough firepower to rest James and Davis together more than they did last season.

For what it’s worth, the Lakers’ most-used lineup with James and Davis on the bench last season featured Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Dwight Howard. That unit logged a total of 29 minutes together and was outscored by an average of 6.8 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers, on the other hand, had three different lineups log over 50 minutes on the season that didn’t include Leonard and George. Each one of those lineups were built around Williams and Harrell, and two of them had a positive net rating.

That’s still a relatively small sample size, but it would be huge if the Lakers could find a competent five-man unit that doesn’t include James and Davis.

Most used non-Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Clippers lineups (2019-20)
Lineup Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Lou Williams, Jerome Robinson, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell 94 109.6 93.2 +16.4
Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell 66 94.0 108.5 -14.5
Lou Williams, Reggie Jackson, Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, Montrezl Harrell 60 124.6 88.9 +35.7

As for Harrell’s fit next to James and Davis, it isn’t quite as clear.

Offensively, Harrell is a huge upgrade from both Howard and JaVale McGee, who made up the team’s centre rotation last season. The only player in the entire league who scored more points in the paint than Harrell last season was Giannis Antetokounmpo. (Harrell actually scored more points in the paint than Howard and McGee combined in 2019-20). Harrell is one of best cutters and rollers in the NBA, and he’s greatly improved as a face-up scorer out of the post over the last couple of seasons.

If teams double team James or Davis, Harrell will make them pay with well-timed cuts to the basket.

While Harrell has played with some good playmakers in his career, he’s never played with a passer like James. Pick-and-rolls between the two of them will be incredibly difficult to slow down as long as they’re surrounded by enough shooting.

The Lakers probably won’t run much offence through him when James and Davis are on the court, but Harrell can make a play for himself when needed. That’s not something they had in Howard or McGee last season.

Harrell doesn’t offer any spacing as a shooter – he’s made 27.8 percent of his field goal attempts from midrange and 10.0 percent from 3-point range in his career – but Davis is a good enough shooter for him to play to his strengths when they’re on the court together. According to NBA.com, Davis logged 59.9 percent of his minutes last season playing next to McGee or Howard. He has plenty of experience sharing a frontcourt with a non-shooter.

Where it gets complicated is on the other end of the court. Harrell is not a bad defender – he graded out as one of the most effective rim protectors in the league last season and offers some switchability at the centre position – but he lacks the size at 6-foot-7 to defend bruising centres like Nikola Jokic, which came to a head in last season’s playoffs.

The NBA’s matchup data is far from perfect, but it points to Howard having much more success defending Jokic than Harrell did. Whereas Jokic scored 28 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field in the 21 minutes he was defended by Howard in the Western Conference Finals, he scored 34 points on 13-for-20 shooting in the 18 minutes he was defended by Harrell in the Western Conference Semifinals.

It didn’t help Harrell in free agency that the lasting image from last season was Jokic doing things like this against him in the playoffs:

Not every team in the league has someone who can punish Harrell in the same way Jokic did, but it raises an interesting question as to who the Lakers close games with at centre this season. Do they sacrifice offence by going with McGee? Do they sacrifice some defence by going with Harrell? Or do they simply go smaller with Davis?

The Davis-at-centre lineups will still likely give the Lakers their highest ceiling on offence and defence, but Davis has always preferred playing power forward. With Howard leaving the Lakers for the Philadelphia 76ers on a one-year deal, either Davis is going to have to match up with the likes of Jokic and Joel Embiid when push comes to shove or one of Harrell and McGee will. Howard is a far more limited offensive player than Harrell at this stage of his career, but he can make life difficult for some of the best centres in the league on defence, even if it’s only for a handful of minutes at a time.

If it does become a problem, the Lakers could always pursue another centre before now and the playoffs, whether it is in free agency or in a trade. Centres with Howard’s defensive ability don’t exactly grow on trees, but neither do centres with Harrell’s scoring ability. For the price, this is a no-brainer for the Lakers.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

Source: – NBA CA

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How the NFL averted a quarterback crisis – theScore

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The NFL has always been a quarterback-driven league. Yet five seasons ago, even as the league experienced an unprecedented boom in passing volume, it also faced the possibility of a quarterback crisis.

