Nicolo Melli provides big spark off Pelicans bench in his NBA debut

Although Schuhmann presumably was joking, the 6-foot-9 forward and native of Italy was worthy of high praise based on his performance vs. the Raptors, one of the bigger Pelicans bright spots in a 130-122 overtime defeat. The 28-year-old may have been playing in his first official NBA game, but he entered the nationally-televised game and Toronto’s “championship ring night” with a wealth of experience competing in difficult environments. He’s been a professional player for a dozen years and played in many hostile arenas, where games aren’t always necessarily treated as fun get-togethers.

“In Europe, we are used to a little bit more hot environment,” said Melli, who registered 14 points in 20 minutes, highlighted by 4/5 three-point shooting. “Here, everybody is hyped, but very polite. In Europe, there is a lot more going on (in the crowd), which is fine – I love it.

“The atmosphere (in Scotiabank Arena) was amazing. Playing against the champs in the first game was unbelievable. The ceremony was great – it makes you think that one day, that’s the goal.”

Already a multi-time champion overseas, Melli entered Tuesday’s game in the second quarter and immediately began making an impact. He sank each of his three three-point attempts in the period and was still 4/4 before finally misfiring with the Pelicans in desperation mode late in OT. While disappointed in the team result, Melli was pleased to shoot so well, especially since his personal TV audience extended far beyond TNT’s coverage in North America.

“It’s nice, mostly because I know many friends back overseas in Italy who had set their wakeup call at 2 (a.m.) to watch me,” he said. “This is my 13th year as a pro, but this is a dream coming true, so I’m very happy to have a chance to play in the NBA. But at the same time we lost. I would have liked a different end.”

New Orleans teammates were impressed by Melli’s debut, but also did not seem at all surprised, based on what he’s shown in training camp and preseason games.

“I think we knew that as a team,” guard Jrue Holiday said. “(He is) somebody who can space the floor, someone who builds chemistry, being able to get guys in rhythm, if it’s getting a guy a shot or him setting screens, him popping, just making plays. Playing with him, he makes the game very, very easy.”

“He is just unfazed,” said guard JJ Redick, the only New Orleans player with more years of pro experience than Melli. “He just kind of plays, finds his spots, shoots with confidence. He had a great preseason. I was glad to see it carry over to tonight.”

It wasn’t quite enough to produce a victory, but Melli provided many valuable contributions for the Pelicans in areas where they needed it. The team’s offense seemed to flow well and have better ball movement during Melli’s 19:37 on the court.

“I tried to get what the game gave me,” Melli said of his scoring. “If the next game doesn’t go as well, I will try to help the team in another way.”

The Pelicans were a plus-11 with Melli on the court Tuesday, but minus-19 when he was not. It was a very encouraging night at times for the reserve group, but the Pelicans know that they have a ways to go to maximize their talent and the number of options they have on the roster (12 players logged double-digit minutes against the Raptors).

“We are a completely new team,” Melli said. “We competed with the champs until the end. That’s a big thing, even though we could have won. It’s a little bit of a bitter taste. There are a lot of things to fix, (but also) a lot of good things. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We will try to get better tomorrow.”