With positive play starting to make their primary rotations more clear, the New Orleans Pelicans are currently lacking minutes for their Italian rookie.
After injuries and newness put this team out of the playoff picture to start the 2019-2020 NBA season, New Orleans Pelicans are starting to round into form and make sense of their rotations.
For the most part, the tightening of the rotations have been beneficial to all, but a few faces have been really taken out of the mix as Alvin Gentry gets increasingly comfortable with his top nine-to-ten guys. One of the players now watching most games from the bench is Nicolò Melli.
In an under-the-radar signing, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin signed Melli to a two-year, $8 million deal after the forward spent the first ten seasons of his professional career playing in the Italian basketball system.
The 29-year-old forward had been contacted in the past about making the leap to the NBA, but the forward found the New Orleans Pelicans situation more ideal than offers he’d received in the past; the Pelicans weren’t the only ones to recognize the unique talent.
What made Melli compelling this offseason was his three-point shooting ability relative to his size. In 36 games in the EuroLeague, Melli shot 38.5% from three on 96 attempts, while averaging 7.3 points per game.
So far as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, Melli has played 29 games and averages 14.3 minutes per night. Melli posts 5.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and has a plenty respectable 55% true shooting percentage.
Slightly concerning has been his lack-of-ability to knock down shots from all over the floor.
While at times, Melli has looked pretty dominant from three-point range and hard to cover due to his larger frame, it’s been inconsistent to start his NBA career.
What a debut for 28-year-old rookie Nicolo Melli 🔥
14 PTS and 4/4 from 3 and counting. pic.twitter.com/Asp8DT6nEs
— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) October 23, 2019
Attempting 4.2 shots per contest, 2.8 of those attempts coming from three, Melli is shooting just 40.5% from the field, but an even more troubling 31.3% from three-point range.
Still, more often than not, free-throw shooting is a much better indicator of shooting success down the road and Melli has done a good job knocking down those looks. He shoots 1.1 free throws per contest, converting at a 78.8% rate from the stripe.
If Melli continues to get better as a shooter this season, especially if he can get his three-point shots, he’s going to have a lot more minutes and chances to help this team turn some victories.
In order to maximize his role with the New Orleans Pelicans, Melli has to help create shots and space for his rim-attacking teammates.
Melli also has pretty good size, which seemed to make him a logical fit in an NBA locker room and rotation, especially when combined with what originally projected to be lights-out shooting.
Standing 6’9″ and 235 LBS, the forward added weight before coming into the Association in order to battle bigs in the paint, as the size of players in the American game simply can’t be matched across the globe on a night-to-night basis.
However, that weight has yet to prove impressive in the NBA, as he’s been too timid in the paint despite shooting at pretty good clips from that territory. Per cleaning the glass, Melli converts at a 76% clip around the rim, which puts him in the 89th percentile among his position group per Cleaning the Glass.
He’s also shown something of a hesitance to defend bigger-bodied offensive players, which is ultimately why Alvin Gentry had to stop calling his number when the team needed rotational centers in the absence of Derrick Favors earlier in the season.
On paper, Gentry’s experiment made enough sense; Melli ranks highly among his position group on the offensive glass, ranking in the 84th percentile in that group, in addition to ranking in the 91st percentile in team steal percentage when on the floor.
When the New Orleans Pelicans originally signed Melli, it made a lot of sense for the sharp-shooting big as a change-of-pace from Zion Williamson.
In theory, Melli opens up this offense drastically. His appearance on the floor should allow the Pelicans to play four-out basketball, allowing someone like Zion to attack a slow-footed center in the paint and create three-point looks off of those opportunities.
Melli is a big guy who can shoot the lights out but doesn’t have anywhere near the at-rim finishing or athleticism of Zion.
Seemingly, if used in small-ball rotations, his ability to pull a big out of the paint due to his size and shooting combination, he should be able to help the team’s pool of impressive at-rim finishers.
Further, with Melli’s ability to sniff out the ball on the offensive glass, he can feed the New Orleans Pelicans with second-chance looks, either on his own or by feeding the ball back to Favors, Williamson, or Brandon Ingram.
The New Orleans Pelicans have plenty of development left in their tank, so experimentation will be needed as they progress into the future. Having someone that big who can shoot is an experiment many coaches would be happy to check out.
While it seems like it could be just a few more games until Zion gets back on the floor, the New Orleans Pelicans have to start thinking about what their rotations should look like with the star rookie on the floor. Seemingly, adding Melli to that rotational mix could be a beneficial move for both the Pelicans and Williamson.