How big of a bust was Fab Melo?

14 months after Fab Melo was selected with the 22nd pick of the 2012 NBA draft, he is gone. Dumped for the non-guaranteed contract of Donte Greene, who will either be the 15th man on the Celtics roster this season, or more likely, be released to save $1 million in salary. From the Celtics perspective the move had nothing to do with Greene, and everything to do with the C's lack of hope that Melo would ever develop into anything more than a decent NBDL center.

Melo was a risk at the time, the Brazilian big man averaged just 4.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game during his two years at Syracuse, often times looking lost at the collegiate level. Melo's "potential" as a defensive anchor is what led Danny Ainge to take the risk. Potential that flashed as Melo averaged 2.9 blocks per game (in just 25.4 minutes) as a Sophomore in college.

However, potential is all the Celtics got in their brief tryst with Melo. He shuttled back and forth between Maine and Boston, making more news for his battles with inanimate objects (summary: Melo went 0-2, losing by decision to a chair and by knockout to a door frame) than he did for his play. He did have several monster games with the Red Claws (including a triple double in which he posted a D-League record 14 blocks) but his overall stat line: 9.8 points, 6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks showed that he was far from dominant against lesser competition. It appears that July's summer league represented the last chance for Melo to prove he was worth his $1.3 million salary; a test he did not pass. 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 18.2 minutes per game. Watching the games, he barely belonged on the court; looking slow, unathletic and constantly ending up in the wrong position both on defense and in terms of rebounding positioning.

Five weeks later - he's gone. Traded for a 25 year old journeyman who represents nothing to the Celtics besides a savings of just over a million dollars.

Now the question becomes: Just how big of a bust was Melo? It's clear that the pick didn't work out, but how much blame does Ainge deserve? Well let's take a look at some of the players drafted after Fab was taken at #22 (team in parenthesis is who they ended up with, some via trade).

#23. John Jenkins (Hawks)
#24. Jared Cunningham (Mavs)
#25. Tony Wroten (Grizzlies)
#26. Miles Plumlee (Pacers)
#27. Arnett Moultrie (76ers)
#28. Perry Jones III (Thunder)
#29. Marquis Teague (Bulls)
#30. Festus Ezeli (Warriors)
#31. Jeffrey Taylor (Bobcats)
#32. Tomas Satoransky (Wizards)
#33. Bernard James (Mavs)
#34. Jae Crowder (Mavs)
#35. Draymond Green (Warriors)

I stopped at 35 considering Green was the last player to really make an impact last season. Looking at these names, Ainge clearly made the wrong decision. Ezeli and Green cracked Golden State's rotation last season, Crowder averaged 5 points and 2.4 boards for the Mavs, Jenkins averaged 6.1 points and shot 38% from three for Atlanta, and Jones III is projected to play a major role for the Thunder this season after basically "red-shirting" last year. All of these guys are still with the teams they ended up with on draft night except for Plumlee (used as an asset to acquire Luis Scola), and James who was cut as his 2nd year salary was non-guaranteed. With hindsight being 20/20 it's pretty easy to say that just about any of these players would have been a better selection than Melo for the Celtics.

But whenever you're making a draft pick you need to measure risk vs reward. Clearly Ainge's thought process was that there was no sure thing at #22, so he rolled the dice fully knowing that Melo may flame out. He took the risk that Melo may fail in exchange for the potential reward that he could become a dominant defensive center. He lost, but it's a very common draft technique. Ainge also took risks with high school projects Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson and Gerald Green, and collegiate players like Rajon Rondo, J.R Giddens and Jujuan Johnson. Obviously, he has been hit-or-miss.

But would you really rather that Ainge played it safe every time? Players like Tony Allen, Jared Sullinger, Delonte West and Glen 'Big Baby' Davis are examples of good, solid college players that projected to being solid NBA role players when Ainge drafted them. They were "safe" picks. Their floors were much higher than guys like Green, Jefferson and Perkins, but their ceilings were much lower. It is really hard to ever build a championship team (or assemble the assets necessary to trade for a superstar) by always playing it safe. Ainge knows this and takes chances on guys who he and the rest of basketball operations deem worthy of the risk. So while he deserves criticism for overrating Melo's ability (the same can be said of Green, Giddens and Johnson), it's important to remember the strategy that went into the pick. It's the same strategy that went in to homeruns like Perkins and Jefferson, and you've got to take the good with the bad. Even if the bad seems painfully obvious at the time.

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Celtics trade Fab Melo to the Grizzlies for Donte Greene

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