One of the biggest stories of the NCAA tournament was the 2nd academic suspension of Fab Melo by Syracuse. Melo was the anchor to one of the best defenses in college basketball, and it showed. Syracuse was 29-1 with Melo on the team, and 5-2 without him. Admittedly, the 7 games sans-Melo had a higher quality of opponents on the average, but not by much. The difference was enormous:
Oppg without Melo: 62.6
Ofg% with Melo: 38.2%
Ofg% without Melo: 39.6%
O3pt% with Melo: 29.9%
O3pt% without Melo: 38.1%
RebDef with Melo: +1.1
RebDef without Melo: -6.7
What does that all mean? Clearly Melo was a very important part of that team, but how much? Teams were literally afraid to penetrate when Melo was in the game, and that caused more perimeter ball movement, and less drive-and-kick created shots. With teams not having to focus on Melo’s rebounding, they were free to grab more loose balls from the rest of Syracuse’s average rebounders. To boot, Cuse’s offense suffered without Melo. Because teams were taking less perimeter shots per game with him out, it put a crimp in the Orange’s fast breaks, leading to less efficient shots, and more 3pta per game.
What does Melo bring to the table? Scary shot blocking. In 30 games, he blocked 4 shots or more 11 times. He got to double digit blocks (1) as many times as he got to double digit rebounds (1), and had as many or more blocks than rebounds 7 times. His rim protection was top notch, although it was in a zone. Melo clocks in at 7’0, 255, with an enormous wingspan. His defensive footwork is criminally underrated, as he’s frequently labeled ‘just a shot blocker’. His rebounding is criticized, but when you’re forcing teams to take primarily perimeter shots, rebounds tend to be longer and favor the wings in the college game. Great hands for a big. Don’t sleep on Melo’s budding offensive game. He can knock down a mid-range jumper or two and has a solid skillset to build off of.
Melo doesn’t come without risks though. He is coming off 2 academic suspensions in one season. His weight has fluctuated greatly since coming to Cuse, although he did seem to be in the best shape of his life in his sophomore season. His post game as-is, is very mechanical and easy to predict. Got away with that in college, but in the NBA, 7’ guys will be able to bother him more. Rumors of a questionable motor dogged him his freshman year, and were silenced in year 2, but the question will always remain.
Overall, Melo has the skillset to be an impact defender at the C position in the NBA. He’s played on one of the best college teams, one of the most demanding defensive coaches in college, and earned his way from a 5 minute afterthought to a 25 minute defensive force. The fact this guy isn’t a guaranteed top 15 selection is criminal, and there will be many teams that regret passing on him.
Eternal Optimist sees: Tyson Chandler
Negative Nancy sees: Dan Gadzuric
What I see: a smarter DeAndre Jordan
Draft range: mid-teens to mid-twenties