The draft combine last month was De’Andre Melton’s first opportunity to show NBA decision-makers if he’d gotten better since the last time they saw him play, more than a year earlier. It also was a chance for Melton to explain the circumstances that led to him not playing college basketball in 2017-18.
“Same question in every interview: about my USC situation,” Melton said after working out for the Hawks on Thursday. “I think every team was curious. They weren’t really worried. I think I enlightened them.”
Melton got caught up in the federal bribery investigation into NCAA programs, shoe companies and agents. He hasn’t been accused of wrong doing, but prosecutors allege that a close family friend, David Elliott, received $5,000 to direct Melton to a prospective agent. (Elliott has denied he accepted money.)
USC announced in January that it would hold Melton out for his sophomore season. Soon after that Melton declared for the draft. He was a standout freshman at USC and could be a first-round draft pick.
In my experience, NBA personnel people generally don’t care about prospects accepting “extra benefits” in college. They recognize the hypocrisy of a system in which everyone except players can seek their market value.
However, NBA teams do care about the friends and family who are close to players so they can look for any possible negative influences. Melton said he got questions about that at the combine.
“Who’s in my circle now, and what changes I can make moving forward,” Melton said.
Melton’s physical profile and production during his one season at USC suggest he can contribute in the NBA as a defender, playmaker and slasher.
At the combine Melton measured 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds with a wingspan of 6-foot-8 1/2. That length should allow Melton to defend both guard positions while serving as a primary or secondary ball-handler.
According to kenpom.com, Melton was the Pac-12 leader in steals percentage by a wide margin in 2016-17. His blocked shot percentage ranked 10th, and eight players ahead of him were front court players. Melton ranked 27th in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding percentage and 30th in defensive rebounding percentage; among wing players he ranked second- and fourth-best in those categories, respectively.
Melton ranked 12th among Pac-12 players in assist rate and eighth in free-throw rate. Melton shot 51 percent on 2o-pointers, including 38-for-70 (54.3 percent) around the basket per Synergy.
Shooting was Melton’s major weakness at USC. He was 21-for-74 on 3-pointers (28.4 percent) and 77-for-109 (70.6) on free throws. Melton is a very good athlete, but it could be tough for him to score at the basket in the NBA without a credible outside shot, especially because of his relatively slight frame.
Melton said he’s been working on his jump shot with skills coach Drew Hanlen, who counts several NBA players among his clients. Melton said the focus has been on getting the ball farther in front of his body, decreasing his dip and getting the shot off quicker.
“My shot feels better,” he said. “I feel like I shot it well today. I’ve been working on it a lot so I’m really proud to see the ball go in the basket.”