Nicolo Melli made his debut with the Dallas Mavericks Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He quickly endeared himself to the fans and his teammates. In 11 minutes of action, he looked like a rejuvenated player in the Mavericks’ 127-106 win.
He scored six points on 3-4 shooting, grabbed three rebounds, and forced a steal. His activity on both ends of the court were great to see. Melli himself even seemed to have a sense of relief about him after the game, like someone lifted a weight from his shoulders.
“It felt good, it felt good,” Melli said. “I’m happy to be on this team. I like the group and I was glad to have the opportunity to play.”
Melli joined the Mavericks last week when the team traded for him and JJ Redick from the New Orleans Pelicans. He joined the team when Dallas was in New Orleans over the weekend, but he didn’t see any playing time in his first game with the team.
By all accounts, Melli was having a down year with the Pelicans. He wasn’t seeing many minutes and his shot simply wasn’t falling. Those were just some of the concerns surrounding the 30-year-old big man as he joined Dallas. Another was how would he fit into the rotation—if head coach Rick Carlisle decided to play him at all.
Specifically, Carlisle wanted to know whether Melli could play the four position well. When he checked in with 4:41 to go in the third quarter, he spent the majority of his time as the team’s power forward with Dwight Powell at center. Carlisle found out exactly what Melli can do and more.
“He played the four tonight very, very effectively,” Carlisle said. “He was ready. He made terrific plays. He made loose ball plays, shot-making, he had situations where he drove it and got a guy a shot. Very good performance. The guy is a very skilled player and he’s obviously ready to play.”
It wasn’t just Carlisle that came away impressed by Melli’s debut. Tim Hardaway Jr. took notice as well. He said that he noticed that Melli was playing with a renewed energy.
“You can tell he has a different type of step in his game right now just playing with us and going out there and playing freely,” Hardaway said. “That’s what we want from him. We want him to be aggressive and knock down shots when open, drive the ball when he needs to, and make plays. When he was out there on the floor, he looked really, really comfortable and we’re happy.”
Perhaps the teammate most excited to play alongside Melli is Luka Doncic. The two know each other from their days playing EuroLeague basketball. In fact, it was Doncic that set Melli up for his first basket of the game as time wound down in the third quarter.
“For my first shot, he passed up an easy shot for him just to put me in rhythm,” Melli said.
The two faced of against one another in the 2018 EuroLeague Final. Doncic and Real Madrid got the best of Melli and his club, Fenerbahçe. Melli readily admits that it’s better to play with Doncic than against him. The feeling appears to be mutual.
“It’s going to be great,” Doncic said. “He’s an amazing player. He’s a great person. We connected from the first moment. I know Europeans connect better, but he’s a good person from the locker room. And you saw today, he was playing amazing basketball. It’s tough to play a first game with a new team and he was playing great.”
It really is hard to come off the bench cold and put on a performance like the one Melli gave the Mavericks Monday night. He’s still new and learning the system, but from the outside looking in, he appears to fit right in. That’s great news for the Mavericks, who can use more production off the bench.
It’s just one game, but Melli showed that he can be a contributor and that he deserves minutes going forward. He may have found new life with the Mavericks.
“It felt good to be out there to play with them,” Melli said. “They welcomed me in a very nice way and they are a very good group. It felt very good.”