Melo hopes to make most of 'fresh start' with C's

Melo hopes to make most of 'fresh start' with C's
July 7, 2013, 6:30 pm
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Boston center Fab Melo felt opportunities to play would be few and far between last season as a rookie.

But as the injuries mounted on the Celtics roster which included season-ending back surgery to fellow rookie big man Jared Sullinger, Melo found himself on the outside looking in with little to no hope of playing.

There were stretches in which Melo admits he didn't feel part of the team.

"I wasn't playing," Melo said after Boston's 95-88 summer league loss to Orlando on Sunday. "I couldn't feel part of the team like that."

A new season, a new head coach and for Melo, a new opportunity to prove his worth to the C's.

"It's a fresh start for me," Melo told CSNNE.com this week. "And I will be better than I was last year; I will be better."

He better be; otherwise Melo's NBA career will be over sooner than later.

On many levels, the first-round pick of the C's in last year's draft is at a crossroads.

A solid 2013-2014 season will wash away many of the doubts that exists about his NBA future. But if he's as ineffective now and looking out of sorts as he did as a rookie, the Celtics may be ready to pull the plug on the Melo experiment.

They almost did last season, preferring to include him in a trade for Jordan Crawford with Washington shortly after the C's lost Leandro Barbosa due to a season-ending knee injury. But the Wizards had no interest in Melo, instead preferring that veteran Jason Collins be included.

And it's not like the C's haven't added players to potentially replace Melo on the team's roster this season, either.  

In last month's draft, the Celtics drafted 7-foot Kelly Olynyk in addition to acquiring a second-round pick that was used to acquire another 7-footer, Colton Iverson of Colorado State.

Newly hired C's coach Brad Stevens was in attendance at Boston's summer league game against the Magic on Sunday.

"The thing that impressed me today was the way he tried to communicate defensively," Stevens said. "I thought he was very active. I thought he was very engaged. He made a couple of big jump hooks right in front of us, with a soft touch. And he's a guy with size that can play in and around the paint and the rim and screen and defensively, it looks like he has a pretty decent feel for what's going on.

Added Stevens, "First impressions were good."

Conditioning appears to still be an area that Melo needs to continue working towards improving, but there were a number of subtle improvements to his play.

He had eight rebounds against the Magic, which does not include the shots he was able to alter around the basket that don't necessarily show up among the final stats but are nonetheless important to a team's success.

Along with his nine points and eight rebounds, the C's were also plus-6 with him on the floor - tops among all Celtics players.

Melo had successful stints with the Celtics' D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

In 33 games, he averaged 9.8 points, six rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game which earned him a first-team spot on the D-League's all-rookie team and the league's all-Defensive squad as well.
 
For the Celtics, Melo appeared in just five games while averaging one point in just 3.8 minutes per game.

"I kind of expected that," Melo said of having a limited role with the C's last season. "It didn't affect me a lot. It just affected me for getting better."

But his time in the D-League afforded him a chance to get some much-needed court time which both Melo and the C's were hoping would be invaluable to his growth.

Mike Taylor, head coach of the D-League's Maine Red Claws, knows better than most how far Melo has come since the C's selected him with the No. 22 pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

"Fab made a lot of strides in good areas," Taylor told CSNNE.com. "The big thing was just playing basketball, reading the game, getting a better feel for the game."

And Taylor knows that there are some who are down on Melo for not being a high impact player already, despite him being so new to the C's and the game of basketball (he began playing just seven years ago).

"Big men in general, it usually takes a little longer to develop," Taylor said. "And some guys are late bloomers. But Fab in particular, learning the game, picking up the game at a later age than most players, it's going to take him some time."

In two seasons at Syracuse University, Melo established himself as a solid rim protector and defensive force. But while with the Orange, he played almost exclusively in a zone defense while most NBA teams are more man-to-man.

That, along with his lack of basketball experience, has contributed to some degree in him developing at a relatively slow rate.

"You look at what he did for us, first-team All-Defensive team and first-team All-Rookie, he had a great year for us," Taylor said. "But it's a work in progress. It's going to take time. He's learning how to work, picking up things on how to play. He made a lot of good strides this year."

And while the expectations of him by others is relatively low, Melo is confident that he has made enough progress to be someone the C's can turn to at times this season.

"It's not like last year," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. Now I know what to expect; just try to feel comfortable, play basketball and have fun."