Last time we checked in on Nicolo Melli, he was fresh off a solid, but unspectacular showing at the adidas Nations Experience back in the fall of 2008. He spent last season with Trenkwalder Reggio Emilia in Lega Due, getting off to a slow start, but picking up his play in December before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Melli has taken a big step forward this season, leaving the comforts of his hometown behind to compete at the highest levels of European basketball with Armani Jeans Milano, but struggling with his recently-added weight while adjusting to his new, much more demanding surroundings.
Averaging right around 10 minutes per game both in Euroleague and Serie A competition, Melli has received consistent minutes off the bench as a jack of all trades, master of none power forward for a Milan team that is off to a fast start in Serie A, despite a number of injuries. Though he has struggled to score at times and isn't explosive or overly mobilesomething that is even more noticeable now that he's bulked up as much as he has--he has some intriguing skills for a player his size, appears to have a great feel for the game, and does a great job anticipating angles as a rebounder. While he is certainly stuck in between the forward positions at this point as a prospect, Melli still has time to define his role, reshape his body to reach his full athletic potential, and become a more finished product.
The promising Italian forward does a bit of everything offensively in limited touches for Milan, but hasn't had the opportunity to handle the ball and make plays for his teammates with his heady passing like he did last season with Trenkwalder. Operating exclusively off the ball and primarily out on the perimeter as something of a stretch-four, Melli has also seen some possessions working the middle of zone defenses in the high-post and with his back to the basket down low. Displaying a pretty impressive skill level for a 19 year old, Melli is capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim with straight-line drives,, but will need to time improve his overall polish and consistency and seems to be in the process of adjusting to the more athletic defenders he's facing in the Euroleague.
Still lacking aggressiveness, a degree of toughness and possessing underwhelming explosiveness, which limits his ability to finish around the rim, Melli is still shaking the dust off of his perimeter shot after his shoulder injury, and tweaks to his mechanics have rendered him largely ineffective from perimeter. He has also turned the ball over at an extremely high rate in limited minutes, regularly getting called for traveling and struggling to deal with physical defenders when he puts the ball on the floor two tendencies he could certainly overcome in time. His combined 35% shooting and extremely high turnover rate are pretty disconcerting, but his versatility certainly catches your eye when you watch him on film nonetheless.
Though Melli still has some adjustments to make to improve on his lack of efficiency offensively, his biggest weakness as a prospect remains his lack of lateral quickness defensively, as he currently looks incapable of defending the small forward spot on the NBA level, pegging him as an undersized power forward, which likely renders him a lot less intriguing long-term. Right now he lacks the foot speed to keep up with quicker wings and proves very foul prone around the basket.
Melli is still in the process of making the transition from LegaDue to the highest level of European basketball--something that will surely take some time-- and it will be important for him to continue seeing playing time to help him acclimate to his new body-type and role. If he can overcome some of his mental mistakes, improve his physical tools, and become more consistent from the perimeter, he could garner some looks in the second round of the draft when he decides to test the NBA waters. Right now his current contract has no exit clause for this coming summer, meaning we're likely talking about a prospect for the 2012 or 2013 draft at the earliest.