“As the 2015 NFL season begins,” then-Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Clark wrote, “the league’s decision-makers say they are daunted by what they see as a widening gulf between the college game and the pro game, one that has existed for a while but is now starting to affect the quality of the league’s most cherished commodity: Quarterbacks.”

More than ever, quarterbacks in the 2010s were putting up big numbers, with Clark noting in 2015 that “the five most productive individual passing seasons in history have happened since 2011.” But many QBs were increasingly relying on short, quick throws while taking advantage of rule changes designed to protect quarterbacks and pass-catchers, changes that, in turn, hindered defenses.

At the same time, a yawning talent gap developed. While several quarterbacks who entered the league before 2006 were still thriving into the late 2010s and even winning championships, the younger cohort was mostly bereft. Chase Stuart of Football Perspective ran the numbers in 2020, going so far as to dub the group of QBs who turned pro from 2006-15 “the missing generation.” It was a period that featured a staggering number of first-round busts, and the best quarterback of that draft era – the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson – had slipped all the way to the third round.

Fast forward to 2021. Remarkably, oldsters like Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all led their teams to the playoffs once again, though Rivers just retired while Brees and Roethlisberger have noticeably declined. Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (drafted in 2000) and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers (2005) are still here, though, and they’re set to meet Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Peter Aiken / Getty Images

But the AFC title matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs features Josh Allen (2018) and Patrick Mahomes (2017), providing a stark reminder that the NFL is now stocked with a solid core of young quarterbacks. The QB crisis has been averted, and the future of the position is in good hands, in large part because coaches and front offices have adapted.

For far too long, NFL decision-makers were wedded to the idea that quarterbacks had to primarily operate from the pocket or play in a “pro-style” offense instead of the spread systems that were proliferating at the lower levels. There were occasional exceptions over the years, with certain mad scientists allowing dual threats like Fran Tarkenton, Randall Cunningham, Kordell Stewart, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick to play a more wide-open game. But these experiments were often quickly abandoned or dismissed as finesse or gimmickry. The stubborn thinking at the pro level was that football had to be about brawn and power.

“According to coaches, general managers, and players I spoke to over the course of training camp, teams spend too much time on what the offense looks like and far too little on how the quarterback is processing it,” Clark wrote for The Ringer in a 2017 piece about the NFL’s collectively declining ability to evaluate QBs.

More than any other coach, the Chiefs’ Andy Reid changed this kind of thinking. It was Reid who figured out how to make do with the sort of offensive player the game’s lower levels were producing, as opposed to trying to pigeonhole those players into “pro-style” systems. If college QBs are playing the spread, Reid’s thinking went, why shouldn’t we incorporate the spread into what we do?

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Reid had long been a tinkerer and an innovator who looked to the college game for inspiration. But he leaned fully into adapting his thinking in 2017 when the Chiefs decided to trade up from No. 27 to No. 10 to draft Mahomes. The draft consensus was that Mahomes had boom-or-bust potential and would likely be selected toward the end of the first round. The Chiefs saw something other teams didn’t.

Kansas City already had Alex Smith, but then-co-director of player personnel and current general manager Brett Veach had become smitten with Mahomes. And so a plan was hatched to trade up and get him, as Jayson Jenks, Dan Pompei, Mike Sando, and Nate Taylor of The Athletic detailed this week. Mahomes sat behind Smith that first season, but Reid signaled to the world in the 2017 season opener his willingness to adapt. He rolled out a game plan heavy on college concepts: at-the-snap motion, jet sweeps, read-options, and myriad wide-open formations, including the pistol. Kansas City, behind Smith, steamrolled the mighty New England Patriots 42-27. A new day had dawned in the NFL.

