Melvin Frazier Improved Significantly During Final College Season
ORLANDO – When the moment came that would ultimately change the lives of rangy small forward Melvin Frazier and his family – the No. 35 pick of Thursday’s NBA Draft – ESPN’s television coverage predominately showed a commercial touting Sunday’s Perelli French Grand Prix Formula One race.
Scrolled along the bottom of the television, however, was Frazier’s name, his 2017-18 statistics at Tulane University and a brief mention of him winning the American Athletic Conference’s Most Improved Player award. Frazier actually did not see his name pop up at the bottom of the screen, but the roar of the crowd around him let him know that his dream of being an NBA player had been realized.
``It kind of popped up at the bottom of the screen while the commercial was on. I didn’t see it, but everybody did and went crazy,’’ Frazier said not long after becoming a member of the Orlando Magic as a second-round draft pick. ``It just feels good to be blessed and in a position that changes my life and my family’s life. So, I’ve got to take advantage of this opportunity.’’
Being drafted during a commercial was a fitting entrance to the NBA for a prospect that mostly flew below the radar of the basketball world before a breakout junior season at Tulane while playing for head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. Frazier, 21, finally figured out how to get the most out of his taut 6-foot-6, 200-pound frame and his explosive leaping ability and used a solid 2017-18 season to catapult himself into consideration for the NBA.
In 30 games this past season – all starts – Frazier averaged 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.17 steals while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and 38.5 from 3-point range. Not only had he boosted his scoring average some 10.4 points from where he started as a freshman, he ranked second in the AAC in steals and field goal percentage – accomplishments that easily made him the AAC’s Most Improved Player award winner.
``With the learning process between my freshman and sophomore years, I just learned a lot of things,’’ said Frazier, who was modestly ranked as the fourth-best high school prospect in Louisiana back in 2015. ``I just made a lot of improvements to my game and improved way more. Then, after my first few of years, I just put it all together and completed my whole game.’’
Frazier’s massive improvement caused the Magic to jump at the chance to select a player with a 12-foot, 1 ½-inch maximum vertical leap that was the highest recorded at the NBA Draft Combine. Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, who selected towering, shot-swatting center Mohamed Bamba sixth overall earlier on Thursday, were surprised that an explosive leaper with a 7-1 ½ wingspan and an 8-9 standing reach was still available when the No. 35 pick came around.
``We had Melvin rated much higher than 35, so when he was there, we were a little surprised, but we felt it was trending that way in the last couple of days for whatever reason,’’ Weltman said. ``We didn’t expect him to be there at 35, but we consider ourselves fortunate that he got that far. He’s a very talented player and it’s our job to develop him the right way.’’
A Magic team focused on getting rangy and lengthy players capable of switching onto any player defensively added Bamba, Frazier and Maryland forward Justin Jackson (the No. 43 pick) on Thursday. Bamba, who swatted 3.7 shots a game last season at Texas, has the most expansive wingspan (7 feet, 10 inches) ever recorded, while Frazier (7-1 ½ wingspan) and Jackson (7-3 ¼ wingspan) give the Magic even more length and defensive potential.
Playing defense is actually where Frazier is the most comfortable. The scouting report on him says that his rare combination of length, strength, lateral quickness and explosive leaping ability make him a nightmare for wing players trying to shake free from him.
``His potential to be a defensive stopper at multiple positions along with the rapid development of his offensive skills make him a valuable two-way player,’’ said Dunleavy Sr., a former player and coach at the NBA level who now leads the Tulane program. ``He has a great work ethic and aptitude for learning.’’
That was evident after the way Frazier realized his potential under the guidance of Dunleavy Sr. The coach also had to like the fearlessness that Frazier plays with when it comes to accepting challenges.
``Growing up and coming from New Orleans, I was always taught that (defense is) one thing that is going to get me on the floor, at the end of the day, my defense,’’ said Frazier, who through the years developed a friendship with former Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, another native of the Crescent City. ``I take pride in my defense and I always want to guard the best player. It just gives me a thrill to guard the best player and stop them. Not everybody can do that because not everybody is blessed and able to move how I move, so I’m trying to take advantage of that. I’m long and I like to be aggressive and I know a lot of people don’t like to do that.’’
Though he still has plenty of work to do on his offensive game – his perimeter shot is a work in progress, his dribble is too high at times and he can occasionally be turnover-prone on drives – Frazier feels strongly that he can make an impact on the Magic right away with his defense and toughness.
``I bring defense, first and foremost. That’s always the key for me and I always like checking the best player,’’ he said. ``I know for sure that I can impact the team on defense. I’m just like a good team player and a role player, I get everybody engaged and I talk a lot like a good teammate and I do whatever it takes to win.’’
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