Daryl Morey and the Sixers were long understood to be shopping their first-round pick leading up to and during the NBA Draft, as is custom for a team in self-professed “win-now” mode. Despite a growing feeling that they wouldn’t be able to find a dance partner, Morey struck gold with a trade acquiring De’Anthony Melton from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the 23rd overall pick and Danny Green’s non-guaranteed contract as salary filler.
Basically, the Sixers flipped two assets that likely wouldn’t have contributed to the team this season for a rotation player who clearly fits the roster’s needs. Not bad.
Heading into the offseason the Sixers had a real desire to add as much two-way wing talent as possible, and ideally with skillsets more dynamic than the vanilla 3-&-D types—or worse 3-and-no-D types (see: Niang, Scott)—that the team has been settling for in recent offseasons. Rest assured, Melton fits that mold.
What does Melton bring to the table?
As a defense-first wing who hits catch-&-shoot threes at a high clip and can playmake/finish in small doses, Melton has the skillset of a modern NBA role player. While I have argued that the franchise should prioritize size on the wing—Melton is just 6’2”, though a 6’9” wingspan helps obscure that—beggars can’t be choosers. The truth is the Sixers roster is light on two-way talent (and defenders) at every spot on the floor outside of Embiid.
Melton’s calling card as a pro has been his perimeter defense, where he’s proven to be a menace both on-ball (81st percentile on-ball perimeter D, 85th percentile pickpocket rating) and off the ball (98th percentile passing lane defense, 91st percentile chaser D). On the whole, his rate of 2.2 steals per 75 possessions sits in the 99th percentile of the league, only surpassed by three other players: Thybulle (duh), Gary Payton (of course), and Delon Wright (a free agent, i.e.: hopefully a future Sixer)—not bad company to be in.
Melton won’t be able to handle lead on-ball responsibilities on the league’s bigger scoring wings given his size limitations, but he has all the defensive chops required to handle lead point-of-attack duties while supplementing the wing stopper role when needed. The only two wings on the Sixers roster last season who had a positive net impact on defense were Thybulle (+1.74) and the recently injured/traded Green (+0.77). Melton slots right in as the team’s second-best perimeter defender (+0.87), and unlike Matisse, he provides workable value on the offensive end of the floor.
Speaking of Melton’s offense, he’s not exactly a dynamic weapon, but he’s not a one-trick pony either. With a proven ability to knock down shots off the catch (40.6% and 43.2% for the last two seasons) and from the corner (49.2% and 42.8%) he’s an ideal floor-spacer for Embiid & Harden, and this is the foundation for the rest of his offensive skillset.
While you would never confuse Melton for a true point guard, he can playmake in small doses, and is more than capable of making reads and executing passes when driven off the three-point line. Sixers fans have learned over the past two seasons that 3-&-D skills without the ability to punish a closeout or score the occasional self-created bucket is still a handicap in crunch time of the playoffs (see: Danny Green), and Melton doesn’t have those same limitations. Here’s his playmaking data to back it up.
De’Anthony Melton may not be the addition that swings the Sixers from pretender to contender, but he’s a clear step in the right direction. Three-&-D wings who are more D than 3, and who can do a little bit more on offense when asked to (playmake, self-create) don’t grow on trees, and they’re rarely available for trade. That Daryl Morey was able to add this sort of role player without giving up more than the 23rd overall pick and Green’s non-guaranteed contract isn’t some franchise-altering move, but for a front office without real assets or maneuverability heading into this offseason, it absolutely does qualify as a stroke of genius.