Commentary

Fab Melo remains a work in progress

The rookie Celtics center is still pretty raw, but he's flashing some potential

Updated: July 13, 2012, 10:40 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The scouting report said his game was raw and, just in case you were wondering how raw, Boston Celtics first-round draft pick Fab Melo pretty much summarized his game in a short span earlier this week at the Orlando Summer League.

During Wednesday's game against the Indiana Pacers, Melo delivered a pretty feed off a drive to the basket, leading to an easy layup for a cutting teammate. A few moments later, looking to dish to another cutter, he sent the ball screaming at the Boston bench, missing the nearest eligible receiver by about 15 feet.

[+] EnlargeFab Melo
AP Photo/John RaouxFab Melo's offensive game needs improvement.

"He's making plays, but sometimes he gets ahead of himself," admitted fellow rookie Kris Joseph, a teammate the past two seasons at Syracuse. A smile crossed his face upon reflecting on Melo's off-the-mark delivery, and Joseph added, "He threw to me on the bench today -- it would have been a good pass had I been in the game."

Yes, the Fabricio Paulino de Melo Experience is about to invade Boston, and it's going to be a wild ride. The 22-year-old native of Brazil left Syracuse after two seasons (the last of which was tarnished by academic ineligibility) and, despite his overall inexperience on the basketball court, the Celtics selected the 7-footer with the 22nd overall pick in last month's draft.

Melo averaged 1.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1 block over 15.8 minutes per game in five appearances in Orlando this week. He shot only 28.6 percent from the floor and lived up to the reputation for owning a bit of a reckless offensive game (he nearly shattered a backboard Friday with a too-strong effort on a straightaway 18-footer).

But then you watch him on the defensive end and you see why Boston was willing to take a chance on him. Even at summer league, Melo was able to draw charges, and (good or bad) he tries to contest everything that's put up near him.

Sometimes that left him prone; other times it resulted in a volleyball-like spike. Melo is figuring this all out on the fly.

"He's still getting used to certain things, but, for the most part, his defensive effort is still there," said Joseph. "He got some blocks and, as you can see, he can contest everything -- no matter if the guy's a high-flyer or not.

"He's a guy who's always going to give his best effort. That's what I'm seeing. ... He's trying to make good basketball plays."

Melo appeared to make strides as the week went on. In Friday's 94-73 triumph over the host Magic, he finished with five points and 10 rebounds over 23 minutes, his longest stint of the week.

Ready or not, the Celtics might need him at times this season. Boston isn't overflowing with pure centers, and there's a chance that restricted free agent Greg Stiemsma could be lured away by a modest bidder.

That could mean occasional minutes for Melo, who will have to make the transition from Syracuse's zone to Boston's help-defense philosophy. The good news: He had a couple of nice weakside blocks in Orlando that suggest he can be a solid last line of defense. The bad news: He's got a ways to go as a one-on-one defender, particularly against the pick-and-roll.

But Celtics assistant coach Ty Lue, in charge of the summer squad, said Boston will be able to mask some of those deficiencies more easily during the regular season.

"Once the season starts and he's playing with (Kevin Garnett), (Rajon) Rondo and all those guys, he'll be a lot better," said Lue. "Out here, it's a lot of just free playing, there aren't a lot of sets, not a lot of stuff you can hone in on."

Then, without even being prompted about that cringe-worthy bench pass, Lue smiled and added, "We just gotta get him to value the ball more. He'll throw the ball anywhere, he don't care."

Yes, Melo is raw. But he has committed to improving his game. He knows there are questions about whether he can develop those skills and that his reputation is somewhat tarnished after he was academically ineligible during the NCAA tournament.

But the Celtics like what they see, bench passes and all.

"He's a great guy, a hard worker," said Lue. "So he'll pick it up. He just has to value the ball. He made a couple nice passes, then he made a couple bad -- no, terrible -- passes. That's part of the game, part of learning the game and growing up."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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