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Can Nicolo Melli crack the Mavericks’ rotation?

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A change of scenery may be good for Melli.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

As the news of the Dallas Mavericks’ trade deadline deal continues to sink in, elation that the team did something—anything—begins to fade. What’s left is wonderment. For many, JJ Redick is a known asset. He’s been a very visible basketball player since his days at Duke University. Nicolo Melli, on the other hand, is a relative unknown.

Since entering the league in 2019 at age 28, he hasn’t seen much playing time. In total, Melli has played 1,283 minutes over the course of 82 games. But this season, Melli has only logged 241 total minutes. That’s Josh Green territory. Not great. Now, that he’s with the Mavericks, does he have the skillset and the drive to crack the regular rotation or will Rick Carlisle relegate him to the end of the bench with the rookies and Boban Marjanovic?

Judging Melli by his NBA numbers isn’t fair to the basketball player he is and was—especially not this season. During his rookie year, he averaged 6.6 points, three rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He also shot 42.1 percent from the floor and 33.5 percent overall. Modest numbers for a bench player seeing just over 17 minutes per game.

What landed him in the NBA is what he was doing in Europe since 2010. For nine years, Melli played for various European teams, predominantly in his native Italy as well as in Turkey and Germany. He was a winner everywhere he has played. He’s a three-time Italian League All-Star, a two-time All-German BBL First Team player, a German Cup winner, a two-time German League champion, a Turkish Cup winner, a Turkish League champion, a two-time Zadar Basketball Tournament champion, an All-EuroLeague Second Team player, and the 2018 EuroLeague Finals Top Scorer.

Phew! That’s quite a resume.

In his last season before joining the New Orleans Pelicans, Melli averaged 8.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists over the course of 78 total games with Fenerbahçe Basketball in Istanbul, Turkey over the course of two leagues and two tournaments—European basketball isn’t as linear as an NBA season. In those games, he shot 45.8 percent overall and 41 percent on three-point attempts (the European three-point line is shorter than the NBA’s).

That year, Melli helped his club advance to the 2018 EuroLeague Finals. He scored a game-high 28 points in Fenerbahçe’s 80-85 loss to Luka Doncic’s Real Madrid in the championship.

So, Melli’s European pedigree is what landed him in the NBA. While there’s only a small sample size of what he can do at an NBA level, he has still put together a few highlight-worthy plays.

Then there’s this season. Simply put, he hasn’t played well. He is a smart offensive player, one Pelican’s reporter tells me, but his confidence is at an all time low. It’s effected his overall game and especially his shot. He’s averaging just two points on 25.4 percent shooting overall and 18.9 percent from deep. How much of his confidence issues stem from Stan Van Gundy’s system or outside factors is unknown.

A change of scenery could to Melli a world of good. On the Mavericks, he’ll be with players who grew up playing in the EuroLeague like he did. But it’s fair to be concerned about his lackluster numbers this year. Carlisle is known to have a quick crook and could yank him out of a game at a moment’s notice for a bad play or decision.

Now 30-years-old, the promise and potential of Melli’s European shooting numbers and proven winning mentality are still hard to ignore. If the Mavericks can coax his shot out of him like they did for Maxi Kleber, they’ll have another efficient big man making it rain from the perimeter. That is worth giving him a real shot at earning his minutes.