Montrezl Harrell was dressed for light work.

On the morning before his first game at Capital One Arena with the Washington Wizards, he wore a short-sleeved T-shirt layered over a long-sleeved one, a towel tucked into his shorts. This was not an outfit meant for intense movement or heavy sweat. The Wizards’ backup center was mostly trying to stay warm while getting a few shots up in a nearly empty gym.

But Harrell is who he is, so intensity was unavoidable. He rotated around the three-point line, and if the ball went in, he cursed. If the ball clanked off the rim, he cursed. He cursed himself, he cursed the ball, and he cursed the rim, huffing and puffing all the while. Eventually, assistant coach Joseph Blair joined in on the cursing, so Harrell at least had a little atmosphere beyond three bug-eyed reporters watching him swear. He probably didn’t need the help.

“He plays with a different energy,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

Through four preseason games and two wins that actually counted, the 6-foot-7, 240-pound big man who arrived in Washington this past summer from the Los Angeles Lakers via a multi-team trade has separated himself from the rest of the roster not only with his defensive presence — as the slightly stockier, more in-your-face alternative to rangy starter Daniel Gafford — but with his inescapable ferocity.

This year’s Wizards are a naturally low-key, quieter bunch, from Unseld and franchise cornerstone Bradley Beal on down. They are generally the type of players who, if they get drawn into smack talk during a game, reset and move on to the next play.

Harrell is more likely to respond with a growl. He is the one who speaks every day at practice, going so far as to call a players-only meeting during the preseason when the Wizards appeared not to be meeting their standards.

In games, the 27-year-old is just as fiery, embracing the role of the Wizards’ heavy with every strong rebound or emphatic dunk. He has averaged 18 points and eight rebounds off the bench in two games, but his energy — his swag — is immeasurable, and fans in Washington responded by showering him with “M-V-P!” chants in Friday’s home-opening overtime win over the Indiana Pacers. If Beal is the Wizards’ heart, Harrell is their guts.

“Trez a dog, man. He’s a dog,” point guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. “He’s going to bring it every night. He’s going to rip your heart out. And I think it’s a certain presence, a certain mentality that permeates the group.”

Harrell’s intensity is innate, but his role as the team’s most vocal leader is more purposeful. He is a 2015 second-round pick who bloomed into the sixth man of the year with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2019-20, no stranger to molding himself into exactly what the roster needs.

With Beal playing his usual role as the Wizards’ leader by example, Harrell saw he had a void to fill in Washington.

“I tell people all the time, the guy who leads the charge in our group is Bradley Beal, but Brad’s one of those guys who kind of does it by example. It’s more so: ‘Follow me. Follow what I’m doing,’ ” Harrell said. “He’s not going to really voice it. So I want to be that one on that backstop for him to voice it because I’m not really scared of what nobody really has to say or how nobody really feel.”

The pair have made a natural duo with their complementary leadership skills. Harrell generally beelines to Beal on the sideline when he checks out of the game, immediately engaging the guard in a gesture-filled conversation. When they sat side by side at a postgame news conference after the season opener Wednesday in Toronto, Harrell interrupted Beal with notes of support more than once, dapping him up when he realized the game was Beal’s first win in a season opener since 2017.

“Oh, for real?” Harrell said with surprise. “I’m so happy to be a part of that, man.”

Beal used his closing remarks to advocate for Harrell across the board. “Trez for president,” he said as he walked out of the room.

“Man, they can’t put nobody like me in the White House,” Harrell responded.

Harrell’s desire to make an impact with the Wizards comes, at least in part, from the feeling that he was underused during the season he spent playing in a loaded Lakers frontcourt. In 69 games he averaged 22.9 minutes, his fewest since his third year in the league.

“I’m just trying to get back to playing basketball freely, get back to enjoying the game and just being able to help my team on both ends of the floor. I didn’t really get to be utilized how I wanted to be last year — damn near felt like I had a season off,” Harrell said.

He has averaged 30 minutes in two games to tip off a contract year in Washington, a city to which he said he felt an immediate connection. As a North Carolina native, Harrell is happy to be playing on the East Coast for the first time in his career so his family can come watch him play.

In any given game they would, undoubtedly, get to witness the full Harrell experience, including a passion and edge the Wizards would lack without him.

“Where does his passion come from? I think it’s in part the struggle,” Dinwiddie said. “I don’t know much about his early life, but whenever you’re out of the second round or undrafted, you have to grind through, figure out your place in the league. Nothing’s guaranteed. You go to a team with a lot of vets, a lot of stars and stuff like that, you have a more rigorous time coming through. So to earn the sixth man of the year and to be a staple in the league and all the other stuff, you go through some things to get that, you understand what I’m saying? He wasn’t a top-five pick that got handed the ball and said, ‘Go rock out.’ ”

Harrell had to learn to create his own fire.

Near the end of the Wizards’ home opener, he was on the sideline waiting to check back in and was so amped that he tried to rip a towel in half for no apparent reason before he punched a table on the baseline on his way back to the court.

“You know,” backup forward Anthony Gill said, “Trez is different. For sure.”