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The mysterious De’Anthony Melton

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De’Anthony Melton is one of the most unique players this franchise has seen.

Memphis Grizzlies v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s time to leak the e-mails. Connor Dunning — a radio producer at 929 ESPN — and I have extensively talked about the stellar play of De’Anthony Melton. Listen up, because the last time Connor wrote on this blog, he compared Luka Doncic to Larry Bird... and he’s actually pretty right.

Parker Fleming, GBB Associate Editor: There are only 5 sophomores in NBA history that averaged 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 8+ assists per 100 possessions, while shooting 40%+ from the field:

  • Grant Hill
  • Ben Simmons
  • Luka Doncic
  • Magic Johnson
  • De’Anthony Melton

That’s pretty elite company.

Coming into the season, and after the trade with Phoenix, true basketball savants knew De’Anthony Melton would be good. However, no one predicted that he’d be this productive this season. He’s in the 93rd or higher percentile in every defensive metric. Of any Grizzly duo that’s played 200 or more minutes, he’s in the top 5 with four different players. Per Cleaning the Glass, the team is a whopping 21 points better with him on the court than off.

Melton’s play has been an awesome development, and it’s quietly raising questions about if he should be a cornerstone going forward.

Connor Dunning, 929 ESPN radio producer: De’Anthony Melton should absolutely be part of the Grizzlies’ plan moving forward. On any other team, he’s one of the top prospects on the roster. On the Grizz, he’s not even in the top 3. *Laughs joyously*

Melton is Kleiman’s monster — a basketball player built from random parts of player from every era/position to perfectly maximize the potential of the young core. He has the physicality and defensive mindset of a 90’s guard. The playmaking ability of a modern wing. The rebounding and rim protection of a gritty big. Everything Ja or Jaren may struggle with (perimeter defense and rebounding) Melton excels at. He is the cherry on top of the youthful ice cream sundae that is the Memphis Grizzlies.

To your point, his per 100 possessions stats are off the charts and are unbelievably encouraging. Ja Morant’s return on Dec. 9th has been pegged as the turning point this season, and rightly so. Do not overlook the impact of Melton, though. Without his insertion into the lineup by Jenkins, the Grizzlies are not on this run. He allows Ja to tell future Hall of Famers to “tell that [insert mf word here] about me” on the perimeter because he can body them on the defensive end while Ja handles the lesser of the guards à la Steph/Klay. He allows Jaren Jackson Jr to horrify defenses and run around the 3pt line as a smiling, 7 ft unicorn version of Ray Allen, because he can go into the paint and get offensive rebounds/create space.

Melton is the ultimate modern glue guy.

PF: Right. His presence alleviates pressure off their 2 superstars, allowing them to play their games and hide their weaknesses. He’s also doing that in the second unit, as replacing Marko Guduric with Melton gives Tyus Jones a good secondary playmaker and a lockdown perimeter defender to take on the tougher assignments.

And to your point, Melton is definitely a combination of different players, perhaps he really is Kleiman’s monster. His game is difficult to compare - everyone’s favorite sports analytical exercise. He has a higher rebounding rate than Ben Simmons, higher steal rate than Jimmy Butler, and a higher assist rate than Donovan Mitchell. It’s a quite fascinating observation.

Is there any sort of comparison to make for him? The popular one is Avery Bradley, but Melton’s numbers are superior to Bradley’s year 2 numbers across the board.

I have Jrue Holiday, a combo guard that’s an elite defender and can guard positions 1-3.

jrue / de’anthony year 2
basketball-reference.com

Though Jrue had more run and a bigger role, the impact is relatively similar. Nonetheless, even if Melton could develop into a Holiday-level defender and 80% of his offensive production, it’s a huge run for this Memphis rebuild.

I’m interested to see what you have.

CD: Before I make everyone put on a hazmat suit with my comp, I want to add to your Jrue Holiday take. Holiday is, more than likely, the best modern comp for Melton. He’s a 6’3 combo guard that plays like he’s 6’6 and is defensively oriented. Holiday and Melton live the motto, “speak softly and carry a big stick” to perfection. They won’t trash talk you, they won’t be flashy, and they never pull attention away from the stars they may or may not be playing next to. They’ll just bury you in efficient and all-around play, while being the key piece to their team’s win. Their advanced numbers are damn near identical.

Now... For my comp. *Nuke sirens go off, a flash appears in the sky followed by a mushroom cloud*

Before I get into this I need to make something VERY clear — I do not think Melton will become this player, nor do I think he will reach this player’s tier. However, through their second season in the NBA, Melton’s impact and style of play is comparable to that of...

Kawhi Leonard.

EVERYONE CHILL! PUT DOWN THE PITCHFORK AND LET ME EXPLAIN.

