As May enters its final day, it is time to look at this year’s second draft profile, the mammoth center from Syracuse, Fab Melo. Checking in at a legitimate 7’0 and 275lbs or so, Melo is one of the few legitimate pure 5men in this draft, which makes him a valuable commodity in today’s size challenged NBA landscape. He also has long arms, measuring out a wing span of 7’3.Melo’s pure physical attributes will make him a much studied and talked aboutplayer as we go through this year’s draft process. Melo will turn just 22 years old on June 20, coming out to the league after a somewhat controversial sophomore year.
Playing for the Syracuse Orangemen brings with it both good and bad points. On the plus side, no one outside of Kentucky played in more biggames or marquee matchups than did Syracuse. Ranked in the top or near the topof the polls all year, and competing in the rugged Big East Conference, Melohad many prime time games to make his game well known to the casual collegebasketball fans everywhere.
On the negative side, Syracuse plays such an unorthodoxdefensive style in their “bump 2-3” zone, that you didn’t often get to see Melo in a lot of realistic NBA defensive situations. Playing the middle backline of their zone, Melo was the ultimate rim protector, rarely stepping outside of thepainted area defensively, rarely being screened or having to defend theballscreen/pick and pop game that is so popular in the NBA today. So, most ofthe scouting analysis you have to do with Fab Melo defensively is projectionand guesswork, rather than hard film evidence.
Of course, making projections iswhat coaches and scouts do, so without further ado let’s put the game of the young big man under the microscope:
Melo, like most big men, is going to probably be a late developer offensively. Right now healmost totally is a “right hand/left shoulder” guy inside when he catches theball with his back to the basket. While at 7’0 and strong he can get off a nice right handed jump hook, he takes a long time to load up hs shot and is pretty predictable and easy to guard, since 95% of the time you know which way he will turn as a defender. He also occasionally makes a full turn and tries a turnaround jumper inside turning to his left, but he doesn’t get much elevation and isn’t very accurate doing it. Right now, his one NBA move is the right hand jump hook, other than he doesn’t have much. Melo has never been and likely never will be a primary scoring option for a team with his back to the rim, but then again, he doesn’t really have to be to have a long NBA career. But if he wants to be legitimately a really good player, he will have to spend a lot of hoursin a gym getting his basic inside moves down offensively. A team that picks Melo needs to be prepared to have a good big man coach work with him and develop him.
Like all raw big men, Melo doesn’t always play with good balance inside, and he plays too upright when trying to establish position. Now in college he is so big and strong it didn’t matter much, but in the NBA he will have to learn how to “sink his hips” inside so he can lower his center of gravity and establish and hold his spot.
One thing I do like about Melo is that he seems tounderstand and embrace the fact that he is big. They may sound silly to some of you, but as coaches you see so many big guys play like they wish they were guards, always looking to drift outaway from traffic and make little finesse type plays on the perimeter. Melo isn’t that way, instead he truly knows where he lives, which is about 5 feet from the front of the rim.
He has some mobility as a ball screener, then rolling to the rim for lobs and dunks. In fact, when he catches the ball facing the basketclose enough where he doesn’t have to dribble (Melo can’t dribble at all), heis a pretty good finisher. While not a high flier, he can still go dunk with authority and finish thru contact, which is nice to see….he doesn’t avoid or shy away from contact like so many young bigs do.
His big offensive weakness that I see is that he brings the ball down too low most of the time, and lets guards “dig” at him hard and steal it from him. Instead of embracing the double team and calmly passing out of it to an open teammate, often times he panics, gets off balance, brings the ball low and gets turned over. He gets a little spastic with the ball in traffic sometimes, so whoever his teammates are will need to be careful not to put him in bad spots offensively, as he has only limited capabilities with the ball at this time.
I do think though that by age 27 or so that Melo has the potential to develop some offensively. Big guys need time, and whichever fanbase and coaching staff ends up with him needs to be willing to develop him slowly, as he does need a lot of offensive work.However, the material is there to work with, and I see him eventually being adecent enough offensive player, though likely a 4th or 5thoption on the floor when he is playing. He also should eventually be one hell of a screener, as he is agile enough, mean enough, and tough enough to do that if asked.
