Suns’ Melton showing promise amidst demoralizing season

Point guard De'Anthony Melton has been a pleasant surprise in an otherwise difficult season for the Suns.

Phoenix traded for Ryan Anderson in hopes of bolstering their frontcourt, shoving former No. 4 pick Dragan Bender to the bottom of their depth chart and dealing former No. 8 pick Marquese Chriss to a contending roster.

It was a way of changing the complexion of an organization still looking for the right supporting cast to Devin Booker.

But Anderson is no longer the player he once was and newly acquired Trevor Ariza has never been on a team as bad as the 4-24 Suns, leaving many to believe the organization is bound for another teardown and reconstruction period.

However, there has been a bright spot amidst the demoralizing start to the 2018-19 campaign.

De’Anthony Melton was the throw-in of the Anderson-Chriss swap, the guy who balances out the trade just enough to bring it to fruition. Brandon Knight tagged along with Chriss to Houston, while Melton was already on the journeyman career path that many second-round picks take.

The problem with the Suns is not Booker’s hamstring issue or No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton’s verbal confrontations or first-year head coach Igor Kokoškov’s inexperience. Rather, it is the deficiency of quality point guards on the last-place roster.

Melton may be the answer.

The 20-year-old point guard landed to the Rockets out of USC with the 46th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. In 2016-17, he became the first freshman in college history to tally at least 300 points, 150 rebounds, 10 assists, 60 steals and 35 blocks since Dwyane Wade did so in 2001-02.

Melton sat out the 2017-18 season, though, due to charges of fraud and corruption against USC’s assistant coach, Tony Bland. One of Melton’s close friends reportedly received an extra benefit, forcing him to withdraw from school and focus on re-establishing his draft stock ahead of the NBA Combine.

There may not have been a bigger wildcard in this year’s pool of rookies than Melton. So, the Suns took a chance.

With Booker injured, Isaiah Canaan released and Elie Okobo assigned to the G League, Melton has carved out a starting role in the backcourt. Over his last five games (two starts), he is averaging 14.0 points, 5.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals on 43.1 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from beyond the perimeter over 28.6 minutes.

In times of adversity, there comes opportunity.

It was Melton’s career-best, 21-point outburst on 9-of-12 shooting against the Kings on Dec. 4 that propelled him to significant playing time. His 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame, quickness and overall athleticism allowed him to find scoring opportunities…

Whether it was a fadeaway jumper or Eurostep to the rim or a pass to an open teammate, Melton did a little bit of everything in his first NBA game of more than 20 minutes. More known for being a high-energy defender — averaged 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes at USC — Melton displayed an array of offensive moves…

NBA Scouting Live had the following scouting report on Melton prior to draft day…

Pros:

Excels at scoring on the move

Fairly good scorer off the dribble

Decent shooter from all over the floor

Fairly good playmaker

Good rebounder

Good defensive player that can get steals

Solid athlete

Cons:

Streaky shooter

Can be too passive on offense

Can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers

Plays in a zone defensive scheme

Relative unknown commodity

Has not played in game action this season

The turnovers are certainly a reason for concern, as Melton has averaged 2.6 of them over the encouraging, five-game span. With that said, he has shown no signs of passiveness on offense and, for the most part, has been efficient with his diverse shot selection.

As is the case with all players, a small sample size will never be telling as to how a player performs over an 82-game regular season. Still, Melton has been the beneficiary of a substantial opportunity on a poor roster.

The questions surrounding Anderson and the frontcourt remain, but at least the Suns have some clarity as to who else can make an impact in their backcourt alongside Booker.