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Celtics rookie Fab Melo on assignment for the Maine Red Claws.Playing inconsistent basketball and depleted up front, the easy move for the Boston Celtics would have been to pluck red-hot rookie Fab Melo out of the D-League and stash him at the end of the bench for this four-game road trip. But Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn't want to stunt Melo's development -- and, more importantly, his confidence -- just to fill a bit of an emergency role.
Over his past two games with the Maine Red Claws, Melo is averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.5 blocks per game, and suddenly there's a lot of attention on Boston's 22nd overall pick in June's draft. Melo's recent outburst included a 32-point, nine-rebound, nine-block outburst last time out in Idaho, which came after Melo posted a triple-double that included a D-League record 14 blocks.
But, maybe more than anything, young players need confidence and that's exactly what Melo is gaining by dominating the NBA's minor league. The Celtics believe that will help him more in the long run than trekking through California and playing trash-time minutes.
"Well, we are excited about what Fab is doing, excited about the development that he’s made since the beginning of the season until now," Ainge said Thursday during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio WEEI. "Where he is, I don’t really want to disrupt his development right now. There aren’t a lot of minutes or opportunities for Fab right now on our squad. Our team is traveling so much and we don't have a lot of time to practice and so I think that, right where he’s at, where he’s playing his minutes, and he’s getting all that attention and producing, getting some confidence is a good place for him to be right now."
The 22-year-old Melo is still incredibly raw, and what's easy to forget now is that he struggled early on at the D-League level. When Celtics coach Doc Rivers announced on Sunday that Chris Wilcox would miss about a month with a thumb issue, he was asked whether Melo would be an option to add big-man depth.
"I haven’t talked to anyone that thinks he’s ready to come up yet," said Rivers. "There might be your answer."
Sure enough, mere hours later, the Celtics inked forward Jarvis Varnado from Sioux Falls of the D-League to add an extra big man for this road trip. Varnado is not the long-term solution; Melo might just be. But for young players, confidence is such a huge part of being able to compete at the next level, and the Celtics clearly see as much of a benefit in building that aspect of Melo's game as anything physically they'll install in Maine.
"Fab is a talented player, and I think that he’s just fitting in and learning our terminology; he’s coming from a different culture, Fab has gone through tough times in the preseason," Ainge said while detailing an emotional loss for Melo off the court. "Along with just the transition from college to the NBA, the language barrier -- I think there’s a lot of things that Fab has to overcome, and we’re just trying to be patient as we can with him and do his development, and just look at the big picture."