I also think he likely would be better in a slightly slower paced system, as he is not nearly athletic enough to run up and down the floor at this time. But since I think he will be a shorter spurts type of guy, I wouldn’t shoehorn him to only playing on the slowdown teams totally just yet. I think he can be in play for just about every team in the league with some patience and a good developmental staff.
Defensively is where he can make a difference I believe.More than anything, Melo likes playing defense, and seems to understand that it is on that end where he can make his money. Melo was the defensive player ofthe year in the Big East Conference, mainly due to his ability to block and alter shots, as he averaged almost 3 blocks a game and altered many many more.
Now, he did this in the context of the Syracuse 2-3 zone,which put him right in front of the rim and enabled him to always play facing the basketball, so he could see things develop in front of him. Opponents did what they could to spread Syracuse out, but Melo was good enough of a rim protectorthat the Orange could afford to funnel guys to Melo, with the faith that they wouldn’t score much against him. Even more importantly, Melo showed enough savvy and smarts to not foul a lot, and even drew some charges against out of control drivers, something you rarely see a young 7 footer do. So many times you see young bigs jump and try to block everything, but Melo was judicious and smart, only going after shots when it was appropriate usually.
This was hard to see on tape, but appeared to me that Melo was a really good defensive communicator back there as well, yelling out things he saw to his teammates as the sort of defensive captain that he was. I saw alot of pointing out of him, normally a good sign for someone in the back part of a zone.
The problem of course is this: playing NBA man to mandefense takes a lot of different skills than playing the back end of a college zone. So trying to figure out how he can guard typical NBA situations will be something scouts and coaches have to figure out, and is why individual workouts will be so critical to him and his stock.
Teams will have to see how well he can hedge on a ballscreen and recover to his man, and see if he is quick enough to trap aballscreen if asked to do so? Can he defend one on one in the low post against a man just as big as him? How does he do guarding someone who faces him up and drives him? How will he do against apick and pop guy? How well and balanced can he be trying to close out on a shooter? How well can he fight someone for position as they come down the floor? How well will he do sprinting to the help position after the ball is reversed on him?
Many questions to answer I know. My guess is that, with time, that Melowill be a plus defender at the 5 position, but will have some trouble sliding his feet on the perimeter and against perimeter based big guys who face him up.Those aren’t fatal flaws at all, and I suspect his defensive skills at being a superior help defender and rim protector will make him a really nice defensive big man at the next level in a couple of years potentially.
But like all players that will be available at pick #26, hehas some major concerns I think that have to be discussed.
One major flaw is his lack of rebounding skill andproduction. A 7 foot center who can’t do much offensively and can’t rebound really isn’t worth much, and to reach his full potential Melo is going to have to rebound much better than he does currently. 3 defensive rebounds a game on average in 25 minutes a game at thecollege level simply won’t get it done.
Melo has some issues rebounding. First, he overhelped a tonin Syracuse’s zone, always having to shift to the ballside typically when a shot was taken, or perhaps being asked to defend the high post when a shot was taken. This sometimes put him out of normal rebound position, and the ballwould be gobbled up by others. Ok, it happens…..somewhat understandable.
But…..a great rebounder with a high motor pursues ballsoutside his area much better than Melo does. Basically, it has to come prettyclose to where he is standing for him to be able to snag it. You never see Melo on tape fly from one side of the lane to the other to get boards out of the air, and Melo is rarely the” first guy to sky”. First man in the air wins the rebound is something I say to my own big guys at the high school level, and Melo simply isn’t quick and nimble on his feet from a rebound point of view.
Now, will he ever improve as a board man? I’d like to say yes, because he is too good of a player to be that bad of a rebounder, and Syracuse zone is odd in how much he had to move around, but it is an open question and no one knows for sure, including me.
