LAS VEGAS -- Twenty minutes into the Boston Celtics' 87-69 win over the Atlanta Hawks in their Las Vegas Summer League opener, it looked like rookie center Fab Melo was poised to shed the "inconsistent" label he had picked up following an up-and-down five-game slate in Orlando last week. But then the final 20 minutes of game action happened, and Melo reminded everyone that he's still very much a work in progress.
Still, after putting in a very active effort that saw him register seven points and five rebounds off the bench, Melo can comfortably say he took a step in the right direction on Monday.
Melo started strong, scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds in nine minutes of first-half action. Perhaps most important, his overall impact on the game was felt, as Boston closed the first quarter on a 15-5 run after Melo checked in at the 3:59 mark.
"Fab was great [in the] first half," Summer League coach Tyronn Lue said. "Defensively, being in the right spot. In timeouts he was attentive, he ran our stuff right. He ran our plays. He was great, Fab was great in the first half. Awesome."
Shortly after checking in, Melo put his stamp on the game with a slick touch pass in the lane to Sean Williams, who slammed it home. But the play after that was arguably the most encouraging. Melo retreated on defense and positioned himself nicely to draw a charge on Atlanta's Mike Scott.
"I love it, just to get a stop, it's our ball, and they get a foul," Melo said of his desire to take charges. "So it's a great stop. That's the thing I'll be looking forward to doing this season."
Less than a minute later, Melo contested a perimeter jump shot, took a gamble by hustling up the other end of the floor assuming a rebound would be secured, and it paid off as he was rewarded with a loud two-handed slam.
Melo finished off his productive first half by tipping in a JaJuan Johnson miss and, somewhat surprisingly, rifling in a tough turnaround jump shot on the right baseline with less than four seconds left, garnering a "wow" reaction from the crowd.
"I thought today was the best first half he's played the whole summer league," Lue said. "He's getting better and better, calling out the coverages. I thought he was great on help, when guys got beat off penetration, took a charge. I just thought he was in the right spot a lot in the first half."
All of it -- the rebounds, the scoring opportunities fulfilled, the presence in the lane and the charge drawn -- accumulated into an exhibition that made it clear why the Celtics were willing to take a chance on Melo with the 22nd overall pick in last month's draft. The potential is evident, but not yet realized, as Melo fell back into a pattern of inconsistency over the final 20 minutes, unable to deliver the same production he provided in the first half. Playing virtually the same number of minutes, Melo didn't score another point, only grabbed one more rebound, and didn't have the same impact on the defensive end.
"He's struggling with our calls and coverages, calling show, weak [side] or iso, he's having problems with that, but his effort the last few games has been there," Lue said. "His coverages have been a little off, but as long as he's playing with effort, he'll pick the coverages up. A lot of it has to do with fatigue because in college, he stayed in the zone, just in the middle, just standing, but now he's got to go out and show, you've got to get back, you've got to rotate, so it's a lot more work for him. But he's getting better and better."
Melo's effort, in the rawest sense of the word, can't be downplayed. For significant portions of Monday's game, Melo was the most active player on the court, and it was that energy level that helped bring about his overall impact on the contest. Though he might not have played as well as he did in the first half, the final 20 minutes saw Melo play louder, as he could be heard throughout the arena calling out different rotations and offering motivation on the defensive end to his teammates. With 36 seconds remaining the third period, Melo retreated back on defense and one could easily make out his cry of "Let's go! Let's go! 'D' up!"
"That's how I like to play," Melo said. "I used to be like that at Syracuse. I had to communicate with my teammates so I try to do it here too. Especially now that I'm getting comfortable on the court, so I'm trying to communicate with my teammates."
For any player, consistency won't be built in a day, but brick by brick the final product can steadily come together. And for Melo, Monday saw him do some serious building.