In three NBA seasons, De’Anthony Melton has become a near cult-like figure to a certain sect of NBA fans. From his brief stint with the Phoenix Suns to his two seasons in Memphis, the former USC Trojan has become a darling amongst fans who indulge in the analytical aspect of the game of basketball. Throughout his career, his name has popped on these spreadsheets due to his efficient play - especially on the defensive end - in his limited minutes. This production led to a gradual expansion of his role through his first two years in the association.
Fresh off a new four-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, the 2020-21 season has been everything Melton could have asked for and more, as he has made the proverbial “leap” on the offensive end of the floor. After last season’s unpredictable output offensively, Melton has come to be a dependable offensive player in addition to everything he does defensively. This is thanks in part to raising his field goal percentage from 40% to 48% and his three-point percentage from 29% to 45% - good for 8th in the NBA. Melton’s increase in offensive production has been a blessing for a Grizzlies team that has spent a majority of the season short-handed, but it has also led to a bevy of questions from fans and assuredly from the coaching staff as well. As highlighted by Parker Fleming, for the first time in franchise history there is a log jam at the shooting guard position because there is SO much production.
We’ve learned that the “DNP - Coach’s Decision” is not the route as the Grizzlies defense falters without Melton.
We learned last season and in brief stints this season in Ja Morant’s absence that he is not the answer at back up point guard.
Then there is the heated debate that has been highlighted by my colleagues on various mediums: Should De’Anthony Melton start over Allen, or continue to thrive off the bench?
I believe we have seen the answer play out, whether or not people are satisfied with the answer or not. Due to injury, the Grizzlies were pressed into starting Melton to mixed results. Melton would struggle offensively as a detriment to the starting unit and defensively the Grizzlies bench unit fared worse as a tradeoff to losing their best perimeter defender. His lone start this season in his evolved form, only rates out to a low-end middle of the pack game compared to the rest of the season in his current role as a super-sub off the bench much like Brandon Clarke.
De’Anthony Melton has thrived in his role as a “super sub” behind Dillon Brooks or Grayson Allen on the wing. The idea of being an NBA starter is one every young hooper dreams about, and not to say that this isn’t still in the cards for De’Anthony Melton down the line, but the idea of a career “super sub” isn’t the worst idea either. A question that I propose, and I am sure the Grizzlies staff has entertained pertaining to this idea is, “Why thrust a player thriving into the starting lineup for title purposes when they’re thriving in their current role?”
People keep screaming for De’Anthony Melton to start but personally I’m a fan of this Vinnie Johnson/Michael Cooper dynamic he has going. Efficient scorer + clamps off the bench.— Bryce Hayes (@nxtprodigy) April 4, 2021
Vinnie Johnson. Michael Cooper. Manu Ginobili. Lou Williams. Jamal Crawford. Leandro Barbosa. Until lately, Marcus Smart.
These are all players that had long lasting careers in a very similar role to what Melton currently inhabits off the bench. The “super sub” is not a new position, as the first three players mentioned will forever being heralded for their contributions to teams that are placed in NBA lore as some of the best to ever do it, while the others mentioned have been contributors to playoff teams for a majority of their careers.
While I am certainly not ready to put the third-year guard on the level of the borderline Hall of Famers I mentioned in my tweet earlier this month, De’Anthony Melton possesses a special combination of being BOTH an efficient scorer AND a lockdown defender — which as he continues to evolve as an NBA player, it will be something that can keep him in the league 15 years due to the value the combination presents.
It can also make him a lot of money a long the way.
The Checks Will Clear
De’Anthony Melton is known for his infectious smile and positive attitude at almost all times. At this point in his development, I don’t see the smile evaporating any time soon as Melton could be seeing cashing NBA checks for years to come.
Leandro Barbosa, a player who gave the Grizzlies fits during his career, is someone from recent NBA history that compares favorably to Melton. Barbosa was a better scorer upon entering the league as a late first-rounder in 2003 at the age of 21 but was a similar defender. Barbosa was lethal from beyond the arc, much like Melton has progressed to become this season. This level of play led to Barbosa securing a second NBA contract for five-years, $33M before a litany of one year deals throughout the 2010s. In total Barbosa played 14 seasons amassing $46 million pre-big NBA TV deal.
A more popular comparison recently has been Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who has fluctuated between the Celtics starting lineup and bench throughout his career. Following a 2018 season that saw Smart average 10 points and 5 assists while shooting 30% from three, Marcus Smart signed a 4 year, $52 million dollar deal - $17 million more than Melton’s deal. Melton is currently outpacing Smart as a bench threat at this point of their progression at those stages in their careers, which speaks to the value of the deal GM Zach Kleiman was able to negotiate last offseason — and to potentially the value Melton could bring to a Grizzlies team gearing up for a playoff run this year and years to come.
The progression of De’Anthony Melton has been something to marvel at. Melton entered the league as an analytical anomaly, checking all of the right boxes for the brand of Grizzlies basketball that Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins were trying to establish. In his first two years in the league, it was clear the California native was an advanced defender with high BBIQ but still a work in progress on the offensive side of the ball. Year three has seen him begin to put it together as the once inconsistent jump shooter has become one of the best snipers in the NBA.
For some, Melton’s combination of being a high volume three point maker and defensive prowess equates to being time to thrust him into a starting lineup that is, all things considered, working. For others, myself included, believe that for now Melton’s current role is the perfect fit for the third year guard. To quote Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Melton and his production are sweet like the smell of roses on a warm spring day. Cherish these moments.
Focus less on whether it comes with the starter or bench tag line, because at this current rate of progression, he might just play his way out of the Grizzlies price range when it comes time to come to the negotiating table again. Whether he is a starter or a career super sub like other players mentioned in this article, if this season is an indication of what is to come, Melton has a long, productive career ahead of him that will establish generational wealth for him and his family.