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Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell named NBA’s sixth man of the year

Clippers center Montrezl Harrell is defended by Nuggets center Mason Plumlee (7) during Game 1 on Sept 3, 2020.
Clippers center Montrezl Harrell is defended by Nuggets center Mason Plumlee during Game 1 on Thursday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

He is a reserve who plays the role of closer, a 6-foot-7 big man who desires matchups with 7-footers, a 32nd overall draft pick in line to earn first-round money this offseason.

Add another distinction for Clippers forward-center Montrezl Harrell: top reserve.

Harrell was chosen the NBA’s sixth man award winner, after career-high averages of 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds, becoming the first non-guard to win since the Lakers’ Lamar Odom in 2011.

It is the third consecutive season and fifth time in the last seven seasons that a Clipper has won after past victories by Jamal Crawford and, more recently, Lou Williams.

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Harrell received 58 out of a possible 100 first-place votes and 397 total points. Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schröder finished second, with 35 first-place votes and 328 total points, and Williams received seven first-place votes and 127 total points to finish third.

Teammates broke the news to Harrell during a video session Friday. Williams, a three-time winner and one of Harrell’s closest friends since their first season together four years ago in Houston, retrieved the trophy from outside the practice court’s door and surprised Harrell.

Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 120-97 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Thursday.

This season, Williams and Harrell became the first teammates since 1971, when the NBA began designating starters, to each average at least 17 points off the bench.

“This could be his award,” said Harrell, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Williams’ face during his trophy ceremony. “For him to hand me the trophy, it was special, it was a huge surprise.”

Harrell flashed a grin but, holding the trophy, tightened his expression while telling teammates the award was dedicated to a late grandmother whose death in July kept Harrell away for one month to mourn.

Upon his return for the start of the playoffs, Harrell credited his grandmother with fostering his passion for basketball from a young age. On Friday, he recalled their conversation last year, after he finished third in the award voting.

“She told me this year was going to be my year,” said Harrell, 26. “I went back to my room and contemplated having my talks one on one with her because we’ve had these talks and she told me that I was going to win it this year, that this year was going to be my year.

“And it just hurts that, yes, it’s a tremendous blessing that I was able to get this and be here, but it just hurts that I’m not able to take it home to her.”

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Alongside Williams and guard Patrick Beverley, Harrell arrived in Los Angeles as part of a 2017 trade that sent Chris Paul to Houston. Though Clippers coach Doc Rivers has said that the team nearly waived Harrell during his first training camp, Harrell recalled feeling assured upon his arrival after hearing from Rivers that he was not considered trade filler but a player of value.

Harrell responded by averaging 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds that season before a breakout in 2019, when his pick-and-roll connection with Williams helped the Clippers lead the NBA in bench scoring and Harrell average 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, finishing third in sixth man voting.

This season, Harrell’s 11 double-doubles off the bench lead the league and he has scored 20 or more points off the bench 23 times, including four games of 30-plus points, which ties for the most among all reserves. He helped the Clippers become the first team since the 1968 San Francisco Warriors with four players averaging at least 18 points each.

Clippers All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard has continued to refine his play in the mid-range game, and statistics show how effective he has been.

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“He epitomizes what a sixth man of the year award winner is, and trust me, we are getting used to them here with Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford in the past,” Rivers said. “To have Trez join the group is really amazing. I feel like more than a coach watching Trez do this; I feel like a proud father.”

An unrestricted free agent when this season ends, Harrell has averaged 9.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in seven postseason games while regaining his conditioning.

“Like I told my teammates in practice, man, this award is because of them,” Harrell said. “These guys trusted me to be the player that I am, and they let me be it, no matter through the ups, through the downs. They always have been there and had my back, and you can’t do nothing but cherish things like that.”


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