On his third team in five seasons as an NBA pro, De’Anthony
Melton has made quite the first impression on the Philadelphia
76ers organization that traded for him on draft night this past
“I think De'Anthony's a very easy guy to play with,” Sixers head
coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday in Cleveland. “He doesn't talk a
lot. It's pretty quiet, but [he] competes. And he does, he just
plays right. He defends. And I think guys who defend always have a
little more longitude to do whatever. Guys respect that.
“You want to get respect in a locker room? Go stop somebody and
you'll get it, and I think De'Anthony has that.”
The truth is that Melton has always had that. Constantly seeking
out the basketball on the defensive end of the floor, he is like a
free safety on fastbreaks and a cornerback in passing lanes,
baiting the opposing team into a cross-court pass or an ill-advised
decision. That’s because his first interceptions came on the
gridiron and not a hardwood floor.
“I played football my whole life growing up. So yeah, just doing
that, I've had instincts,” Melton told Basketball News at
Philadelphia’s morning shootaround. “I don't know, that's just who
I am. I played everything — receiver, QB, running back, safety,
D-end and corner.”
Melton is a hound with a nose for the ball, which explains his
NBA-leading 3.8% steal
percentage. On top of that, he ranks second in the league with
2.2 steals per game and is tied for third among his peers
with 3.7 deflections per contest.
(Only Toronto Raptors lockdown wing OG Anunoby has more
takeaways a night, while Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George and
Charlotte Hornets swingman Kelly Oubre are slightly ahead in the
deflection average department).
While those are impressive numbers, it's what Melton
does with his activity that catches your eye. If he
doesn’t rip it away from his man, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard
battles for a rebound among taller, bigger guys. Even just getting
a hand on the ball and tipping it out to a teammate helps.
“It's important. One of the most dangerous shots is an
offensive-rebound three,” Melton said. “So limiting those is
important, especially when you play defense for 20-something
seconds, then you're mad that you gave up a rebound and now you've
gotta go another 14, you know what I mean? It's just toiling on
And when he succeeds in retrieving the rock via a board or
swipe, De’Anthony launches it down the floor without hesitation as
soon as he sees a teammate streaking in transition.
More often than not, it turns into two points.
“It's just something I've been doing from the beginning of my
career,” Melton said. “Just trying to get the ball ahead and get an
easy basket, especially when you limit them to one shot. A lot of
times, you've got the big down here, so it's not a shot-blocker at
the other end of the floor. Having a guard get the rebound, it's
important 'cause you can throw it up, you could push it early and
just get easy baskets.”
When asked about the most valuable thing that he brings to the
Sixers, Melton pointed to those instincts and his “ability to play
hard and do whatever it takes to win the game.”
Adding to that, providing depth to an ailing roster has been
crucial. For one month, Philly’s been missing All-Star guard James
Harden because of a strained foot; luckily, he's due back soon.
Making matters more difficult, Tyrese Maxey hasn't played since
Nov. 19 due to a similar injury. His return is still a couple of
When Melton initially came in, he was spelling both of them
alongside fellow fifth-year guard Shake Milton. But with their
teammates on the shelf, the two have taken their blossoming
relationship from the bench to the starting five.
“I think it's been huge for both of us,” Melton said. “Even
Shake, you see his growth and his confidence grow through these
last few games. But just staying aggressive and being confident, I
think that's the biggest thing that you can have in this league.
When you have those two things, you've just gotta rely on your
As a duo, Melton and Milton have looked out for one another and
found ways to impact the game in different ways. Shake is averaging
nearly 22 points per game on 56.3% from the field over the last
seven contests, and has knocked down 13-of-20 shots featuring a
dish from Melton. According to NBA.com, De’Anthony has passed to
him 109 times during that span, assisting on nine of his field
“We constantly have conversations. I'm constantly talking to him
in terms of my game and his game and what I've seen he can do too,”
Melton said. “So just constant communication, open door between us.
What we see, what's open, what's not. What do I see, what does he
see, how we feel like they're playing each other
“Just talking to each other. It could be calming each other
down, picking each other up. Just being there for your teammate,
that's the most important thing. We want to go out there and play
hard and play for our families.”
As for his own scoring, Melton’s been in a bit of a shooting
slump as of late; still, he’s knocking down 35.5% of his threes and
37.7% of his catch-shoot triples on the season. De'Anthony also
recorded double-figure scoring games in each of his first six
starts, averaging 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.5 steals a night
over that stretch.
Noting the experience they’re gaining together presently, Rivers
envisions the one-two punch of Melton and Milton for his rotations
when the Sixers are fully healthy.
“I think it'll be huge later,” Rivers said. “It'll give us
opportunities to put second groups out on the floor without any of
the key guys on the floor, and that's something we were not doing
early in the year. There's always something [positive] that happens
when injuries like this happen, and that may be one of 'em.”
Coming from the Memphis Grizzlies, Melton was already used to
playing with a superstar in Ja Morant. In Philadelphia, that
remains unchanged with Joel Embiid.
At the same time, one’s a point guard and one’s a center.
“It's a lot different 'cause now it's like the double [team]'s
not coming from the top, it's coming to the bottom. And he's just
so dominant and he can get almost any shot he wants. It is
different, but... it's Joel Embiid, it's him time,” said Melton,
who will come back to Memphis with the Sixers on Friday
Coming into training camp, Embiid voiced his desire for
Philadelphia to be the top defense in the NBA. To this point, he
and his teammates have for the most part lived up to that billing,
and it’s even more impressive because of the adversity the squad
has faced with guys out.
Next man up turned into next men up, and those men have done
“It's important for us because, I mean, Jo said it at the
beginning of the year — we're trying to become the No. 1 defense,
and it's gonna help our offense,” Melton said. “It's gonna make our
offense a lot easier, getting easier buckets, so now, late in the
game, we've got to our go-to guys and they're fresh.”