Kawhi Leonard will finish as one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. At his peak, he’s a T-1000 sent to ruin your team’s hopes of victory with the blank stare and pleasure of an assassin. I let a take fire, about a year ago, that he’s the closest thing to Jordan we’ve ever seen and I firmly believe that... Good thing we are JUST talking year 2 version of Kawhi— the ultimate glue guy and the potential he showed:

Player A- 21.4 ppg, 10.5 reb, 8.1 ast, 3.3 stl, 1.0 blk...52/31/86 shooting split

Player B- 19.4 ppg, 9.7 reb, 2.6 ast, 2.7 stl, 0.0 blk... 55/37/82 shooting split

Spoiler alert: You picked Melton (If you didn’t act like you did. Cool? Cool.)

If Leonard is the T-1000, Melton is the T-800. Kawhi was the ultimate glue guy in year 2 and the eventual missing piece for a Spurs championship team. There’s no reason Melton can’t be the same for the Grizzlies. Melton doesn’t need to be a superstar, he needs to be a defensive-minded combo guard that hits a 3 every once in a while, haunts opposing guards’ dreams on the perimeter, and lives on the glass. Kawhi was quietly there, doing all the dirty work the rest of the team didn’t want to do, while also guarding the best guard on the other team.

That is Melton. An anomaly physically, Melton has long arms that allow him to cut off passing lanes and get to angles most defenders can’t. If you need a player that doesn’t care about ego and only winning, Melton is your guy. He rarely makes mistakes when it matters and developing into an important closer for Jenkins.

PF: Wow, that’s a shocking bit of information.

Sure, comparisons to Jrue Holiday and Kawhi Leonard sound like — and probably are — reaches. Don’t let it skew or devalue these points though. If anything, it shows that De’Anthony Melton is a player worth monitoring for the future, as he’s a young player with more than just “role player” potential. The Ringer highlighted him in a piece about the potential Siakam’s before this season — players that could take massive, almost unheard of, leaps.

He can be a complementary piece going forward that can serve as that 4th/5th best option on a title-contending team. Alongside Ja Morant, he can serve as that lockdown perimeter defender that becomes the Klay Thompson to Steph Curry on that end of the floor. In addition, the defensive trio of Melton, Clarke, and Jackson is going to be absolutely terrifying too.

CD: We are absolutely reaching, but we are blog boys so...duh.

However, there is important context to both of our reasonings, we are comparing Melton to the 2nd year versions of Kawhi and Jrue, not the 2019-2020 versions.

Very different things.

As the numbers have shown, he is on par with their development and is showing signs of being an elite glue guy. Melton’s advanced numbers are so weird that we have to reach a little to really dive into his game. One of the most encouraging parts of my risky, overly optimistic deep-dive into Kawhi/Melton is that he is doing all of this while averaging only 17mpg (Kawhi is 34.7 for context). The average NBA PER is sitting at 15. Melton’s is 18.2 and Kawhi’s is 16.4.

Numbers never lie, right? Look at the box score of any Grizz game since Dec. 9th and I guarantee his +/- is in the positive or close to it. He’s a quiet yet important part of every win. Another similarity to Kawhi and Jrue — glue guys don’t need the glory, they care about Ws.

Melton’s PT will absolutely increase with time, which means his production and impact will only continue to improve. His playmaking ability continues to improve (24% ast. rate) and allows for Ja to go off ball, creating additional space for their stars to thrive in the “let it fly” style of offense Jenkins has implemented. Kawhi and Melton have almost identical usage rates, Melton’s 20% and Kawhi’s 16%.

Their roles are very similar at this point in their careers. Neither is, nor was asked to be, a star or focal point of the team, and neither needed to be. They thrive in the hustle stats and in the mud. Melton will probably be nothing more than an elite role player on a contending team, but for the Grizzlies, that’s exactly what’s needed. He’s the perfect agent of chaos next to Ja/Jaren/Clarke hunting down John Connors for years to come.

Melton doesn’t need to be the Kawhi of 2s, but he can absolutely be the Kawhi of glue guys. He’s a created 2k player made to replicate Kawhi Leonard, but the creation points ran out before the height selection and 6’2 was the only option.*

*- I know height doesn’t count against myPlayer points, but you get it.

PF: If you haven’t already gone to the comment or Twitter to berate us for our take, or to ratio the tweet that comes with this article, just know that there is context and meaning behind it.

Sure, it’d be awesome to see him become a smaller Kawhi Leonard or a Jrue Holiday. However, there is meaning behind all of this.

He can do anything on the court from defend, score at three levels, rebound, and play-make. It also does all this at a superb level that makes it comparable to younger versions of Kawhi Leonard and Jrue Holiday.

Melton may never be an All-Star, but he’s showing that he could be a major player on the next great Memphis Grizzlies basketball team.

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Stats found on basketball-reference.