On December 22nd, in front of 2,423 spectators, Fab Melo turned in one of the best performances the NBA D-league has ever seen. Melo recorded a triple-double in points, rebounds, and blocks, and established the NBA D-League record for blocks in a single game (14). The Maine Red Claws fell short of victory that evening in Portland, Maine, but the 22-year-old Brazilian born 7-footer, showcased the skills that led him to becoming a first round selection in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Melo's first year in the NBA has been filled with D-League assignments, a well-documented concussion, and rookie designated chores from Boston's veteran players. Melo has had the true fortune in developing his game with Boston this season, by mixing in serious playing time as a member of their D-League affiliate, while also receiving invaluable practice experience alongside some of the NBA's all-time greatest players.
RidiculousUpside.com recently caught up with Melo, as he's back in Maine with the Red Claws on assignment, and grooming his game for the next opportunity in Boston. Melo issued praise to the incredibly loyal fanbase of the Celtics, as he's ventured between both Maine and Boston in his first year as a pro. "The Boston fans have been great, I have received a lot of support and they always want to see me play, and play well for them. It really motivates me." Melo said.
With a heavily dedicated fanbase such as Boston's, withstanding the dregs of a rookie campaign under an intense microscope can be difficult for a young player. Even more so, when a first round draft pick with high expectations such as Melo, is assigned to the D-League early on in the season, leaving fans with an overall sense of doubt regarding the team's draft choice.
Melo improves in NBADL while adjusting to the unique circumstances
Despite being discussed as potential trade bait at the tail end of the deadline, the Celtics have dedicated a large amount of time and patience regarding the development of Melo's game. Rather than dragging Melo along with the team in which he would only experience simulated game play via practice sessions, the Celtics have done a brilliant job fostering Melo's overall game, by assigning the big man to their NBA D-League single affiliate.
The Celtics invested in their single affiliate relationship this past offseason, in hopes of further strengthening their ability to aide in the future development of their young players. Melo has been the team's first project of sorts, and has benefited from the close relationship between the two franchises. Melo has patiently gone through the process without any type of refusal, which can occur from entitled first round draft selections, and has demonstrated his noted work ethic while grinding away in the NBADL .
Melo described his situation, "I enjoy my time while I'm in Maine, and I'm getting better by playing a lot of minutes in our games. I feel like I'm able to develop my game during my time with the team."
Melo is averaging 10.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocks for the Red Claws this season, and leads the league in total blocks (83) despite playing in just 22 games. Defensively speaking, Melo has impressed everyone at the D-League level, he amounts blocks in the way an efficient point guard hands out assists. His presence in the middle has forced teams to shoot low percentage outside shots, and the big man has been successful in establishing perfect rebounding position to spark fast break opportunities after collecting rebounds.
With Melo on their roster, Maine has gone 14-8. After joining the team in late November, he has been able to improve his production throughout the season while being assigned six different times by the Celtics.
Each time that Melo has received an assignment to Maine, or the subsequent recall back to Boston, he has driven himself to and from each destination. The close proximity between the Celtics, and their NBA D-League affiliate, presents the franchise with the unique ability to send players back and forth a high amount of times. Both Melo and Kris Joseph (while he was a member of the team) drove themselves to Maine once receiving their assignment notifications. Not exactly the lifestyle in which first year NBA players imagine for themselves after being drafted.
Melo fortunate to talk shop with NBA's elite
In addition to Melo receiving crucial minutes in Maine, the 7-foot, 255 pound former Syracuse standout, has also benefited from practicing alongside Boston's treasured veterans. Not only does Melo get to witness firsthand the dedication of a future hall of famer like Kevin Garnett, but his time spent with the Celtics also allows him to hear sound advice from Boston's highly respected coaching staff.
Melo explained the impact of practicing and playing with Kevin Garnett and Boston's veteran guys in general. "He's (Garnett) been a help for sure for me. But the other guys have stepped in and assisted me as well. They give me encouragement as well as on-and-off-the-court advice when I'm with them, I've tried taking advantage of that." Melo said.
With the small sampling that has been Melo's basketball career (he started playing basketball around the age of 17 allegedly), the Syracuse product has been considered to be a potential defensive specialist. However, Melo made it clear that he is not just working on that particular part of his game, and that he is dedicated to being a well-rounded player who can contribute at both ends of the floor. "I'm a basketball player, I work on every part of my game, not just defense. I practice everyday, and I'm focused on getting better each time I go out there. I'm focused on becoming a player who can impact an entire game." Melo said.
In a franchise who has been spoiled with big men historically speaking, the expectations for Melo to fall in line with some of the greats before him looms largely. With Melo's game seemingly still in it's infancy, the hope for Melo to one day be considered a legendary big man in Boston should still remain.
Melo's positive outlook regarding his rookie campaign thus far, speaks volumes about his willingness to get better as a player. The NBA can be a harsh reality for young players, and even more so when a player has to balance the luxuries accustomed to an NBA lifestyle, with less than desired settings, and the grueling schedule in the NBA D-League. Yet, Melo has been able to keep his eye on the prize without complaining about his current role in the Celtics' organization.
The path to NBA stardom is different for each player who is willing to put in the time, and Fab Melo has proved that he is prepared to do what is necessary to fulfill the Celtics' hopes for the big man.