Going into Game 1, Taylor Jenkins reset his rotations, prompting a return to the lineup for De’Anthony Melton. The fourth-year guard struggled mightily in the Minnesota Timberwolves series, averaging 2.3 points on 16.7% shooting in 11.7 minutes per game and drawing a DNP-CD in the final 2 games.
In Game 1 though, Melton put his stamp on the game, living up to his “Mr. Do Something” moniker. He finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 stocks (steals + blocks), and he also had the team’s best plus/minus (+14) in roughly 25 minutes. He was a tremendous lift off the bench — providing the necessary firepower from the perimeter, and generating defensive events to spark transition offense.
It was great to see Melton impact the game in this capacity, especially as a player that’s typically struggled in postseason settings over the past 3 seasons — counting the Bubble. His strengths will be important in countering where the Warriors succeed, over the course of this series.
The Warriors matchup lines up better for Melton than the Timberwolves one. Golden State isn’t as physical as Minnesota, and they don’t have as much size. They make it up for speed and offense. While the Timberwolves have a great offense, the difference between theirs and the Warriors’ is similar to one between Algebra 2 and AP Calculus classes. They move off the ball and pass significantly more — ranking 2nd in the NBA in passes per game (310.3). The Warriors also have a plethora of perimeter weapons, as demonstrated in Sunday’s game through Jordan Poole and Stephen Curry’s performances.
The Memphis Grizzlies need De’Anthony Melton defensively to slow down the splashing, and to jump into passing lanes when the Warriors get happy with ball movement. He’s one of the league’s best at deflections and steals — ranking 4th in deflections per 36 minutes this season (4.5) and falling in the 96th percentile in Steal Percentage (2.5%), per Cleaning the Glass.
He has a deft ability to sense the opposition’s passes to knock the ball away and fly out in transition. And if he’s not generating steals, he’s capable of soaring for emphatic blocks that can ignite a fast break sequence. Those sort of momentum plays are vital in the postseason.
Melton should be relied upon to take on the individual assignments of Curry and Poole as well, and that may be often as Dillon Brooks ventures into foul trouble. He should cause problems with his 6’9” wingspan, but he also defends well without fouling (3.0% foul percentage, 60th percentile among combo guards per Cleaning the Glass). He didn’t fare well against Poole, as the Warriors guard converted 4 of his 5 field goal attempts with Melton as the primary defender, whipping up most of those buckets in transition or off cuts.
However, he held Curry to just 1-3 shooting. There weren’t many ground-breaking takeaways in any of the film of those makes or misses. However, the charge Brooks drew on Curry showcases the principles that make Melton a good defensive option.
Melton takes the switch and forces Curry to his left. In the process, he’s getting Curry to reject the screen and forces him to the middle of the paint. There, he feeds him into Brooks, who’s there for the charge, and Melton is also there to reject the shot — if the call was a block, he was stopping the and-1.
Melton’s length should be used as a defensive asset, as he can jump into passing lanes and force the Warriors’ perimeter players into tougher looks. That’s one of the biggest areas that will keep him on the court in this round.
De’Anthony Melton’s shooting is another area that could keep him as a factor in this series. Frankly, outside shooting is what erased Melton from the Minnesota series, converting only 3 of his 18 field goal attempts and 2 of his 14 triple tries. Melton found the bottom of the net in Game 1, knocking down 5 of his 8 field goal attempts and shooting from 3 of his 6 three-pointers.
His sustainability will be important. Melton has proven this season that his pop in the middle of “Microwave Melt” moments resonates the most than almost anyone else on the roster. Against the Warriors, firepower is needed as much as possible to come close to matching their perimeter prowess. Granted, you don’t want to get into a 3-point contest with them (you will likely lose). Nonetheless, having more shooters to close any sort of 3-point gap will be beneficial in winning games.
In addition, more shooting means more space, and that’ll open up driving lanes for Ja Morant and others getting downhill. Whenever the defense collapses, there has to be shooters that will make them pay and keep them honest from deep.
Defense will get Melton on the floor, but shooting will be what keeps him on it.
After a forgettable 1st-round, De’Anthony Melton is off on the right foot to make an impact in this matchup. He has the physical makeup to be a factor against a smaller, quicker Warriors team — and he has the skillset to help alleviate the magnitude of the Warriors’ strengths.
This series is a good second postseason chance for Melton. And this one against the Warriors is a golden opportunity for him to make his presence felt and impact the game in do-something fashion.