Another concern is conditioning. He played only 25 minutesper game for the Orange, and the reason is he simply wasn’t in good enough shape to be effective playing more than that. I think playing at 270 plus lbs is too many for him, and that a smart NBA team that drafts him will have to give him a nutritionist, chef, and personal trainer to get him in optimalshape, because I am not sure anyone has ever gotten him in great shape to play. Syracuse improved him a lot from his freshman year (when he was awful) to this past year, but much more work needs to be done in getting him in NBA level shape. Is he willing to put the time in to make that happen? Who knows?
And the last concern is simply the character issue. Fab Melo had a lot of dustups and immaturity issues in college, this is publicknowledge. In fact he likely cost Syracuse a legitimate chance at an NCAA titleby making himself academically ineligible for the NCAA tournament. (the details are hazy, and NCAA rules annoy me anyway…but I think we can safely say that Melo is likely not exactly an honor student)
Putting your teammates and coaches in a bad position to me shows some character flaws in Fab Melo that Iwould at least want to know more about as an NBA team investing millions ofdollars in him. As far as some of his domestic violence issues, I don’t really know any details about them but we do know that they existed, and teams will want to check those stories out as well.
So, what do we have in total about the Syracuse big man,when you factor in all the pros and cons?
I think we have a high upside defensive minded big with alegitimate NBA body and size, who likely will stick in the league as a back up center, and who has enough potential to maybe be a lower minutes/end starter someday if he stays on the straightand narrow. At pick #26, that is pretty good value I think.
But how does he fit?
For Indiana’s purposes, we need a legitimate back up centerfor Roy Hibbert, as we really don’t have one currently. However, Melo is too slow and limited to ever play WITH Hibbert, so he is only a backup 5 man, not a guy who can play multiple spots for you.
To me, in an ideal world you’d have a 3 main bigs: A legitimate center like Hibbert, a legitimate 4 man like West, and another guy who could play at a high level as a substitute for Hibbert, and then slide over and play some 4 man WITH Hibbert. Then you’d have a 4th big backing up Hibbert in limited minutes, and a 5th big who could back up West and preferably give you some skill or attribute than we don’t have elsewhere.
But the way we are constructed currently, we need pure backups for both West and Hibbert who each play in the high teens or low 20’s in minutes per game. I think if Indiana drafts Melo, it is to be that back up for Hibbert, playing around 16-18 minutes per game as a back up center…….
Except that Melo can’t rebound well (at least I believe itis a potential major weakness) and drafting him means pairing him with Hansbrough, a poor rebounding back up 4 man. Of course, long term I don’t know if Hansbrough will be here either, so you can’t let that be a major factor inyour thinking if you are Indiana’s front office I don’t think.
It is a tough call at #26. But when you factor in his fit on the team, plus his lack of rebounding prowess, plus (and likely most importantly for Indiana) his character questions, I think Indiana likely will pass on Fab Melo. But I myself wouldn’t have any problems taking him, because bigs are hard to find, and I think most of his flaws can becorrected from a basketball point of view. As much more of a defensive minded player, I like how he can compliment Roy Hibbert potentially, and he protects us against injury down the line.
I also wouldn’t mind taking him, because I highly value character in the locker room, and I trust David West, Danny Granger, George Hill to keep him in line and to teach him how to be a pro.
In short, I think Melo would bea nice pick for Indiana at #26, but I am doubting that the Pacers see it thesame way. And if you are suddenly in “win now” mode I understand that, because it may be a few years before Melo fully develops into what I think he can be.
I believe what Indiana will do is a moot point anyway,because I think Melo will be long gone by the time Indiana selects, big guys who can defend are just too valuable to slide that far I think. And if he DOES slide that far, it is probably that his character problems have proven to be so bad that no one wants him…..and if that is the case, we wouldn’t want him either.
My guess is that Melo will be a strong consideration for Houston as high as #16, Boston at #21 and #22, Atlanta at #23, and Cleveland at #24. The Cavaliers in my view are a strong fit for himat #24 with their current roster and the way they play. But my best guess of all is that he lands at Orlando @19, who needs size badly, especially with Howard I believe likely to be traded this summer.
Current NBA comparable: Brenden Haywood.
Former NBA comparable: Eric Dampier
As always, the above is just my opinion