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Montrezl Harrell, Throwback Big Man

Washington Wizards Introduce New Player Shoot
Wizards big man Montrezl Harrell
Photo by Avi Gerver/NBAE via Getty Images

The Statistical Doppelgänger Machine works by comparing a player’s performance across 14 different categories that include age, playing time, pace-neutral box score stats and scores from my PPA metric. All that’s rolled up into a single score that (in theory) provides a list of NBA players since 1977-78 with similar production at a similar age.

The idea is to find players of about-the-same quality who produce in similar ways. Because the game has evolved over the years, the comps tend to come from the same general area. There are exceptions, of course, but few players have quite as many exceptions as Washington’s new backup center Montrezl Harrell.

Only one of Harrell’s top seven comps came from the most recent decade. Five were pre-2000.

What is Harrell? In today’s NBA, he’s an undersized center who scores efficiently, rebounds decently, doesn’t defend effectively, and has effectively no passing skills. Hustle gets him buckets inside, which is good because he can’t shoot from outside. I mean, he’s 0-28 from three-point range over the past two seasons.

As you’ll see from the list of comps below, in other eras Harrell would have been a PF. Maybe even a wing, depending on how far back we sent him with the Bullets Forever Time Machine.

Overall, Harrell has been a solidly above average player for several seasons. Last year was his fifth straight with a PPA of 110 or higher. He topped out with a 151 in 2018-19.

The comps, according to the Statistical Doppelgänger Machine:

  1. Mitch Kupchak, Washington Bullets, 1980-81 — Kupchak was part of the Bullets 1978 championship team. He was a productive PF/C type and this — his age 26 season — was his last at full health. He played all 82 in 1980-81, just 26 games the following year with the Lakers, and then missed all of the 1982-83 season. Maybe Harrell will go on to build championship teams as a general manager.
  2. Armen Gilliam, New Jersey Nets, 1993-94 — Consistently above average PF with multiple teams, Gilliam was healthy and at least pretty good through age 33. As a 1990s PF, Gilliam’s game was midrange and in. He had just 17 career three-point attempts in 15 seasons. I’d completely forgotten his first name had an “e” not an “o.”
  3. Chris Gatling, Golden State Warriors, 1994-95 — Shoutout to a fellow Old Dominion University alum. Another above-average 1990s PF who scored and didn’t shoot threes.
  4. Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets, 2011-12 — My memory had Landry as more of a defender, but the numbers show a solid scoring PF (average usage rate throughout his career). Like Harrell, he was a bit better than average in his prime. Like Harrell, he didn’t shoot threes.
  5. Mitch Kupchak, Washington Bullets, 1978-79 — This was the best season of Kupchak’s career — a PPA of 146. He appeared in 66 games and just 40 the following season (which was the worst of his career until his 30s.
  6. Armen Gilliam, Philadelphia 76ers, 1992-93 — Sensing a pattern here?
  7. Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets, 2019-20 — Naturally, the first comp from the same era is throwback guy too. Zeller actually tried shooting threes in this season (75 attempts). It did not go well (18 makes).
  8. Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks, 2016-17 — Strange player and career. Monroe was productive on offense who was useless on defense — too slow to defend modern PFs and unable to provide the rotations and rim protection teams want from centers. The solution might have been to lose 25-30 pounds to gain mobility. Monroe went the opposite direction and was out of the league two years later.
  9. Amare Stoudemire, New York Knicks, 2013-14 — Let’s pause for a moment to remember how monstrously good Stoudemire was when he played with Steve Nash and Shawn Marion. Before all the injuries. High volume and high efficiency scoring. One of the great finishers inside. This wasn’t that version of Stoudemire. At 31 years old, he played 65 games that season (a high for his time with the Knicks) and was average (PPA: 104).
  10. Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana Pacers, 2010-11 — Another throwback PF type. Hansbrough’s game was all inside. He played inside, had dubious efficiency, rebounded okay, and seemed to be allergic to passing.

Scanning down the list, here are some notable names who are just outside the top 10 of “most similar”:

  • Cedric Ceballos
  • Hakim Warrick
  • Amare Stoudemire’s age 32 season
  • Andray Blatche (his average season in Brooklyn)
  • Carl Landry
  • Matt Geiger

Next up: Aaron Holiday