To say that his defense is ahead of his offense is an understatement of epic proportions. To debate how much playing time he’ll receive once the season starts is a fruitless exercise at this point because no one knows – not Danny Ainge, not Doc Rivers, and certainly not Fab Melo, who has the potential to work out very nicely or to become the next Acie Earl. Who, you might ask, is Acie Earl? Good question. Earl was a 6′-10″, 240-lb center who played ball for Iowa in the late 80s and early 90s. He was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, and the following season Earl was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 19th pick in the first round of the ’93 NBA Draft. Earl played two season with the Celtics, the two seasons with the Toronto Raptors and part of a season with the Milwaukee Bucks. And then Earl went overseas, playing in France, Australia, Turkey, Russia and Poland.
When Boston drafted Earl, there was talk about how the big man’s defense was far ahead of his offense, and that he had a tremendous amount of potential and upside. The Celtics, needing size, passed on players like Sam Cassell, Nick Van Exel and Bryon Russell. Earl, it turned out, was a stiff with limited basketball skill and very little upside.
Flash forward to the 2012 Orlando Summer League. Fab Melo is a 7’0″, 274-lb big with great defensive instincts and an offensive game that would make Ryan Hollins look like a scoring machine. Melo has averaged 1.8 points during the OSL, terrible numbers against players who don’t exactly have the same pedigree as Dwight Howard, Kevin Love or Andrew Bynum. You watch him play on the offensive end and you find yourself wondering if there is potential for improvement, or if he’s destined to be this generation’s Acie Earl.
There are a couple of things working in Melo’s favor – he’s physically bigger and stronger than Earl was, and he didn’t start playing basketball until later that most. So in terms of a ceiling, Melo seems to have plenty of room to grow.
And while his OSL numbers over all weren’t mind-boggling – he also averaged 4.8 rebounds and one block while averaging 15.8 minutes-per-game – Melo has shown moments of great defensive instincts. He moves his feet well, has been in position to take a charge, and he is always willing to challenge a shot. It’s a role that Greg Stiemsma filled last season for the Celtics. Stiemsma, however, could land in Minnesota for more dollars than Boston can offer, and that should open up more minutes for Melo.
Melo has his work cut out for him. He doesn’t defend in one-on-one situations especially well, so that’s a concern. He will likely be called for fouls at a Stiemsma-like rate. But the old adage is that you can’t teach size, and Melo has plenty of that.
If Doc Rivers and his coaching staff can just take the raw material and turn it into a finished product, then Danny Ainge will have made a Fab-ulous draft night decision indeed.