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De’Anthony Melton’s time is now

De’Anthony Melton’s defensive prowess could be huge for the Memphis Grizzlies in the bubble.

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Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

De’Anthony Melton has been one of the Memphis Grizzlies’ most impactful players this season. Since permanently joining the rotation on December 9th, the Grizzlies are 26-17, playing at the pace of a 50-win team (60.5 winning percentage). The Grizzlies are also 11.1 points better with Melton on the floor than off it, per Cleaning the Glass. They perform at the level of a 57-win team with him on the court, compared to a 29-win team without him.

When looking at the top Grizzly trios that played 200 or more minutes together, Melton is in the top 4, and they obliterate people:

melton with trios
nba.com/stats

It’s safe to say De’Anthony Melton is good for this team.

The Memphis Grizzlies will be facing off against elite scoring combo guards such as Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum, and Jrue Holiday, and this would be a prime time for a young player to prove their chops as a defensive stopper.

“Obviously, we know the task at hand and the great competition we’ll be going against,” Coach Taylor Jenkins said, when asked about facing off against these players. “I love it. I think our guys are fired up. They recognize the great team challenges we’re going to be facing these 8 games, the great individual matchups you were talking about.”

While Jenkins expressed confidence in anyone on this team guarding anybody on the opposing team, it’s really De’Antony Melton’s opportunity to cement himself as one of the NBA best young perimeter defenders.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

“In the case of De’Anthony, he’s shown over the course of the season his ability to be an impact player, especially on the defensive end.” Jenkins continued, “he’s definitely a guy that we rely on heavily, but when you look at our wing contention and our wing depth, most of these guys are competitors to begin with, but also have these strengths on the defensive end that are going to be big difference-makers for us knowing that we’re going to have great competition to go up against.”

At 6’3” with nearly a 6’9” wingspan, measurements similar to “The Grindfather” Tony Allen, he has the tools to be a terrorizing backcourt defender. The stats back it up as well. In his first season, he posted the highest steal percentage, among rookies that played at least 900 minutes, since Rajon Rondo in 2004-05. This season, he ranks 8th among all guards in DBPM (+1.8), and he’s also in the 97th percentile in steal percentage (2.4%). Among players that have played at least 35 games this season, he ranks 7th in deflections per 36 minutes at 4.5.

When it comes to defending guys like Mitchell, Holiday, and McCollum, Melton may be the best option. Dillon Brooks could be baited into foul trouble, they need to save energy for Ja Morant to run the offense, and Justise Winslow will face more 3s and 4s.

Though Melton hasn’t seen much time against Mitchell, McCollum, or Holiday — only 3 field goal attempts and 5 minutes total combined — he’s experienced success against similar, or better, offensive players.

When guarding Devin Booker, Buddy Hield, and James Harden (3 of the 4 players with the most field goals against Melton), he’s held them to 36.7% shooting on 30 shot attempts. Granted, there are plenty of variables that tie into these head-to-head numbers, but it proves that Melton can hold his own against elite scoring guards.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

De’Anthony Melton uses his long wingspan, low center of gravity, and quick hands to pester ball-handlers on the perimeter. He just always has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.

In pick-and-roll situations, Melton does a great job of staying on his man and creating plays on defense. Against Chris Paul, one of the all-time greatest pick-and-roll players, Melton sticks with him and is able to break up the play by poking the ball out of his hands when going downhill.

In the same game, Dennis Schroder tried to get Melton caught in a cycle with shifty ball-handling and a double-screen from Nerlens Noel. However, Melton maintains excellent patience and balance, using his quick feet and hands to come away with a knock-away.

Melton’s activity in on-ball defensive situations is impressive. Though he’s caught behind the ball-handler here, he manages to stick on Brandon Clarke’s man for a quick second, before bursting to the corner to return to his man and come away with the steal.

Donovan Mitchell is a frequent pick-and-roll player, as nearly half of his plays come there. In addition, he, Holiday, and McCollum are all live-dribble threats as deft pull-up shooters and playmakers. It’s going to be imperative for Melton to experience this kind of defensive success in the bubble.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The reason De’Anthony Melton has the moniker of “Mr. Do Something” is because he makes stuff happen on both ends of the court.

One of the most intriguing aspects of his defensive play is how it transitions into offense. He’s a vital part of the Grizzlies’ transition offense, as they score 135.2 points per 100 transition plays with Melton on the floor — this is in the 93rd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Off steals, they generate 144.3 points per 100 plays, which ranks in the 78th percentile.

Melton’s part in the Grizzlies’ transition success is not only attributed to his defense, but also his playmaking and how he runs the floor upon a steal or rebound.

Coach Jenkins this past week praised how Melton plays off instincts. Here, once he knocks the ball away from Barton, he notices a teammate nearby, allowing Melton to dart down the lane for an outlet pass and layup.

He also does a great job finding his teammates, when leaking out in transition. After the deflection, he bolts to receive an outlet pass, then finds Grayson Allen in stride for the jam.

Utilizing De’Anthony Melton as a perimeter is crucial. Not only is he an effective individual and team defender, but his defense also leads to superb fast break offense.

De’Anthony Melton will have eyes on him in the Orlando bubble.

He has a hive on NBA Twitter, as there are a few people that think he’ll “devour” the Lakers backcourt — much to the dismay of Laker fans. When pegging a surprise player for each bubble team, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said it’d be Melton for the Grizzlies. He’s also entering a summer where he’ll hit restricted free agency, where other SB Nation blogs would give him a 4-year, $50M offer sheet.

The Grizzlies are entering this scenario with everyone overlooking them in favor of Zion Willamson the New Orleans Pelicans and Damian Lillard the Portland Trail Blazers. However, the incumbent Grizzlies still hold a nice lead for the 8th seed, which would give them a huge advantage in a potential play-in. For them to succeed in the 8-game slate and a potential play-in, they’ll need Melton to show out defensively against the NBA’s elite guards.

And there’s no reason to doubt that he can’t rise to the occasion.

“Melt’s going to be big for us and someone that we know that’s going to go out and make a big difference too,” Coach Jenkins said.

All season long, De’Anthony Melton has been a huge difference-maker for this team. With his defensive instincts and overall impact, Melton could really break out in the Orlando bubble.

Stats and clips found on nba.com/stats and basketball-reference.

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