The Washington Wizards are a rather inexplicable 10-5 to start the 2022 season, fourth in the East. And leading the team in WS/48 and VORP by a country mile? Montrezl Harrell, the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year, a guy who may not look like a superstar in a traditional sense out on the floor but who racks up counting and advanced stats seemingly effortlessly whenever he’s in the game.
Harrell is sitting on .323 WS/48 in 15 games and 430 minutes this season. He’s posting a 7.0 Box Plus/Minus and 1.0 VORP, that last projecting over 82 games to 5.5 VORP, the kind of season that lands in the top five in the league and gets a guy into the MVP conversation.
What’s more, he’s taking what is by any other metric a downright lousy Wizards squad, putting them on his shoulders, and carrying them to that 10-5 record.
Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Bradley Beal, the three guys on the Wizards with more minutes than Trezz, have .067, .050, and .062 WS/48 respectively, three-fifths of a starting lineup that, if the rest of the team played like that, would project out more like the 25-47 season Washington posted in 2020 than the 55-27 pace they’re on at 10-5.
Harrell’s on his way to 15.9 WS if he keeps up his current rate of production, and that’s the kind of territory in which lives Nikola Jokic (15.6 WS in 2021 to lead the NBA in 72 games) or Rockets-era James Harden (15.2 WS to lead the NBA in 2019, the last 82-game season.) And since WS are effectively a 1-to-1 function of actual projected team wins, if you replaced Harrell with a guy who was on the same level production-wise as those other three guys in the starting lineup, it would cost Washington 12 wins over the course of 82 games and would’ve cost them two or three wins already in 15 games, making them more like 7-8 or 8-7 and as such somewhere in between seventh in the East (the Knicks are 8-7) or out of the play-in tournament (there’s a one-game spread between 9-8 Cleveland and 8-9 Toronto between eighth and 11th.)
Furthermore, the older criticisms of Harrell as a defensive liability have become less and less of an issue over the years. Sure, when Harrell was a rookie or a second-year guy back in 2016 and ’17 on the Rockets, he couldn’t guard my dead grandmother.
But the stats point to a defensive evolution, with every metric used to measure defense showing him steadily improving every year since that rookie season.
You don’t post .323 WS/48 if you can’t guard anyone. Defensive Win Shares are a thing, and they’re a major component of WS/48—even Stephen Curry, in his brain-explodingly awesome 2016 season, had 4.1 DWS as part of his league-leading .318 WS/48.
To give you an idea of how good .323 WS/48 is, only three full NBA seasons have resulted in a player posting a better mark than that—two belong to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the other belongs to Wilt Chamberlain.
So far this season, Nikola Jokic (.353) and Jimmy Butler (.346) are posting history-altering seasons of their own. Butler has a strong MVP case in his own right, and his Miami Heat did just clobber the Wizards Thursday night—they play again Nov. 20 and might just obsolete this article in a day. Likewise, Jokic has been carrying the 9-7 Nuggets, but he’s got a better supporting cast (Aaron Gordon and Will Barton are both posting solid starter-on-a-contender advanced stats, something the Wizards don’t have.)
But let’s take a moment to look at Montrezl Harrell and realize that we might just be watching the evolution of a guy who has evolved into an advanced stats juggernaut, a guy who’s on a one-year for under $10,000,000, a guy who is the best value for money in the entire league who isn’t on a rookie contract (yeah, Luka Doncic is only making $10.17 million, but he’s about to start a five-year max extension worth $200 million.)
Speaking of “Luka money”, should Harrell be able to command $200 million for five years? Maybe not. Probably not, not unless he really is a true .300 WS/48 guy in rarefied ultra-superstar air and it’s not just 15 red-hot games in a season where he regresses.
But for a guy who has singlehandedly turned around a team mired in mediocrity and been the precise polar opposite of what Washington thought they were going to get last year with Russell Westbrook?
By the gods, what more do you want? Trezz should be an All-Star. If he keeps these advanced stats up, he should be in the MVP conversation. Dude can flat-out ball.