Anyone thinking Nicolo Melli was just a throw-in to complete last week’s trade when the Dallas Mavericks acquired guard J.J. Redick from the New Orleans Pelicans may want to revisit their thoughts.
Mavs two-time All-Star point guard Luka Doncic has a direct connection with Melli and can vouch for Melli’s ability to move the needle after the two met in the 2018 EuroLeague championship game. Melli was playing for Fenerbahce of Turkey at the time and Doncic was playing for Real Madrid.
Although Doncic’s team defeated Melli’s squad in the finals, Melli wound up scoring a game-high 28 points in the championship game.
“He’s an amazing player,” Doncic said. “We connected from the first moment. He’s a good person for the locker room.”
Melli made his Mavs’ debut during Monday’s 127-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and already admits how wonderful it is to play with Doncic in stark contrast to being on the other side of the coin.
“Luka is one of a kind,” Melli said. “He’s a special player and he makes it easier for everybody. It’s actually better to be on the team with him than playing against him.”
Against the Thunder, Melli played 11 minutes, scored six points, had a steal and was 3-of-4 from the field. He also grabbed three rebounds.
As Melli hopes to find his way into the Mavs’ rotation, the Mavs hope he’ll have the wherewithal to help them make the difficult climb up the Western Conference standings starting with Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. game in Boston.
“He was great with the ball, without the ball,” small forward Tim Hardaway Jr. said in describing Melli against OKC. “Defensively, he can switch on anybody. He moved his feet well.
“You can tell he has a different type of step in his game right now just playing with us and going out there and playing freely. That’s what we wanted from him.”
A 6-9, 236-pound power forward, the 30-year old Melli is a dual citizen of the United States and Italy. His mother – Julie Vollertsen – won a silver medal with the USA volleyball team in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and his father – Leoplodo Melli – is a former European amateur basketball player.
The younger Melli played in the EuroLeague from 2010 until signing a contract with the Pelicans on July 25, 2019. In 82 career games with New Orleans, Melli averaged 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15.6 minutes while shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from behind the 3-point line.
That includes averaging a modest two points and 2.6 rebounds in 11 minutes while playing 22 games for the Pelicans this season before they traded him and Redick to the Mavs for James Johnson, Wes Iwundu, a 2021 second-round draft pick and cash.
Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ general manager and president of basketball operations, drew a parallel between Melli and forward Maxi Kleber, who has prospered mightily since joining the Mavs in 2017.
“I think if you look at the success of Maxi Kleber, you can see a little bit of a path (to success) there (for Melli),” Nelson said. “He’s a guy that can clearly make the long ball, he’s a great teammate, can swing a little bit (between) — a little (power forward and) a little (center).”
And that’s not all.
“He’s going to have an opportunity to come here and fight for some backup minutes,” Nelson said. “I was visiting with Luka (last week) and he obviously has memories of him in Europe and has a great deal of respect, so we think he’s going to be a really nice addition for us.”
Especially if Melli’s first game with the Mavs is any indication.
“It’s tough to play the first game with a new team, and he was playing great,” Doncic said. “He was playing amazing basketball.”
Ironically, on Melli’s very first field goal attempt with the Mavs, it was successful and also resulted from a very unselfish feed from Doncic.
“On my first shot, (Doncic) passed on an easy shot for himself just to put me in rhythm, so it’s easy to play with him,” Melli said. “You want to see your ball go into the basket. It felt good to be out there playing with them. They welcomed me in a very nice way. It’s a very good group of guys and I felt very good.”
And after the sample size of what the Mavs saw from Melli against the Thunder, they believe he looked very good, too.
“We want him to be aggressive and knock down shots when open, drive the ball when he needs to, and make plays,” Hardaway said. “When he was out there on the floor he looked really comfortable, and we’re happy.”