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Fab Melo and the debate over D-League dominance

12.27.12 at 2:59 pm ET
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Over his last two NBA Development League games, Fab Melo averaged 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.5 blocks. The Celtics rookie amassed 32 points, nine boards and nine rejections for the Red Claws on Wednesday, which, if nothing else, proved his 16 rebounds, 15 points and 14 blocks in Maine last week were no fluke.

After being selected No. 22 overall — one slot behind Jared Sullinger — in this past June’s NBA draft, Melo hasn’t seen action on the C’s, but has produced respectable numbers over 10 games for their D-League affiliate: 10.4 points (51.1 FG%, 66.7 FT%), 6.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks in just 25.5 minutes a night. Of course, he’s playing against teams from South Dakota and Idaho, so those numbers should be taken with a heaping helping of salt.

Still, there’s always a spot on an NBA roster for bigs who defend the rim, especially on this Celtics team, which allows an atrocious 42.6 points in the paint per game and suffers worse when Kevin Garnett‘s not on the floor.

Exhibit A: Greg Stiemsma.

Perhaps the Celtics can recreate last year’s lightning in a bottle, who like Melo and recent Celtics signee Jarvis Varnado once led the D-League in blocks. Stiemsma’s averages of 8.7 points (53.6 FG%, 80.4 FT%), 7.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in 50 career developmental games earned him a training camp invite. After making the roster, Stiemsma averaged 11 mostly valuable minutes behind Garnett until nagging foot injuries caught up with him in the playoffs. Still, that translated into a two-year, $5.3 million contract with the Timberwolves this summer.

That’s probably the C’s best-case scenario for the 6-foot-9 Varnado, who came to Boston after various degrees of international and domestic success in his first few post-college years, as did Stiemsma. But Melo’s different.

Exhibit B: Hasheem Thabeet.

Like Melo, Thabeet didn’t begin playing organized basketball until about age 15, but enjoyed some success in the Big East and dominated the D-League as a rookie (13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in 6 games).

Unlike Melo, Thabeet entered the NBA with immediate expectations, so the Grizzlies forced him into 13 minutes of action a night over 65 games on the big stage. His averages of 3.1 points (58.8 FG%, 58.1 FT%), 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks didn’t reflect his No. 2 overall draft status, but wouldn’t the Celtics take that from Melo this season?

Taking advantage of new D-League rules, the C’s hope to develop Melo in Maine, and they don’t want to hinder his development by forcing him into NBA action before he’s ready. After all, Thabeet regressed and didn’t even produce numbers close to that rookie season until this year for the Thunder, his fourth team in as many seasons. Then again, he never had a defensive-minded mentor like Garnett in Memphis, Houston or Portland.

It’s a delicate balance, but either way there are positives to take from Melo’s monster week: 7-footers are valuable commodities, especially ones with limited organized basketball experience who offer hope for the future.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Fab Melo, Greg Stiemsma, Hasheem Thabeet
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