Grizzlies

Is Melton Memphis’ Secret Weapon?

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Back in December, I wrote about how De’Anthony Melton’s impact immediately transformed the Grizzlies. At that time, Melton had only played 12 games for the team. Since his infusion into the rotation, the Grizzlies are 26-17. Although a lot has changed since then, his performance has not. Going into Orlando, Melton has a chance to display his versatility and value when the stakes are highest.

Sustained Excellence

Melton’s sample sizes were very small in December. Since then, he’s managed to either maintain or improve upon his numbers. He logged his second season with 900 minutes played, a steal percentage above three percent and a block percentage above 1.5 percent. He’s the first player to repeat those numbers since Tony Allen posted three consecutive seasons from 2010-13. Offensively, Melton altered his shot selection, trading mid-range shots for threes and layups, which led to increases in his percentages.

Melton Makes Everyone Better

The 22-year-old’s advanced numbers are some of the strongest on the team. Of Grizzlies with at least 35 games played, Melton leads in +/- and net rating. What’s even more phenomenal is the way he elevates other players around him. A quick glance at Memphis’ best lineups shows Melton’s true impact:

 

Via NBA.com

The Grizzlies’ top four three-man units all feature Melton, and they absolutely dominate opponents. The Jaren Jackson-Melton-Brandon Clarke lineup could serve as the backbone of Memphis’ next elite defense. That lineup projects the ideal future for the Grizzlies: a defensive dynamo that plays at the pace of today’s game.

Offensively, Melton’s biggest impact comes in transition. He records a ton of deflections, many of which lead to steals. The Grizzlies produce 144.3 points per 100 off steals. His improved playmaking allows the team to attack in the fast break. And when Melton is on the court, the team scores 135.2 points per 100 transition plays.

A Crucial Role

The Grizzlies are currently leading the hottest race in the league, but they’re facing an enormous amount of pressure. They have the fifth toughest schedule remaining, and each opponent features great guard play. The Grizzlies will rely on Melton to slow down players such as Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul. While the sample size is small for some of his key bubble matchups, Melton has held his own against various elite guards this season:

via NBA.com

Melton’s defensive leadership will be key in all eight games. All eight teams are in the top half of the league in pick-and-roll efficiency, and Melton’s matchups will likely be involved in most of them. His play in this regard will have a ripple effect on the entire team’s defense. His poise and effectiveness there will alleviate pressure from other players.

A Not-So-Subtle Surprise

ESPN recently named Melton as the Grizzlies’ “potential surprise player”. Though his performance was a bit of a surprise in December, it’s an expectation now. The bubble will be a good opportunity for him to show fans outside of Memphis his improvement. In the wake of Justise Winslow’s recent season-ending injury, some fans are calling for Melton to become the starter.

Regardless of what Coach Taylor Jenkins decides to do, Melton’s impact will be felt and appreciated down the stretch. “Mr. Do Something” might be the Grizzlies’ most important player in the bubble.

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About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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