A wise man once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And as I write a season review profile on De’Anthony Melton for the third consecutive season in a row, that definition hits a little too close to home for me. Because I am running out of new things to say about him.
In my player review on De’Anthony Melton back at the end of the 2019-20 season, I wrote: “I have no clue if De’Anthony Melton is a good NBA basketball player.” Now, nearly two years have passed, and I still can’t totally figure that out.
Many of the positive things that have always been said about him are still true. He’s still an impressive off-ball defender who uses his agility and 6’9” wingspan to wreak havoc in passing lanes, evidenced by his 2.5 STL% (96th percentile) and 1.1 BLK% (97th percentile). He’s still a serviceable, if often too ambitious, shooter, albeit one whose success appears to be dependent on what time of the year it is (more on this in a second). And he’s still a superb rebounder at his position, as his 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes was 5th in the NBA for guards 6’5” and under.
But his debilitating problems remain the same. His deficient ball-handling hasn’t improved; if anything, it looks like it’s gotten worse by the eye test. He dribbles the basketball like it’s a tennis ball, as his propensity to dribble it too high — as well as his inability to comfortably execute anything beyond basic counters — almost always has you holding your breath when the ball in his hands.
It’s no wonder that he views it as the most important area of his game to improve.
De’Anthony Melton says his ball-handling will be important for him this offseason, says “whatever happens happens” in regards to a backup point guard spot potentially being open. He doesn’t want to put a cap on his work— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) May 15, 2022
However, the most worrying part of De’Anthony Melton’s game is not his dribbling—although it may not be fully unrelated to it. Rather, it’s his persistent vanishing whenever the calendar turns to April. There are stretches of the NBA season when it would seem fitting to put Melton on the side of a billboard. But in the postseason, he appears to belong on the side of a milk carton.
To be sure, the red flags were present back in the Orlando bubble. Over the course of those eight games in which the Memphis Grizzlies were trying to solidify a playoff birth, Melton averaged 4.4 points on a gross 27% shooting and 13% from three.
Of course, there didn’t appear to be much reason to read too much into that at the time. Hardly anyone on the Grizzlies played well in the bubble, and it was Melton’s first postseason as an NBA player. Growing pains can be, well, painful.
Yet what first appeared to be an ignorable blip is now clearly an undeniable pattern. In 5 games against the Utah Jazz last year, he averaged 6.2 points while shooting 35% and 30% from three. And over the Grizzlies’ 10 games in the 2022 playoffs, he was generally an offensive albatross, scoring a pitiful 5.6 points per game while shooting a putrid 32% and 20% from three.
Growing pains aren’t as endearing anymore when a team has title aspirations.
To put it simply, this just isn’t acceptable. Melton’s counting stats have at least slightly improved every single year he’s been in the league, culminating in a solid 2021-22 campaign in which he averaged 10.8 points while shooting 40% from the field and 37% from three. The Grizzlies should be able to expect that he will at least be that player when the postseason arrives. But through three years, he has been unable to rise to that challenge.
Now there’s probably several factors for why that’s the case. His ball-handling, or lack thereof, is probably a major one. His inability to create for himself against stout half-court defenses in the postseason essentially makes his offensive game totally reliant on whether his inconsistent jumper is falling on any given night. This would explain why he may have some random spurts of effectiveness (i.e. the 4th quarter of Game 4 against the Jazz in 2021) while still generally being non-existent.
However, I think it’s fair to wonder at this point if De’Anthony Melton is simply not built for postseason basketball. I can talk X’s and O’s all day, but there’s a mental, spiritual fortitude involved with raising your level of play in the playoffs. There were several times, especially in Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves this year, that he looked extremely tentative. And that was before he had even started playing terribly.
Regardless, I think the Grizzlies should consider packaging him with the 22nd and 29th pick to see if they can move up in the upcoming draft. When he looks like himself, Melton is a solid two-way player and has fine value over the course of an 82-game season. Even in that regard, the Grizzlies are talented and deep enough where they don’t really need him anymore; they were 10.5 points better with him on the court during the 2019-20 season, but they were only 0.5 points better this year. And with their newfound playoff success, it’s time for the Grizzlies to start prioritizing “16-game players” rather than 82-game players.
After three up-and-down season of covering De’Anthony Melton, I truly do find myself running out of things to say. Perhaps there is nothing left to say other than “thank you and goodbye.”
De’Anthony Melton has had a good career as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and has established himself as a good two-way player. But his postseason struggles creates a conundrum for the roster construction.
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