LA Clippers: The Lou Williams & Montrezl Harrell dilemma

LA Clippers Lou Williams Montrezl Harrell
LA Clippers Lou Williams Montrezl Harrell /

Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell make up one of the LA Clippers’ most devastating duos. But will their heavy minutes load cost the team in the playoffs?

As a qualifier, the LA Clippers have not been fully healthy at any point this year, so there is no way to tell if Doc’s rotation will continue in this manner over the last three quarters of the season. At the same time, Doc’s rotation decisions have been a topic of discussion before, whether it be the lack of staggering Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s minutes in favor of hockey style line shifts or his reliance on players he trusts even though they are generally ineffective (see Bradley, Avery and Johnson, Wesley). At twenty-one games into the season, a slightly troubling pattern has developed in Doc’s rotation that might cause issues come playoff time.

Doc has once again fallen in love with the Lou WIlliamsMontrezl Harrell pairing. Last season, almost 75% of Montrezl’s minutes came with Lou Williams on the floor. This season, that number has jumped to just over 86%.

There is good reason for Doc to continue to ride that combination, as they form one of the more lethal pick and roll duos in the NBA. Lou and Trez are the main reason why the Clippers’ bench last season had the highest scoring output in the league. This season, they have continued that success, particularly while helping the Clippers close out games.

In fact, the Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell combination has logged the most fourth quarter minutes in the NBA this year. (The chart in the tweet below should help you visualize that.) Of two player combinations that have logged at least one hundred minutes together in the fourth quarter, the top six in net rating all include either Lou Williams or Montrezl Harrell. Five of those six combinations have offensive ratings that would lead the league; the sixth would rank .4 points behind first.

Clearly, the pairing has earned the minutes they are getting this season, but Doc might be riding both players too hard. Lou Williams is averaging thirty-two minutes per game this season, which would be only the second time in his career he has averaged over thirty. The other time? Two seasons ago with the Clippers, where he became the defacto go-to guy for the post-Griffin trade Clippers.

Williams seemed to wear down by the end of the season, however, with shooting percentages taking a sizable hit towards the end of the year, including seeing his three point percentage drop from 37.8% pre-All-Star break to 29.2% after it. Leaning on Williams so heavily in his fifteenth NBA season may expose the team to a similar dip in production.

Lou’s defense may also take a hit. While not known as a stout defender, Lou has demonstrated that when tired or conserving energy for the end of games, his defense can become a real liability. He is already hunted when games get close, so adding tired legs to an already shaky defensive profile can become a weak link for the Clippers’ most devastating fourth quarter lineup. While that can be reasonably patched over in the regular season, the best teams in the playoffs will have an easier time exploiting that weakness.

Harrell, on the other hand, may be getting leaned on even harder. Of the Clippers first twenty-one games, Montrezl has played the entire fourth quarter in ten of them. In those games, Harrell has done so after checking in for the final five to eight minutes of the third quarter. In six others, Harrell has logged almost an entire quarter’s worth of minutes or more of continuous second half play. In other words, Harrell is averaging just over sixteen second half minutes this season with all of them basically coming consecutively.

Harrell is much younger than Williams, and has been able to handle the load exceedingly well so far. He has been able to continue excellent two-way production while closing out games. However, like Williams, Harrell can have some liabilities defensively, mostly because he is undersized for his position. He has been able to overcome those liabilities with his energy and effort, which may become harder to draw on as the team goes deeper into the season and the playoffs.

While the rotation has largely been successful, with the Clippers overcoming numerous injuries to key players en route to a 15-6 record, the team needs to have their focus set on being as healthy and fresh as possible for the playoffs. With the superstar additions and a deeply talented roster, the Clippers are expected to be title favorites.

Hopefully, the distribution of minutes thus far are byproducts of a team dealing with injuries to their stars and other members of their would-be playoff rotation. The Clippers are taking a cautious approach with Kawhi Leonard, who is still dealing with discomfort in his knee. The team should do the same with Paul George, as well, since he is coming off of double shoulder surgery. Their health is already being considered as a priority.

Next. Six things Clippers fans should be thankful for. dark

Before the season, Doc touched on finding rest for other key members of the rotation at various points of the season. While it may not be popular, and may hurt the team in the regular season some, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell must be treated like two of the team’s stars. Focusing on their health and reducing their minute load should start creeping up the team’s list of priorities. If not, the Clippers run the risk of having a closing lineup that will run out of gas in June.