After a terrible freshman season when he could barely stay on the court, Melo has transformed into an integral part for the Syracuse team. Last night he only accounted for 4 points and 2 rebounds, but he played very well in the preseason NIT, and compared to last season it’s been night and day for his comfort on the court.
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Mark Twain famously said there are “lies, damned lies and statistics.” While the stat sheet under Fab’s name isn’t sexy (right around 6 points and 6 boards per game), the truth is Melo has become a game changer. He has been one of SU’s best defenders. Not only is Fab blocking and altering shots (8 blocks in the two games at MSG), he is drawing charges and is bringing defensive intensity that was nonexistent at many times last season.
Considering his offseason from hell and speculation he would leave Syracuse, Melo’s development this year is incredible. We’re just months removed from enigmatic Facebook posts, police investigations, and debates on whether Melo was one of the biggest SU recruiting busts ever. Today, Fab appeared in court and the judge granted him an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Meaning, if he keeps his nose clean for a year, the charges are dimissed.
But Fab has been aggressive on the floor like a monster protecting its lair. He is closing out on jump shots from the high post and erasing mistakes made in the zone with great recovery blocks. Simply put, Fab is making life for opposing players who dare to come into his lane miserable.
Some of this is inherent in any 7-footer. However, what excites The Fizz most is Melo’s defensive awareness and hustle. Fab is coming up with steals from deflections and playing the passing lanes well. The big man is also throwing himself on the floor for loose balls. These plays are lost in the stat line, but can be the difference between winning and losing. To top it off, his fouls are down and his playing time has more than doubled from last season.
Fab still has a lot to improve on. He needs to do a better job on the defensive glass. At times he tries to block every shot (which draws him out of position), and leaves the lane open for easy offensive boards. When he does rebound, Melo attacks the ball and rips it down with force. He is doing a great job on the offensive glass extending possessions, by either tipping the ball to teammates or nabbing boards himself. Very encouraging going forward.
On the offense end Fab is still raw but is developing a low post game. He has flashes of brilliance with powerful dunks and smooth baby hooks. Melo showed he has soft hands as well, taking a bullet pass from Brandon Triche for an easy score.
Melo is not the best nor most important player on the team; those honors belong to Kris Joseph and the ever improvong Dion Waiters. But the big Brazilian’s play may dictate how far the Orange will go come March. Scoring down low wont be consistent from Fab, but it doesn’t need to be. The wealth of talent in the backcourt can light up the scoreboard. Melo just needs to do his role of controlling and patrolling the lane.
The big question mark for SU coming into this season was who’s going to replace replace Rick Jackson’s production. On offense it’s been a team effort, but on defense the answer is now obvious – thankfully it’s Fab Melo.
Posted: Dave Van Moffaert