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Montrezl Harrell needs to take the next step

We continue our player previews with the power forward out of Louisville who’s hopefully ready to step up in his second season.

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

There’s an open spot right now in the Houston Rockets’ big man rotation. Clint Capela, Nene Hilario and Ryan Anderson are assured of their place. Chinanu Onuaku is far from ready to contribute this season, and Donatas Motiejunas is still stuck somewhere floating out in no man’s land.

They say fortune is a crossroad where opportunity meets preparation, and this may be just the opportunity second-year man Montrezl Harrell needs to find the good luck of cracking the nightly group. To make it stick, he’ll just need to have done the preparation.

We saw glimpses of it last season. The forward out of Louisville played in 39 games for the Rockets, and in a year where Houston often appeared disinterested and stuck in the mire, Harrell was a bright spot of energy and enthusiasm. He was defensive hustle when there often was none, holding a -1.4 differential percentage for the player he was guarding, and he was attitude when the Rockets were often missing it. He got up sky high for a few thunderous dunks.

But he did have some obvious blemishes as well. He was a poor rebounder, averaging just 6.2 per 36 minutes, and has a lot of work to do to diversify his offensive repertoire. Almost 90 percent of Harrell’s shots last season came within 10 feet of the bucket. He’s not overly skilled in the post and he’s not a pick-and-roll juggernaut (though he did average 1.04 points per possession on the play last year), so enhancing his skills away from the rim will make him much harder to guard and substantially more valuable in the fast-paced Mike D’Antoni system.

He also needs to improve on last year’s biggest red flag: maturity. The obvious example is the five-game suspension Trez snagged by pushing a ref to the floor in a D-League scuffle. That stuff doesn’t fly in the Association, and once a player gets a reputation with the officials as a hot head, it’s a tough one to shake.

At this admittedly early stage of his second season, it’s hard to find quantifiable and definitive proof that Trez has taken that next step forward. He’s played sparingly in the preseason thus far, averaging just 3.5 points and 4 rebounds on 40 percent shooting in only 9 minutes per game.

He was also slightly underwhelming in NBA Summer League action this year. He did put up 14.8 points per game in 47.4 percent from the field, but he only grabbed 5.6 rebounds per game, which was one of his problem areas last year. And that was against a competition level you would like to see him dominate.

This isn’t to say there isn’t time. Harrell is just 22 years old, and big men can be notoriously slow to develop and adjust to the nuances of the pro game. Harrell is signed through next season, and he’s given the organization enough bright spots that they should give him the chance to prove he can stick around.

Despite the open spot in the front line rotation, minutes for Trez are no sure thing. The Rockets could easily elect to run out Trevor Ariza or Sam Dekker at the four in small ball lineups if they don’t yet feel they can trust Harrell with major minutes.

With any luck, though, Harrell will take that next step. It appears the opportunity will be available this year to make an impact. Now we just wait to see if he’s done the preparation.