It was also in 2017 that wunderkind head coach Sean McVay took over the Los Angeles Rams and inherited quarterback Jared Goff. The No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft had endured a rookie season under the stodgy Jeff Fisher that had put him on a path to become just another draft bust. But McVay tailored his offense to Goff’s strengths as an accurate passer, relying heavily on play-action, motion, and run-pass options while getting Goff out of the pocket by design. Goff would reinvent himself, and the Rams made the playoffs.

Harry How / Getty Images

But it wasn’t just the Chiefs and Rams. Beginning in 2017, coaches around the league stopped fretting about the hands they were dealt – which included collectively bargained limitations on padded practices and on offseason practice time – to instead work with what they had. That season’s Super Bowl saw the Philadelphia Eagles upset the Patriots 41-33 in what looked like a video game.

The Chiefs handed Mahomes the keys to their offense in 2018; he promptly went on to become league MVP, and a year later, he won the Super Bowl. Sunday will mark his third straight AFC Championship Game appearance, all at home. His potential seems limitless.

Allen, meanwhile, looked like a missed opportunity for the Bills during his first two seasons. He was a big-armed quarterback with accuracy issues and the potential to make game-breaking mistakes – exactly the kind of QB who traditionally struggled to adjust in the pros. But the Bills went all-in on Allen by trading for star wideout Stefon Diggs, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll – a journeyman who’s bounced around the NFL’s coaching ranks – cooked up a system that exploits Allen’s scrambling ability while also scheming him into easy throws. It should be noted, as The Athletic’s Robert Mays recently wrote, that Daboll’s own evolution as a play-designer and play-caller really took root after he spent the 2017 season working with Nick Saban at Alabama.

Lamar Jackson, selected with the final first-round pick of the 2018 draft, has guided the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in all three of his pro seasons, and in 2019 he was named league MVP. Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert have all displayed high-ceiling ability, too.

Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, flashed as a rookie before getting caught in the Cleveland Browns’ maw of suck a year later. But the Browns got things right by hiring head coach Kevin Stefanski this season, and Cleveland won a playoff game for the first time in 26 years.

The Tennessee Titans’ Ryan Tannehill seemed like another lost first-rounder of that 2006-15 era during his early years with the Miami Dolphins. But under the forward-thinking tutelage of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Tannehill reinvented himself into one of the league’s most efficient passers. He led the Titans to last year’s AFC Championship Game and an AFC South title this season.

Though they both missed this year’s postseason for decidedly different reasons, the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott – a fourth-round pick in 2016 – and the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson have both shown the ability to be franchise quarterbacks. Prescott led Dallas to the playoffs twice and was putting up huge numbers in 2020 before breaking his ankle in Week 5. Watson had a phenomenal 2020 season, but he’s in a terribly dysfunctional situation in Houston. It’s stunting his chances to win in his prime – further proof that sometimes the problem isn’t the quarterback but rather a team’s decision-makers.

And then there’s Rodgers. Though he’s long been perhaps the league’s most gifted all-around quarterback, Rodgers and the Packers often underachieved in the decade following their Super Bowl XLV win. But in the two seasons since head coach Matt LaFleur arrived with an offense heavy on motion, play-action, and other bells and whistles, Rodgers, too, has reinvented himself. At age 37, he remains an unstoppable force, and the Packers are in the NFC title game for the second year in a row.

Brady? You know about him and how he chose to leave New England for Tampa Bay – in no small part because of the Buccaneers’ collection of talented skill players. Tampa’s coaching staff wants him to take aggressive shots downfield while also trusting him to know when to rein things in and play it safe. Brady, 43, is under contract for another year. He’ll probably still be here to challenge the next generation, too.

Dom Cosentino is a senior features writer at theScore.

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Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs favourites to punch ticket back to Super Bowl against Bills – TSN

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Championship Weekend has arrived, and it sure looks like it won’t disappoint.

On the AFC side, we see the Kansas City Chiefs host their third-consecutive AFC Championship game, this time against Josh Allen and his Buffalo Bills.

After leaving Sunday’s divisional round game with a head injury, quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters on Friday that he has cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and is good to go for Sunday. 

