Fabricio de Melo certainly looks the part of a true NBA center, and coming off a season in which he won Big East Defensive Player of the Year, it would seem like he should at the very least be a solid rotation big man for the next decade. That said, in barely two seasons at Syracuse, Melo became just as well known for his questionable character off the court as he was for his play on it, and no other player approaches Thursday's draft with as many red flags.
Gifted with elite, NBA-ready size and sufficient enough athleticism to compliment it, Melo improved upon a forgettable freshman season for the Orange by showing more of the inside presence that made him such a highly-coveted prospect coming out of high school in 2010. Particularly on defense, Melo was able to stay on the court due to a better understanding of the college game, and his awareness at that end made him the anchor of the most famous zone defense in basketball. Averaging 2.9 blocks per game, he was notably absent from Syracuse's first loss of the season-- in their 21st game-- due to eligibility issues that would eventually come to surface again just in time for the tournament, and the debate still rages on as to whether the team could've perhaps won a title if he wasn't suspended throughout March Madness.
But a closer look at the numbers might suggest that Melo's overall impact was more a product of the system--backup freshman center Rakeem Christmas actually put up comparable numbers to Melo when given minutes-- and when searching for translatable NBA attributes, it's hard to find much about his game that points to a very good player. With a very raw offensive skill set, most of Melo's underwhelming 7.2 points per game came as a result of finishing plays created by Syracuse's loaded backcourt. His most bankable self-created offense comes through decent mid-range jumpshooting and an unblockable right-handed hook shot, but these two moves might be considered the bare minimum for the kind of baskets a man his size should be able to get. He gets after it on the offensive glass when motivated, but his 63% free throw shooting would make him a player who would routinely get hacked on almost any touch he gets around the basket in the NBA. He doesn't have much dribbling ability, and until he shows more confidence in putting the ball on the floor, he won't be able to supplement his jumper with other face-up moves.
In addition to a need to have other players create his scoring opportunities, his defensive prowess might be dulled a bit without the help of his teammates. Though he has the physical presence to deny post position, there's no denying that the NCAA rules and Syracuse's zone-heavy scheme enabled him to basically plant himself in the lane for entire defensive possessions. In a league that's becoming more and more devoid of true back-to-the-basket post players, it remains to be seen just how well Melo can defend outside of his comfort zone in the NBA; he doesn't have much experience defending the two-man game that will be heavily used against him in the pick and roll, and his lateral quickness on the perimeter could be easily exploitable. That said, Melo still has that unteachable shot-blocking ability, and also deters players from attacking the basket by drawing charges well. It'll be interesting to see if this pesky defensive skill of his continues to be effective at the next level in the wake of David Stern's public vow to crack down on flopping.
Finally, no analysis of Fab Melo would be complete without mentioning his propensity to get involved in negative headlines off the court, since his perceived lack of character might be the one thing keeping him out of the first round. Melo has publicly blamed his poor english-speaking skills as a scapegoat for his struggles in the classroom, and this is perhaps excusable for a young man whose primary language is Portuguese. That said, many Syracuse fans are still sour over the fact that he hasn't offered any apology for his mistakes, and he's also only a year removed from an ugly domestic violence dispute that resulted in other games lost to suspension.
When it's all said and done, it'd be a major surprise if Fab Melo wasn't taken in the top 35. He's still a "young" 22 year-old and learning the game, and his size/defensive potential are near the top of the class. In five years, he could be out of the league or an All-Defensive cornerstone for an elite team, and neither result would come as a shock.
|Rank||31st overall (4th C)|
|Projection||Late 1st round|
NBA ready body
Raw offensive game