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The Fab Melo Project: Are the Boston Celtics Ready to Give Up?

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The Fab Melo Project: Are the Boston Celtics Ready to Give Up?
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Six days and five games later, the Orlando Summer League is in the books. And typical out of context praise is showered upon a few Boston Celtics players.

2013 first round draft pick Kelly Olynyk was the talk of the league after averaging 18 points 7.8 rebounds 2.4 assists and 1.8 steals. He was selected to the All-Summer League First Team.

Phil Pressey came on strong late as he dished out 10 assists in each of the final two games. Tony Mitchell came from the NBA Developmental League to finish second on the Celtics in scoring with 11.2 points. Many believe these two free agents deserve another look during training camp.

Even Colton Iverson drew a following with his all-out hustle and physical play. Never mind he averaged almost as many fouls (4.2) per game as points (5.0).

Left out in the cold, though, was Fab Melo. The 2012 first round pick had very brief moments of encouraging play but overall was a disappointment for a second year player.

We’re always reminded to keep these observations in perspective as this was just Summer League. Performances during this week of televised scrimmages don’t always translate to the pro level. While this tamps down expectations for the likes of Olynyk and company, it also raises concern about the second year Melo.

It was no secret that Melo was a project when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge selected him with the 22nd overall pick last year. Up until then Melo had been playing basketball for just a handful of years. That’s far behind his peers that had 10 or more years of experience over Melo.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Melo anchored Syracuse's zone defense in 2011-12 and was voted the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

The 7-foot Brazilian received great coaching from Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, and Melo effectively patrolled the paint in the Orangemen’s zone defense. Melo played so well he was voted 2012 Big East Big East Defensive Player of the Year, beating out UConn’s Andre Drummond, among others.

Melo left Syracuse after his sophomore season. Watching him now, it’s easy to wonder how much another year of college basketball might have helped his development.

For much of the Summer League, Melo was at least a step behind with his reactions. His movements with the ball appear methodical, as if he has to think through what to do next. His coordination was awkward, even when simply running the floor. His conditioning seems poor.

Melo’s worst moment might had been when Detroit’s Viacheslav Kravtsov dunked on Melo and stuffed a Melo dunk attempt in the same game.

It wasn’t the first time confidence in Melo appeared dubious. Ainge almost traded Melo, along with Leandro Barbosa, to the Washington Wizards for Jordan Crawford. But the Wizards preferred Jason Collins and his expiring contract over Melo.

Adding on top of that is Boston reportedly reached an agreement with 25-year-old Brazilian center Vitor Faverani.

Is Melo a bust? Maybe it’s too early to say. In pro sports, patience is frequently in short supply. At the same time patience can be the greatest reward.

It was expected that Melo wouldn’t play for the Celtics, spending the season in the Developmental League. Boston hoped that Melo would use his size to his advantage and dominate while playing with the Maine Red Claws.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
The highlight of Melo's rookie season was a pair of back-to-back games where he totaled 47 points, 25 rebounds and 23 blocks.

Things didn’t look good for Melo through eight games as he scored in double figures twice and pulled down at least 10 rebounds just once. But a historic triple double (15 points, 16 rebounds, 14 blocks) followed by a sensational 32-point, 9 rebounds and 9 blocks game raised expectations.

But Melo couldn’t come close to maintaining such production. And as the season wore on, Melo wore down.

It’s hard to say that Melo is a better player with a year under his belt after his second Summer League stint. He looks like he needs at least one more year in the D-League, but would that be in his or the Celtics’ best interest as they begin rebuilding?

With Faverani inbound, along with Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans, will Boston have enough room to bring Melo along slowly? According to reports, Boston wants to trade the burdensome contracts of Wallace and Humphries. It wouldn’t be too surprising if Melo is included in a package.

Whether that’s the right decision is the question. Just eight years ago the Los Angeles Lakers took a flier on Andrew Bynum out of high school. He played in 46 games in his rookie season and averaged 1.6 points. But he anchored the Lakers’ defense when they won back-to-back championships.

Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins took a similar path as he saw action in just 10 games as a rookie while averaging 2.2 points. Years later he paired with Kevin Garnett to protect the paint and help the Celtics to their first championship in 22 years.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Is there a bright future ahead for Melo or will he be the lastest in a long line of disappointing Syracuse big men in the NBA?

Not to say that Melo can become as good as either player, but they are examples of slowly developed projects that paid off for their franchises. Maybe Melo doesn’t become a starter, but it’s possible that he could carve a role for himself with a team.

Melo was back in the starting lineup for Boston’s Summer League finale. It was his best game as he had 11 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and a block. Overall Melo led the team in blocks, was seventh on the team in scoring, and he drew a handful of charges. Far from great, but a few glimmers of hope that Melo can become a productive pro.

But will that happen in Boston?

Questions? Comments? Send to randolphc82@comcast.net.

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