Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws
December 28, 2012, 5:44 pm

Fab Melo looked out his hotel room window from inside the Best Western in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

"I see a bunch of cars covered in snow," he said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. "That's all I see. It's really cold. Really, really cold. I'm not trying to get to know how cold it is."

1,300 miles away the Boston Celtics were getting ready to take on the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center, kicking off the first of three games they will play in California.

Melo was looking forward to watching the matchup. With temperatures reading 12 degrees outside, there was little else he was interested in doing.

The Celtics rookie is on a road trip, too, only his travels have taken him from Idaho to South Dakota for back-to-back games against the Skyforce with the Maine Red Claws, the C's NBA Development League affiliate. Melo has appeared in 10 games for the Red Claws, averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.5 blocks in his last two contests, and set a new D-League record with 14 blocked shots in a single game last Saturday.

The 22-year-old seven-footer is improving. He is making strides and developing skills he believes will help him contribute to the Celtics. Yet as he looks on to a frigid snow-covered parking lot, he also knows a weekend in Sioux Falls is beneficial for him at this stage in his career.

"I think this is the best situation for me right now," Melo said. "I am getting playing time, I'm just playing basketball, and that's the thing I needed to be able to do. I can improve my game that way, so I'm not complaining."

The Celtics understood they were acquiring a work in progress when they selected Melo with the 22nd overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft. The big man from Syracuse University had potential, but given that he did not start playing basketball in Brazil until he was 17, he has a ways to go to reach it.

The Celtics assigned Melo to the D-League early in the season. He would be able to receive the playing time on the Red Claws that would not be available to him on a veteran NBA squad.

"I've been working on what the Celtics want me to do -- develop my defensive game," said Melo. "And I've been working on my offensive game, that's something I've been doing every day. Me and J.P. (Clark), one of the assistant coaches, we work every day on post positions, we work on defensive rotations, we watch films to correct the things that I do wrong in the games. I'm just developing my basketball game. On offense, I'm working on my baby hook. That's one thing that has been pretty good for me right now. I've been working on getting post position, running up and down the court, and working on my post moves, things like that."

The foundation of the Celtics system is defense. With limited basketball experience and a college system that played a zone defense, Melo had a lot of catching up to do.

"My biggest improvement has been on the defensive rotations," he said. "I know what I have to do on the rotations and I defend the screens better. That's the thing I was struggling with in the beginning, and now that I know the rotations we have in the game, I think I'm doing better.

"Because of Syracuse I played zone. Now my pick-and-roll defense is a way better. I'm learning how to defend, I learned what I have to call out to my teammates, the coverage. I just learned how to do it and now I'm doing it naturally. I had to think before. Now it's just become an instinct, and that's what it's becoming better for me."

Then there are the 14 blocked shots. Melo followed them up with another nine (to go along with 32 points and nine rebounds) on Wednesday night.

"They kept driving to the basket and I was just getting a lot of blocks in the first half," he said of his record-setting performance against the Erie BayHawks. "I felt really good so I just blocked everything. I had an idea (I had blocked a lot of shots) but I didn't know how many it was. 14, that's a good number for blocks. It felt great that I broke the record. That's the thing I do best, I block shots. That's the thing I want to be part of my game (in the NBA). Not just blocking shots, but changing shots too because that can affect a lot."

Melo's 14 swats came at what could have been seen as "the perfect time" for the Celtics. The following afternoon, Doc Rivers announced forward-center Chris Wilcox could miss up to a month with a thumb injury. This news left the Celtics even more shorthanded at a position at which they already lost Darko Milicic earlier in the season. Yet with a need for a big man, Rivers quickly squashed any speculation Melo would be called on to fill that void.

"I haven't talked to anyone that thinks he's ready to come up yet," Rivers said.

Later that day the Celtics signed D-Leaguer Jarvis Varnado from the SkyForce. Melo was not discouraged by Rivers' assessment or the Celtics decision to look elsewhere.

"I want to put in more work," he said. "I think I have a long way to go with my game, but I really think I can be really good in the NBA someday. I think this is a good situation for me right now and I can get a lot better with this situation."

Melo already had a taste of the NBA life before being assigned to Portland. He joined them for their trip to Istanbul and Milan, experienced flying on private team planes, and stayed in five-star accommodations. While he still receives perks for being an NBA player, such as a first class airline seat and no roommate on the road, he now travels on commercial flights and buses, and his hotel rooms don't exactly rival the Ritz Carlton.

His life may not be as glamorous as his teammates' on the Celtics, but it is all part of the making his way back up to the pros.

"Of course I wanted to be in the NBA and play the game and travel with the team and stuff like that, but what I'm trying to do is move forward with the process," he said. "I'm being patient. I really think I can be good in the NBA someday, so I'm enjoying the process and getting better through it."

Melo is excited to return to Portland later this weekend for the Red Claws' next home game on New Year's Eve. After growing up in Brazil and attending soccer matches in some of the most energetic sports environments, he looks forward to playing in front of those who truly love basketball.

"It's pretty cool because people who go to these games are basketball fans and really appreciate the game," he said. "They like to see an NBA player play for them. They really appreciate that, and I really enjoy playing in front of them."

Melo's long-term goal is to play in front of the TD Garden crowd. But he is taking it one game at a time, knowing the importance of giving it his all in front of the Sioux Falls Skyforce fans on Friday night.

"I feel like an NBA player learning on the Red Claws right now," he said. "What fans should know is that I'm working very hard. I'm working on every part of my game and trying to improve. I think there are good things about to come."