Melo still faces challenges on road to NBA

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Melo still faces challenges on road to NBA

BOSTON The Fab Melo era in Boston has begun.

Hold your applause, please.

The 7-foot rookie from Syracuse University made his NBA debut on Friday as the Boston Celtics had little trouble in defeating Orlando, 97-84.

He played the final 2:38 of the game, picking up his first career steal during that time.

Melo didn't exactly wow anyone with his first NBA action on Friday, but that's OK.

He's not expected to; not now at least.

Even with the Celtics' frontcourt depth taking another blow following Jared Sullinger (lumbar disc) having season-ending back surgery on Friday, that doesn't mean fans will start to see more Melo.

"People love the young guy; love to see the young guy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said prior to Friday's game.

That is, until they see the young guy play and he makes young guy mistakes.

"You try to give him as much as he can handle," Rivers said of Melo. "And you do try to put him in situations on the floor with Kevin (Garnett) to help him."

One of the biggest challenges for Melo from the very beginning has been learning how to effectively play man-to-man defense as opposed to playing almost exclusively in a zone which has been a staple of the Syracuse University defense under Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.

"The (defensive) rotations; I didn't know how to defend screens, things like that; this just new for me," Melo said. "I learn this year. At Syracuse, I stay in the middle of the zone the whole time. It's a lot different from playing man-to-man."

Because Boston (23-23) is in a fight to just make the playoffs, it's unlikely that they will look to Melo much, if at all, in the next few games before they send him back to the Maine Red Claws, Boston's D-League affiliate.

"I don't see Fab getting a lot of opportunities right now," said Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. "So we'll have to keep tabs on that because we want him to continue his development."

That's why the bulk of his pro career thus far has been spent with the Red Claws.

For the Red Claws, Melo has appeared in 19 games (17 starts) while averaging 11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots per game.

Not surprisingly, Melo was happy to finally get on the floor in a real NBA game.

There was the usual nerves that most rookies feel in their first NBA action.

When you throw in the fact that Melo sat the first 45 minutes, it stands to reason that his performance would have left a lot to be desired.

But in grading his performance, it won't ever be about things such as points, but instead progress towards learning the NBA game to where someday he can be a guy Rivers calls on and feels confident that he can go in the game and get the job done.

"It's not a situation I want to come with Jared hurt," Melo said. "But I just have to take this opportunity.

Melo added, "I just want to go play and show some things I can do."

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