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De’Anthony Dreamin’

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If it were my choice, De’Anthony Melton would be running through the 6(12) with the Wolves.

Photo credit: @skyykowlessar | Instagram: @deanthony_melton

What if I told you the Wolves should use the 20th pick in tonight’s NBA draft on a prospect who didn’t play competitive basketball last season.

Instead of showing his unique talent in the Pac-12, De’Anthony Melton waited in limbo for three months, eventually sitting out his entire sophomore season because of his connection to the FBI’s overdue probe into corruption in college basketball.

Joey Kaufman of The Orange County Register recently wrote at length about Melton’s “roller coaster” past year at USC — and the pre-draft process during which he has answered plenty of questions surrounding his ineligibility — for those looking to learn more about his situation.

Tonight at the Barclays Center in New York City, Melton will take another giant step forward. He will further distance himself from an unfortunate collegiate experience that swiped the game from the palm of his hands because of a highly flawed NCAA system that encourages people with power to take advantage of talented prep players.

If it were up to me, Melton will be running with Wolves soon enough.

PLANTING THE FLAG

Wolves fans are used to having a high lottery pick. At this point, the 20th pick in a draft feels downright weird. It’s due to the lottery life we’ve all lived and breathed for far too long as fans. As the years passed by, we enviously watched other fan bases stare glowingly at their prized young cornerstones that would assure bright days ahead. Our voices grew louder and our wishes became more clear.

Having a high draft pick allows fans to more easily plant their flags and scream confidently about the prospect that fills all of their boxes. It’s not hard to get attached to one guy. Last year it was Jonathan Isaac for many folks (myself included). When your team has a high pick, there are fewer players to sort through and it’s easier to be ambivalent about the pick when the stakes aren’t as high; fewer options to consider means it’s typically easier to make a choice on which player you really want to see selected. Now, after a season in which the Wolves gave fans a taste of the postseason for the first time in 13 years, a familiar taste still lingers. The taste of an uncertain future.

One of the first important offseason questions that will help address that uncertainty is set to be answered tonight. Who will the Wolves select with the 20th pick in the draft (barring another trade by Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden)? Which prospect will help the franchise most in the long run? With so many options at pick 20, in a deep and seemingly talented draft class, plenty of opinions on the best course of action have been shared on this site and across the web.

Now simply put, the Wolves need a wing prospect more than anything else. That’s the biggest need facing this team. But over many years of draft history, we’ve learned that picking based on short-term needs is an inherently risky strategy that shifts the focus from selecting the best player available, which has proven to be the most effective approach.

[Deletes an entire section about Wes Johnson and DeMarcus Cousins that would be unhealthy to rehash.]

REASONS TO DRAFT MELTON

This is where I aggressively plant my flag on De’Anthony Melton Island and start laying the foundation for my new beachfront condo. I may even build a few extra locations to sub-lease after his stock takes off during Summer League in Las Vegas.

Here’s why I’m putting my money where my Melton is:

1) He’s the only freshman guard since Dwyane Wade that fits the following criteria:

For single seasons; from 1992-93 to 2017-18; in Freshman season; playing Guard; requiring Steals Per Game ≥ 1.9 and Blocks Per Game ≥ 1.0

He averaged 2.8 steals (4.0 STL%) and 1.5 blocks (3.9 BLK%) per 40 minutes as a freshman at USC.

Here at Canis Hoopus, you will see commenters talk about “Do Shit Players” and guys like Melton are exactly who they are referring to. Kris Dunn was another prospect who fit this profile, and Thibs used his first pick with the Wolves — 5th in the 2016 draft — on the former Providence guard prospect. It’s not absurd to think of Melton as a much younger and incomplete version of Dunn entering the draft. He reminds some people of Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley as well.

2) Melton is a very good rebounder for a guard, averaging 7.0 RPG per 40 minutes. Tom Thibodeau constantly talks about the importance of winning the battle on the glass and Melton instantly gives him a guard capable of rebounding well for his position.

3) This is a true combo guard that can do a little bit of everything on the court. The Wolves obviously need backup wings behind Butler and Wiggins, but more importantly they need guys that are at least capable of becoming complete ballers, instead of specialists or role players. Melton may profile better as a two-guard, but being able to hold down the PG spot is within his realm of possibilities. As the roster inevitably changes over the next few seasons, it’s crucial to have players in the fold that bring various skills, and can play minutes at different positions, to the table.

4) As a result of his suspension, not many people truly know how good Melton is right now. That mystery intrigues me at pick 20. Let’s say he played at USC as a sophomore, improved across the board, shot the ball at a better clip, showed out in a couple of games against high-level competition, and made some noise in March. What does his draft stock look like in that case? My guess is we are talking about a lottery pick.

When I look at Melton, I see the do shit freshman stats and immediately think about all of the things we weren’t able to learn about him during his sophomore season. My gut tells me his shooting efficiency would’ve been better and the all-around numbers would’ve still been there. His 1.079 points per possession as a pick-and-roll passer also suggest that he could prove to be an untapped offensive initiator at the next level.

5) During 5-on-5 at the combine, Melton finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting with five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks. Consider me highly intrigued. He even admitted that he was super nervous playing in front of NBA executives.

6) At age 20, standing 6’2.25” without shoes with a 6’8” wingspan, most scouts believe he will be able to defend either guard position and potentially even hold his own against bigger wings at the next level. He is able to switch on screens and shows an ability to recover quickly when beat in transition or on backdoor cuts. It’s easy to see his court awareness and basketball IQ when watching the film.

7) The most common, obvious knock on Melton is his shot. A concerning line of 28.4% from beyond the arc and 28% on all jumpers (70% from the foul line) as a freshman is the red flag that stands between him and being a lottery selection. Guards who can’t stretch the floor are not in high demand in today’s NBA. They have to do a whole lot of other stuff to even stick on the court. But Melton has talked about his work with well-known trainer Drew Hanlen, who helped him to get rid of a hitch in his jumper over weeks of training and it sounds like his shot has improved from last season. His shooting form also leaves plenty of room for optimism. If his jumper comes around, we are talking about a much different 3-and-D guard prospect.

8) SMILODON 2.0 shows that Melton ranks 13th overall as an upper tier 4 prospect. His Elite defense is a big reason for that, as is his age. This is what our friend Mr. Eggplant wrote about Melton:

De’Anthony Melton was screwed by NCAA rules, so we have to rely on his stats from a year ago and the eye test from the NBA combine. On the one hand, players with offensive games as limited as Melton’s usually don’t declare for the NBA draft. On the other hand, NBA caliber athletes as young as Melton just don’t put up the “do-shit” stats he did as an 18 year old freshman. As with Musa, I’m comfortable betting that the rarity of Melton’s profile is an indication of untapped upside. Even if his offensive game never comes around, Melton should have value as a defender and high BBIQ role player off the bench, making him an acceptable risk in the mid-first. De’Anthony Melton Comparables:

D(e’Anthony Melton)raft Day

Rolling the dice on Melton seems like a worthy gamble once pick 20 rolls around during tonight’s draft. At the very least, the Wolves would be adding a legitimate perimeter stopper to the mix as they aim to fix last season’s mostly broken defense. Someone that can switch on screens and play strong help defense.

If the rest of Melton’s game comes together, everyone could be talking about a draft day steal in a few short years. Perhaps that’s the biggest thing that draws me to Melton; the fact that he could be a piece that’s more than just a solid role player if his all-around game keeps improving over the years makes him more appealing than a shooting specialist in my mind.

So, I will dream for a moment that De’Anthony Melton becomes a Wolf.