Allen and the Bills enter this week on the heels of the franchise’s first two playoff wins since 1995, and need just two more to capture their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

These two teams met earlier in the season, with Kansas City getting the better of Buffalo 26-17 in Week 6.

Allen’s 122 passing yards that night was the lowest number he posted all season, however, the playing conditions weren’t the best and Mahomes was held to a 225 yards – one of his lowest numbers on the season as well.

We have come a long way since Week 6, and have a lot to dive into, so let’s get going.

Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs -3, O/U 53.5

ALL I DO IS WIN

The formula for success has been pretty easy for the Kansas City Chiefs in recent years.

Starting Patrick Mahomes equals winning games.

Since entering the league, Mahomes is 38-8 in the regular season as a starter, and 5-1 in the playoffs.

The only blemish on his playoff resume came in just his first season as a starter, when Dee Ford lined up offside, negating a Tom Brady interception, leading to a Patriots win and Super Bowl.

But let’s get back to this season.

Before exiting the game with a concussion, Mahomes was hobbled by a foot injury that clearly had the superstar quarterback a bit limited with his mobility.

And yet, Mahomes started six drives on Sunday, two of which ended in touchdowns, three of them ended with field goals and one ended with a missed field goal.

Mahomes looked physically limited, but it really had no effect on his game, as he completed 21 of his 30 passes for 255 yards, threw for a touchdown and rushed one in.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs defence continued its solid play against the Browns, holding them to just 17 points and keeping Baker Mayfield to just 204 yards and forcing two turnovers.

Kansas City’s defence has been very opportunistic this season and has forced a turnover in 15 of their 17 games.

Meanwhile, the Bills had 22 turnovers in the regular season, and Josh Allen has fumbled in both playoff games as well.

I think Buffalo has been fortunate to be on the right side of a number of plays in their last two games, and this Kansas City offence (and defence) won’t make the same mistakes that Indianapolis and Baltimore made.

A few weeks ago it was tight end Jack Doyle having a big day with seven catches for 70 yards, while Michael Pitman Jr. added five receptions for 90 yards.

The winds in Buffalo didn’t allow much success in the passing game last week, but wideout Marquise Brown had four catches for 87 yards and Mark Andrews had a touchdown go off his hands late in the fourth quarter.

I expect Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to be just fine Sunday night coming off a combined 16 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland.

Speaking of Buffalo…

ANYWAY POSSIBLE

The Buffalo Bills have played two playoff games this season.

In those two games, they have been outgained 812-521, have gone just 6-22 on third down conversions and have gotten three kicks to doink off the uprights in their favour.

Yup, after a staller 13-3 regular season campaign, the Bills have won in the playoffs, but it hasn’t been pretty.

That being said, what has been pretty has been the connection between quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

Diggs has caught 14 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo’s two playoff wins, and after failing to record a catch against the Colts, John Brown chipped in with eight catches for 62 yards last week in the win over Baltimore. 

But the Bills’ passing game has taken a hit in the playoffs due to Cole Beasley dealing with a knee injury.

Beasley, in his second season with the Bills, was the perfect No. 2 to Diggs’ No.1 this season.

He finished second on the team with 82 catches, and 967 yards.

But his production has taken a hit since injuring his knee in a Dec. 28 win over the Patriots.

The 31-year-old had just three catches for 17 yards in that Week 16 win, was held out of the lineup in Week 17, had seven catches for just 57 yards against the Colts, and was targeted just twice Saturday night, with no catches.

The 5.67 yards per reception in Week 16, and 8.14 yards per reception during the Wild Card Round were the two lowest numbers he posted all season, until he failed to bring in a pass the following week.

On top of that, the team remains without Zack Moss after he was injured against the Colts.

Moss had emerged as the team’s top back late in the season, and got the start in the playoffs, he had seven rushes for 21 yards, with four catches for 26 yards before exiting the game.

Last week, the Bills had just six rushing yards at halftime and ended the game with a grand total of 32 yards on the ground.

I think this is finally the week everything catches up to the Bills.

