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Melton vs. Carter - A war of philosophy

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In trading Jevon Carter for De’Anthony Melton, the Grizzlies show a preference for potential over a finished product.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2018 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies selected Jevon Carter with the 32nd overall pick. At the time, the pick was met with both positive and negative reactions. The focus of many of the positive takes was that the duo of Carter and Jaren Jackson Jr. could eventually become arguably the best defensive tandem in NBA history. The focus of the negative takes was centered on the idea that players with significantly higher ceilings than Carter were still on the board.

One of those players was De’Anthony Melton. Some draft sources had indicated the Grizzlies were very interested in Melton, and could try to trade back into the second round to pick him. Eventually, Melton was picked by the Houston Rockets with the 46th pick. He was then traded to the Phoenix Suns.

Coming into the draft last year, Carter and Melton had some similarities. Both players were believed to be guys who had the potential to be strong defenders. Both were expected to initially be limited offensively early in their careers. They were noted as players who gave good effort and worked hard at their craft. However, there was also one key difference.

Carter had arguably one of the best defensive draft prospect profiles in NBA history in terms of college production. Melton’s intrigue was centered much more on his potential, as many labeled him as a project with a good ceiling for a potential second-round prospect.

Both Carter and Melton proved that these opinions were pretty accurate during their rookie seasons. As can be seen, both players showed growing pains throughout the year. Obviously, outside shooting was the main source of concern, as Carter set historic lows with his field goal percentage, while Melton proved much more effective the closer to the basket he got. Melton did prove to be the better play maker between the two, while Carter displayed his immense defensive talent at a higher level than Melton.

However, the reason behind this part of the Phoenix-Memphis trade was not meant to be based on production. It was mainly based on preference and potential. While both players had similar profiles coming into the league, Carter likely had best clear tool among both because of his defensive production. However, Melton has significantly more potential due his better measurables and athleticism.

In other words, Melton simply has many more natural physical traits to work with than Carter. He is three years younger, two inches taller, a better athlete, a better facilitator, and a more resourceful scorer. Jevon Carter’s work ethic and ability/mentality on defense is certainly an asset that most teams would love to have on their roster; however, De’Anthony Melton is simply the more intriguing overall talent if developed correctly. He showed the ability to score at different levels on offense, as well as being able to defend multiple positions on defense.

Basically, the Grizzlies proved they preferred Melton’s future potential than Carter’s past production.

While this move may seem small compared to others, it is significant in the fact that it is one of the more clear examples of how the philosophy of the Grizzlies new front office differs from the previous one. It is very logical to assume that Jevon Carter was drafted just as much for his reputation as he was his talent. The Grizzlies envisioned Carter and Jackson Jr. as a duo that would help the franchise return to its brand of relentless, effective defense that worked so well in the past.

Unfortunately, much like Carter as a prospect, that concept is limited and seems unlikely to be successful in today’s style of play in the NBA.

In choosing Melton over Carter, this new front office is showing its focus is on the court. They have the advantage of not yet having a brand to live up to, as they are developing their own. However, the one clear understanding this front office does have is that the way to rebuild is through having as much talent and potential upside to work with as possible. Melton offers significant potential as a back court role player that can impact both sides of the court, which is an important asset in a league that is going with more and more smaller lineups.

Jevon Carter was a wonderful teammate, person, and player in his time with the Memphis Grizzlies. No one should diminish that truth about him, and everyone hopes that he will have a long professional career. However, he simply is a player who profiles to fit a style of play that was more effective in the past. His age, natural limitations, and offensive struggles all indicate the type of player who likely will struggle to ever make a true impact in the NBA.

No one is expecting De’Anthony Melton to turn into an All-Star himself. However, many do feel that with the right resources, he could develop into a key contributor if developed properly. The Grizzlies are betting on themselves, specifically Taylor Jenkins and his staff, to be the ones to do that. That is another theme of an off-season of moves by Memphis that has been praised around the league. They have continued to stock pile picks and high-potential projects they are confident they can develop into successful pieces of a winning roster.

While it is unlikely fans will have an immediate basis to judge the trade off of after tonight when the Grizzlies play the Suns in the NBA Summer League, the significance of this trade will be determined in time. There is a good chance this will remain an insignificant move where the most valuable assets were the picks the Grizzlies acquired. However, if Melton can develop into something of value, it could be viewed as one of the best early indicators of Jenkins potential as a coach.

Based on their resume so far, I would feel much more confident betting for this front office than against them.

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