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Grizzlies Free Agency Profiles: De’Anthony Melton

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He’s the hottest topic of discussion in Memphis. Will he be sticking around?

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De’Anthony Melton - Guard, University of Southern California

22 years old, 6’2”, 200 pounds, 6’8.5” wing span

DRAFT: Houston Rockets, 2nd round (16th pick, 46th overall), 2018 NBA Draft

NBA EXPERIENCE: Two seasons (One with Phoenix Suns, one with Memphis Grizzlies)

CAREER STATS: 110 games played, 6.4 points per game in 19.6 minutes per game, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 39.7% field goal percentage, 29.4% three point shooting, 76.5% free throw shooting, 45% effective field goal percentage, 11.8 PER, .040 win shares per 48 minutes.

2019-2020 HIGHLIGHTS:

De’Anthony Melton has been a hot topic of conversation among Memphis Grizzlies fans. He’s also been discussed a good bit here at Grizzly Bear Blues - a simple Google search of “Melton Grizzly Bear Blues” will provide all the evidence of that you’ll need. So as we begin a month-long dive in to possible free agency targets for the Grizzlies, it makes total sense to launch the process with a player whose eventual contract he will sign via Restricted Free Agency will be another welcome view in to the minds of Zach Kleiman and the Memphis Front Office.

On one hand, retaining Melton no matter the cost will further confirm just how much this group values the analytics darling. On the other, it only takes one team with serious cap space to fall hard for a 22-year-old wing who can excel in transition while defending multiple perimeter positions and offer De’Anthony a deal he cannot refuse...but one Memphis must say no to.

So where is the line? And what makes the walk along it so hard to balance?

Numbers that make Melton

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images
  1. 79%. That’s the percentage for the amount of time that Melton spent at shooting guard for the Grizzlies according to basketball-reference.com. Phoenix essentially gave up on Melton after his rookie season seeing him as a point guard (he spent 95% of his time there for the Suns), thinking that replacing him with Jevon Carter (and two 2nd round picks) was essentially worth getting rid of Josh Jackson from their roster. If the Bubble confirmed anything, Melton is not a point guard. Even at 6’2”, he is a wing player and secondary facilitator.
  2. 6. Speaking of the Bubble, Melton’s career high in steals happened on August 9th against the Raptors in a loss. In that game De’Anthony Melton was able to display one of his greatest strengths - disrupting opposing offenses. He can deflect passes not just with his wingspan, but an uncanny timing and understanding of where the ball will be and when both on and off the ball. 6 steals won’t always happen, but he can impact games like that nightly.
  3. 9.9%. De’Anthony Melton’s total rebounding percentage of 9.9% was good for 5th on the Grizzlies among players that played at least 1,000 minutes for Memphis. That’s surprising. What is even more surprising is the fact that among guys ahead of him that finished the season in Memphis (Jae Crowder was 4th) - Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, and Kyle Anderson - Melton is easily the smallest (6’2”) and out-rebounded a bigger wing in Dillon Brooks and obviously the “big” Jaren Jackson Jr. As long as Jaren is a lead big on this team, rebounding from wing players will be a need. Melton provides that.

Numbers that may mean Melton is gone

  1. 28.6%. Not surprisingly, De’Anthony’s three point shooting being so poor for a wing makes any extension somewhat concerning. The number actually went DOWN because of the Bubble - shooting 13% on 23 attempts will do that. Considering how well other players did offensively and the argument that the set-up of the Bubble actually helped make better shooters in Orlando, you have to wonder why that wasn’t the case for Melton...or Memphis in general.
  2. -13.9%. Beyond the issues from outside the arc, Melton had a drastic decrease in midrange jumper conversions (10-16 feet) with Memphis. In Phoenix De’Anthony shot 46.2% on such attempts, while he converted such shots at a 32.3% with the Grizzlies. Now in fairness to Melton, he shot from the mid-range less in Memphis (only 7.7% for the Grizzlies compared to 10.2% for Phoenix), but the fact remains that greater offensive woes exist for Melton than just three point shooting.

Pulse of Grizz Nation

According to roughly 150 folks, $21 million over three years is their final number for De’Anthony Melton. Bobby Marks of ESPN would’ve voted for this option as well - he predicted a 3 year $18 million price tag for Melton. That’d be a win for Memphis. It would not limit future business much at all as all eyes look to the 2021 offseason, and it would enable Melton to still get a nice pay raise for a job well done playing alongside Ja Morant and Tyus Jones in the back court.

The issue is the lack of strength in the 2020 free agent class. Melton could very realistically be a top-5 guard among this particularly weak group. If Malik Beasley or Bogdan Bogdanovic aren’t available due to overpays, what is to stop a L.A. Lakers or Clippers team from offering Melton a full mid-level exception or $9.25 million (as long as they’re able to avoid the tax apron). Or what if the Hawks, who have an obscene $44 million in cap space, love the idea of Melton and offer him the 4 year $50 million a Hawks blogger theoretically thought to give? Should Melton be with Memphis for $12.5 million a year with Dillon Brooks on the roster making over $34 million the next three seasons?

Probably not.

The Final Offer

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Well-run teams do not allow for 22-year old players who have shown real potential as defenders and in transition walk unless it’d really be detrimental to their future bottom line. Melton’s +6.2 net rating this past year before the Bubble, even with his bad three point shooting, is evidence that he can make winning basketball plays on the wing despite his lack of size, much like Marcus Smart before him.

But obviously Smart is in a different league than Melton right now, and with every million De’Anthony gets in Restricted Free Agency the vice of opportunity cost squeezes Memphis a little bit more. The 2021 offseason looms large - the third year of Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s contract year before he enters restricted free agency (if an extension isn’t agreed upon beforehand...the Grizzlies will likely be hoping to compete at a relatively high level in the 2021-2022 campaign. Is Melton at $10 million, as a Dallas writer says he has a sourced valuation of, going to be worth missing out on some of the options available in that loaded free agency class?

Yes...and no. The estimated full MLE is $9.25 million. And that should be the Grizzlies line. Memphis can keep an asset in Melton on the books while paying him less than Brooks and have a movable player if they do indeed become more active in 2021 than even they anticipate. A 3-year roughly $30 million contract could net further assets down the road, or could be a steal for a player with a unique skill set that is still developing his game.

If a team crosses that $10 or $12 million threshold? The performance of Grayson Allen in the Bubble (and the cheaper possible presence of John Konchar) makes Melton a bit easier to move on from, and sign and trades remain an option. But we cannot forget the games that happened before the world fell to a pandemic. De’Anthony proved he’s worthy of investment - within reason - and their roster being 12 deep already before bringing Melton back makes his return much more palatable. He’s not hurting current operations, and it’s likely you’re not getting a better wing than him this summer in free agency anyway.

The final offer (or match for the RFA) - 3 years, roughly $31 million (whatever the full MLE becomes).

Stats provided by basketball-reference.com, financial information provided by Hoops Rumors

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