ORLANDO- When I watch these Boston Celtics summer league games, I don’t view the game holistically; instead, I zoom my focus in on individual players, judging their actions and skills in an effort to predict what impact they could have in the regular season.
With Kelly Olynyk, it’s easy to see where he’ll fit in at the next level. The only other summer league player under contract with the Celtics–Fab Melo–is a much different story.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge drafted Melo with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft–one pick after he selected Jared Sullinger. Sullinger was the NBA-ready sure-thing (medical red flags withstanding), while Melo was a developmental project.
Only a year into Melo’s noteless career, it’s hard to imagine him ever becoming a valuable NBA player and he appears to be a wasted draft pick–especially when compared with this year’s second-round pick, Colton Iverson.
Since Melo is viewed as a project with ‘potential’, many would caution me to have patience with the big fella. It’s only been one season, one might argue, and big guys generally take longer to develop.
Still, Melo not only looks woefully overmatched in summer league, he also doesn’t appear to have made any significant strides in his physical development, or in his basketball awareness. In fact, from a visual perspective, Melo appears to be in worse shape than he did when he played at Syracuse.
So far this week, Celtics summer league coach Jay Larranaga has been asked a lot of Fab-ulous questions. Since it’s something of an unwritten rule that summer league coaches must heap praises on all of their players, Larranaga’s responses have been generally enthusiastic.
But it’s been telling that Larranaga almost always begins his answers to the Melo questions by discussing his conditioning.
“You talk about it a lot with big guys:fatigue makes cowards of us all,” Larranaga said following Monday’s game. “When you start to get tired, your brain, I think, is the first to go.
For all our big guys, the better and better shape they get…the harder we work, you won’t give in to fatigue as much. I think Colton is that way. He plays so hard.”
And that leads into the dilemma the Celtics must address. Melo has a guaranteed contract for this season, but Iverson is the far superior player.
Melo hasn’t shown any signs of progress that would suggest he can, or will, turn himself into a reliable NBA player. At best, it seems, he could become exactly what Iverson (only a year older than Melo) already is: a defensive-minded player with limited offensive capabilities who knows his role.
The Brazilian center has become something of a laughingstock here in Orlando. When he checks in, people perk up, expecting something entertaining is about to happen.
Melo has provided some comic relief. He airballed a three-foot hookshot and has probably been blocked on more dunk attempts than the rest of the league combined.
At times, Jared Sullinger, the injured Nolan Smith, and the rest of the Celtics bench have laughed and smiled at Melo like he’s a small child just learning the game. In the first game, Melo was (inexplicably) fouled on a 15-foot shot from straight on, which he inadvertently banked in. The bench cheered him on like a 7-year old who made his first three-point shot.
Late in Monday’s blowout win against the Detroit Pistons, Melo, after getting blocked two or three times earlier in the game, finally dunked one home in garbage time. Sullinger’s reaction was surprise, pity,and embarrassment all melting together.
It seems clear at this point that the Celtics like Iverson more. Iverson started Wednesday’s game and Melo played just 10 minutes. When asked if Melo’s limited minutes had anything to do with rest or getting other players looks, Larranaga said it was just the rotation he chose.
When asked about Iverson, Larranaga said,“He’s just a big, tough, hard-playing dude. I think his teammates love him.”
Drafting Iverson almost seems like an admission from Ainge that he made a mistake when he selected Melo. If the Celtics had any belief in Melo, it wouldn’t make much sense to purchase a second-round pick and choose another 7-foot center, who projects to fill a similar role.
I wrote earlier this week that Iverson probably needed to develop a bit more before he earned an NBA roster spot, but the more I think about it, he probably has a good chance of sticking with the Celtics.
The coaches and front office obviously love his toughness, energy, and work ethic and his rebounding ability will certainly translate to the NBA. He has the tools to be a very good defensive center, which he should develop into when he ingrains the pick-and-roll coverages into his brain and learns how to play defense without fouling.
The Celtics can waive D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph and their non-guaranteed contracts to make room for Iverson on the roster. White is all but a goner, and though Randolph played well in spot minutes last season, he doesn’t have the defensive potential, or size, of Iverson.
As for Melo, expect to see a lot more of him in Maine, unless the Celtics really plan on tanking.