New Orleans Pelicans: Nicolò Melli could play key role in late season push

Providing a punch off the New Orleans Pelicans bench in his first year of NBA basketball, Nicolò Melli can help his team make a surge into the playoffs.

After a great weekend of festivities in Chicago for the All-Star Break, the New Orleans Pelicans and the rest of the league now have to refocus their sights on the closing run to the season. For the Pelicans, getting players like Nicolò Melli to play bigger roles is going to be key.

Lacking experience but needing pieces of their young core to show maturity, the Pelicans need to find some guys on their bench who can perform in brighter moments.

As one of the team’s oldest players despite being a rookie, the Pelicans have become increasingly reliant on Melli off of their bench and he’s done an admirable job in that role.

Playing in 17 games since the calendar flipped to 2020, Melli has been averaging 18.3 minutes per game for the New Orleans Pelicans, up from 14.2 minutes in his first 26 games of the season.

In response to the heavier workload, Melli has become an absolute weapon from three-point range. While he’s averaging just 7.7 points per contest, his 46.4% rate from three on 3.3 attempts makes him a very dangerous weapon as a stretch four heading into the back end of the season.

More than just providing a scoring boost, Melli is a great spacer for the New Orleans Pelicans offense, even though he takes a lot of his minutes alongside the second unit.

However, it seems likely that Alvin Gentry could opt to include Melli in more small-ball sets after the All-Star Break. Always making sense as a fit next to Zion Williamson as a perimeter-oriented offensive big, the two have already done a nice job creating matchup issues against opponents.

Sharing the court for 85 minutes and just 8 games so far, Melli and Zion have a +10.7 net rating, which is the sixth-best two-man unit on the Pelicans with at least 50 minutes of runtime.

Williamson and Melli also have a 115 offensive rating, which is seventh-best on the team by the same measurement of minutes.

Melli is a great threat to have in a team’s offense, especially when you have someone on the floor like Zion who doesn’t shoot the ball well even as a shorter center. Instead, they’ll draw coverage onto Melli beyond the arc and make it harder for someone else to beat Zion one-on-one.

While his background isn’t well known to American fans, the New Orleans Pelicans have a credentialled winner in Nicolò Melli.

Certainly hoping they can find some clutch performances off their bench after not making any deals at the deadline to add more experience, the New Orleans Pelicans might be wise to trust some of the players they have, especially someone with a history like Nicolò Melli.

Though he’s playing just his first season of NBA basketball at the ripe age of 29, Melli has a great background in big game basketball in games across the pond.

He’s a Turkish League champion, Turkish Cup winner, Italian League champion, two-time German League champion, and German Cup winner.

In addition, Melli was handed some pretty healthy personal accolades from the early years of his career. In 2018, he was the EuroLeague Finals Top Scorer, Made All-EuroLeague Second Team in 2017, and was on the All-German BBL First Team from 2016-2017 with Brose Bamberg.

Also representing the Italian National Basketball team, Melli won a silver medal in the European U-20 Championship during the 2011 games in Spain.

With a background in doing big things on big stages, the New Orleans Pelicans should have a good feeling about trusting Nicolò Melli to hit some big shots. Even this season, he’s shown the capability to knock down threes in key moments.

There’s value in that sort of championship background even if it’s hard to measure next to the intensity of the NBA postseason. European leagues aren’t subjected to the same 82 game slog that NBA teams face before their end-of-the-season championship battles.

Currently spending time in the Bahamas with his girlfriend, Melli is getting a much-needed break from his first year of professional basketball at the moment.

The rookie had the trip planned before being named a member of Team World in the Rising Stars game when Deandre Ayton went down just before All-Star Weekend.

Hopefully, for Melli, it’s a chance to get revitalized following a pretty nice start to his stint playing American professional basketball. After all, the New Orleans Pelicans will really need him to play good minutes for their rotations as the team keeps making their playoff push.

With just 27 games left in their 2019-2020 season, the Pelicans will have to really fight if they want a chance to play at least four more with a playoff birth. Getting key contributions off of their bench will play a noteworthy role in whether or not they can make it a reality.

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Making an under-the-radar move this summer to acquire the Italian forward, David Griffin should be thrilled Melli was ready to make the leap to the NBA at this point. The New Orleans Pelicans would have a hard time finding that talent on such an affordable deal in the standard free agent pool.

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