In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s edition evaluates USC guard De’Anthony Melton.
By the time he reached the 2018 NBA Draft Combine, De’Anthony Melton was simply ready to get back to playing basketball. After being ruled ineligible for the 2017-18 college season, which would have been his sophomore campaign at USC, Melton used the time off to work hard on his game but, of course, training in the gym is not the same as competing on the court. During 5-on-5’s at the combine, Melton finally got back to competitive action while being able to show scouts and general managers what he has to offer NBA teams.
Melton is a 6’3 guard with a wingspan in the range of 6-8. In his one college season for the Trojans, Melton developed the reputation of an extremely physical guard who could do everything on both ends of the floor except consistently make shots.
During his freshman year, Melton average 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. There is no doubt that he is a stat sheet filler. But the one skill that so often becomes the litmus test, especially for guards, is shooting.
While filling the stat sheet a freshman, Melton shot 43.7 percent from the field, 28.4 percent from the three point line and 70.6 percent from the free throw line. If we look for silver linings in terms of progressions throughout his one college season, we do not see that his shooting progressed. In fact, his three point shooting declined as the season moved along. He did show an improved jump shot at the combine but it may not be enough to move the needle on scouts’ impressions of him.
Though Melton has not demonstrated that he will be an adequate shooter at the NBA level, he is viewed as a viable NBA prospect who could go late in the first round or early in the second round. The reason is that Melton does just about everything else you would want an NBA player to do, and he particularly thrives on the defensive end.
Aside from his shooting challenges, Melton can do most of the things you would want from a 6’3 player on the offensive end. He handles the ball well with a repertoire of moves that one would need as a secondary ball handler or point guard working off the bench. Additionally, he is very strong with the ball as he is able to translate his strength and physicality into the ball handling aspects of his game.
Melton can play a traditional point guard role. He is adequate running the pick and roll and he does have the vision and passing skills to find open players and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. But, unless his shooting improves tremendously, it would be difficult to envision Melton running a first unit at the NBA level.
Melton perhaps profile as a player who could play the one in an NBA offense that runs more offense origination through wings or bigs. He could play a Terry Rozier-like role in an offense that runs through its bigs, as the Celtics do through Al Horford. Or, he could play a Patrick Beverley type of role when he thrived as an elite defender playing along side James Harden in Houston.
Melton’s speed and athleticism can be very useful in transition. But a transition game can sometimes be more driven by opportunity than by skill. Players that can create transition opportunities and execute at converting those opportunities can have a real impact on the game. Fortunately, Melton has shown that he can do both of those things.
Elite NBA defensive teams all start at the same point, intense ball pressure. Preventing teams from going to their first option and defending the passing lanes as opponents progress to other options is a proven formula that works. For NBA teams, its a matter of finding the players who can and are willing to do those things. If there is one aspect of Melton’s game that he has proven is NBA ready, its defending the ball.
Melton should be a nuisance for opponents at the NBA level. He could be one of those players you love, as long as he is on your team, but hate to play against. Melton plays with very high energy and rarely, if ever, takes a possession off on the defensive end of the floor. He communicates and anticipates plays before they unfold. Melton does not just profile as a capable NBA defender. In short, he profiles as a potentially elite NBA defender.
Aside from being a tough on-ball defender, he does some things that players his size are rarely able to do. First, he is a very instinctive shot blocker and can alter shots in the half court game as well as in the transition game. Second, he is a terrific rebounder.
As the NBA games continues to evolve more to a switch heavy defensive game, it becomes more critical that players at every position are capable rebounders. Melton has shown that he can rebound, even against much bigger players.
The Hawks could go a number of different directions with their picks at No. 19, No. 30 and No. 34. Melton could certainly be an option and may a be a good fit for incoming head coach Lloyd Pierce who emphasizes strong on-the-ball play on the defensive end.
Even if Melton’s ceiling is a minutes-limited guard who works deep off the bench, he brings the energy and effort to inject his team and impact their play beyond just the minutes that he is on the floor.