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De’Anthony Melton — 6’4″ Combo Guard, USC, 19 Years Old
De’Anthony Melton is a versatile two-way combo guard projected to be picked in the late first or an early second round of the 2018 NBA Draft. Melton was ruled ineligible to play in the 2017-18 season due to his connection to the FBI’s college basketball investigation, making him much more of an unknown heading into this June’s draft. Thus, teams will be forced to use his tape from a season ago to evaluate his pro potential.
Melton enjoyed an outstanding breakout season at USC as a freshman and stuffed the stat sheet in 2016-17. He posted averages of 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. He also helped guide the Trojans to a program-record 26 wins including two in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. After being ruled ineligible to play this past season, the Trojans struggled to repeat their success despite returning almost all of their players from 2016-17 except for Melton, highlighting the significant impact he made as a freshman.
Melton’s number one strength is his versatility, which comes into play at both ends of the floor. With great hands, length, and quickness, Melton has the ability to guard multiple positions at an elite level. This was reflected by Melton averaging over a steal and a block per game as a freshman in 2016-17. He is also a very good rebounder for his position and has excellent instincts that allow him to read the game at a high level when he is guarding away from the ball.
Offensively, Melton works better as a facilitator than a scorer. Although he has the athleticism to drive the ball into the lane and get high percentage looks, Melton’s passing ability and basketball IQ allow him to consistently make good decisions with the ball in his hands. Melton also proved that he can play effectively off the ball, knocking down 2.1 threes per game in 2016-17. This is likely to be closer to the role he will have early in his NBA career; whichever team that drafts him will likely get him in the game primarily for his defense while having him simply space the floor early on offensively.
Despite the fact that Melton’s versatility allows him to affect the game in a multitude of ways, he does not necessarily have one signature tool that stands out above the rest. Question marks remain surrounding his offensive upside and how much room for growth he has at that end. From what Melton showed a season ago, it would have been a fair conclusion to draw that his offensive game is somewhat capped by the fact that he is unlikely to ever develop into a player that will create his own shot. Now, it is very possible that Melton has improved his isolation arsenal in his year on the practice court. But being forced to sit out all year, scouts have yet to see it in a real game setting.
Some people believe Melton sitting out a year makes him a risky play in the draft. Others feel it gives him higher room for upside than comparable, more well-known commodities. Regardless, Melton’s situation makes him one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft class. It will be worth keeping an eye on which way his draft stock is trending as he interviews and works out for teams leading up to June 21.
Melton possesses many of the tools that have become increasingly important in today’s NBA game; his athleticism allows him to play with pace, and his high basketball IQ affects the game at both ends. These assets alone will make Melton a reliable contributor off the bench. What remains to be seen is if Melton can become a focal point of his team’s offensive schemes. We know that Melton can distribute the ball for others, but he must also pose a threat to score himself. Otherwise, it will make it much more difficult to effectively work as a primary or even secondary ball-handler.
Ultimately, Melton will need time to develop into a starting caliber guard. How much time is anyone’s guess; we don’t even know exactly how far Melton has come in the last year working at his game on the practice courts, let alone how quickly he will progress at the next level. At a minimum, however, Melton has all the tools to turn into a very disruptive defender on the perimeter. Offensively, meanwhile, he should be a player who at the very least can space the floor and knock down open shots. Additionally, he can run the break to finish in transition and use his athleticism to get to the rim.
NBA Player Comparison
Melton plays a very similar style of game to San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray. Now, Murray himself is still developing and has a great deal of potential left to fulfill. Still, he and Melton share very similar skill sets as well-rounded backcourt players. It is expected that Murray will take another step forward for the Spurs this upcoming season, and Melton has the tools to mirror a similar trajectory that Murray has and will continue to follow over the next few years.
Another comparison that can be made with more of a finished product is that Melton could potentially become a poor man’s, Jimmy Butler. Again, it is unlikely that Melton will reach the same heights as Butler, but they share similar playing styles and both bring the same type of commitment and mentality to both ends of the floor. With that said, it wouldn’t be wise to put it past Melton — who has a very strong work ethic and is projected to be selected close to where Butler was at 30th overall in 2011 — to one day be able to have the same type of impact Butler has for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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