Raptors Rumors: Perfect free agent target emerges from analytics model

The Toronto Raptors are deciding how to use their cap space this summer in free agency, and the perfect target was just recommended by an analytics model.
De'Anthony Melton and Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
De'Anthony Melton and Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

One of these things is not like the other.

That's what comes to mind when reading through the Top 10 free agents according to the three-year projections from the SCHOENE analytics model. Created by Kevin Pelton of ESPN, the model takes into account a player's production and plus-minus impact over the past three seasons and then factors in how similar players have performed at the same age to predict their value over the coming three years.

At the top of the list are no surprises, with LeBron James and Paul George at the very top and All-Star Tyrese Maxey ranked third. Immanuel Quickley shows out well in ranking fourth, and other star players such as James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Pascal Siakam fill the Top 10.

The one role player crashing the party? De'Anthony Melton of the Philadelphia 76ers. At first his placement on the list seems like a mistake, a fluke of the numbers. Once you dig into his skillset and how it complements star players, however, not only does his placement make sense, he becomes the perfect player for the Toronto Raptors to target in free agency this summer.

The Raptors should pursue De'Anthony Melton in free agency

De'Anthony Melton was a darling of NBA Draft Twitter heading into the 2018 NBA Draft (I personally had him ranked 15th), but the rest of the league didn't catch the fire as the USC product fell to the 46th pick, where the Houston Rockets scooped him up before later including him in a trade to the Phoenix Suns.

Melton would then begin to bounce around the league, always the player included in a trade that analysts would point to as the "sneaky" addition for the team adding him. By sneaky, what they actually meant was a player who wouldn't wow you in the box score, but whose impact on winning was substantial.

At 6'2" he also didn't look the part of an elite role player, but he consistently rated out as a positive addition to lineups, especially those built around other stars. He became the perfect running mate to Ja Morant on the Memphis Grizzlies, then the Philadelphia 76ers targeted him and paired him with both James Harden and Tyrese Maxey the past two seasons.

Melton has insanely quick hands and excellent instincts for when to poke the ball away or downshift into a passing lane to nab the ball. He is also a plus athlete at the rim, providing some level of rim protection in rotation despite his size. He has developed into a good 3-point shooter, a decent passer and a gritty rebounder. In short, he does everything but create shots for himself: the quintessential role player. That impact is what the SCHOENE model captures when it ranks him as the sixth-best free agent in this class, ahead of players like Siakam and DeRozan.

As the Philadelphia 76ers look to use their mountain of cap space this summer they may have to sacrifice their role players, and Melton in particular is a player who could be scooped up at the start of free agency for the right price. Given that he is just 26 years old, the Raptors should strongly consider making that offer.

With Immanuel Quickley likely to be the long-term point guard, the Raptors could use an elite backcourt defender and low-usage complement in the backcourt. With Scottie Barnes and Jakob Poeltl behind them the Raptors can manage the lack of size, especially since Melton plays so much larger than his frame. He is enough of a ball-handler that a lineup with he and Scottie Barnes could likely perform well on second units without Quickley.

The Toronto Raptors will almost certainly have cap space this summer and need a plan of how to use it. Signing Melton away from a division rival and landing the perfect complement to their budding star point guard is about as good as it gets in the non-superstar category. Would a four-year, $72 million contract get it done? Would even less money get it done?

If so, the Raptors should make the offer and add a player who is consistently underrated by the league, but whose impact can be caught by close viewers and analytics models. De'Anthony Melton is a player worth targeting this summer in free agency.

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