Fab Melo’s value to Syracuse in 2011-12 was impossible to dispute, but now he has to prove himself to a very different audience.
After declaring for the NBA draft, the Orange sophomore is going to find that being the most important player on what was (for most of the season) the second-best team in the country doesn’t always count for as much as he would like.
When it comes to what he brings to a potential pro team, Melo is a mixed bag. On the plus side, he’s a fine shot-blocker and a competent rebounder. He also has an NBA-ready body at 7’0”, 255 lbs.
Unfortunately, he’s also far from a finished product, with effectively only one year of college experience (given how little he played as a freshman) and obvious holes in his game.
Melo is an outright liability on offense, whether trying to score or pass. While he's sure to be an effective help-side shot blocker, Syracuse's 2-3 zone makes it harder to say how effective he'll be as a man-on-man defender.
If Melo continues developing at the rate he showed between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he could turn out to be a terrific pro. However, that kind of growth is anything but guaranteed.
The biggest problem for Melo is that—for the first time in recent memory—being seven-feet tall is not, by itself, a guarantee of draft success. He’s entering one of the tallest draft classes in years, one that even features a couple of players with very similar skill sets to his own.
Presumptive No. 1 pick Anthony Davis is younger than Melo, but has a decidedly more developed game. Fellow shot-blocking ace John Henson is more polished than Melo as well, while 7’0” Tyler Zeller and 6’11” Arnett Moultrie are superior as both rebounders and scorers.
In that company, Melo’s length will mean less than his lack of either experience or proven productivity.
Given his eligibility concerns, Melo probably had good reason to declare for the 2012 draft, but he could hardly have picked a worse year to leave Syracuse.
In virtually any other season, he’d be a near-lock for the lottery (especially if he’d added another year of college experience). However, in this class, he’ll be doing well to slip into the bottom of the first round.