Pick: Chiefs -3

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Brooks’ milestone helps patchwork Maple Leafs pick up win over Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — When Adam Brooks made his NHL debut under the roof at Madison Square Garden last season, he commemorated the achievement by getting linemate Jason Spezza to autograph a stick for him.

So you can imagine how thrilled the 24-year-old was Friday to have the veteran set up his first NHL goal. Never mind that it required a member’s bounce for the Toronto Maple Leafs inside Scotiabank Arena — with Spezza throwing a pass to the high slot on the power play and seeing it bounce in off Brooks’ right skate.

“It was a lot of fun, a great moment that I’ll remember forever obviously,” said Brooks. “To say that [Spezza] assisted on my first goal, a guy that’s played for that long and of that calibre, it’s a pretty cool moment for me.

“Just the whole thing was pretty exciting.”

It helped propel the Maple Leafs to a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on a night where they played without Auston Matthews (upper body) and Joe Thornton (rib fracture), two-thirds of their No. 1 line as recently as 48 hours earlier.

Under these circumstances, goals were not going to be easy to come by.

There would have been no way to predict that Brooks would get on the board for Toronto this season before Spezza, Wayne Simmonds or Ilya Mikheyev found the back of the net. This was his first time playing in a game that counted since last February and he only had a few hours notice once it was confirmed that Matthews wasn’t able to go.

For the Leafs, that goal wiped away Edmonton’s 1-0 lead just 43 seconds after a Leon Draisaitl short-handed strike. For Brooks, it was a massive milestone on a professional journey that began when he was a fourth-round pick in 2016.

“I think there was a lot of pressure taken off me,” he said.

Some pressure was relieved for the entire team after the 3-1 loss to the Oilers earlier this week. We came into this two-game set expecting an offensive explosion and instead found two North Division combatants much more concerned about their own end of the rink.

Absent Matthews, in particular, the Leafs didn’t look nearly as imposing.

The injuries forced head coach Sheldon Keefe to rearrange all four of his lines and he found success with the Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and William Nylander trio. They enjoyed the better ice while largely matching up against Edmonton’s second line of Dominik Kahun-Draisaitl-Kailer Yamamoto, and saw Vesey score the 2-1 goal during a shift against Edmonton’s bottom six.

That came after Kerfoot, Vesey’s former teammate and linemate at Harvard, stole the puck from Adam Larsson beneath the goal-line and fed it to Nylander, who fooled Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen by sliding it over.

“Kerf made a nice anticipation play and picked it off and found Willy, who made a great play to me,” said Vesey. “I think a lot of people thought he would have shot that puck but froze the goalie and slid it over. I just tried to bury it.”

The new-look line rebounded from a sputtering start to produce a sterling stat line with 88 per cent of the shot attempts, 86 per cent of the expected goals and a 5-0 advantage in shots during its nearly 10 minutes together at even strength.

“They skated well,” said Keefe. “It took them a little while to get going in the game, I thought, like it did our whole team. But they were on the puck, on the puck hard. I think what I liked mostly is that they scored us a 5-on-5 goal.

“Those have been hard to come by and it was good to get one.”

The other goals came from two usual suspects: John Tavares and Mitch Marner.

Tavares got the winner by tipping home a Marner shot after Connor McDavid had tied things up — giving the Leafs captain four power-play goals already on the season. Marner finished the job with an empty-netter.

It was a grind from start to finish, but there was satisfaction to be found in limiting the damage inflicted by McDavid and Draisaitl at even strength.

“Well I think it’s a good sign in seeing how much pride guys take in the defensive role and especially when you face two of the better players in the league,” said Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. “It’s obviously a great task and it’s been great to see the team respond and really take that role seriously and not give them anything for free.”

It’s going to take everyone in a year this unusual.

Even players like Brooks, summoned off the taxi squad to play just his eighth career NHL game here. The Winnipegger helped add two points to the standings and claimed another souvenir in the process: The puck that pinballed off his skate and eluded Koskinen.

“I’m sure my parents will steal it and put it in their basement,” he said.

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