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Sixers’ decision to acquire De’Anthony Melton already paying dividends: ‘I didn’t know he was this good’

The Sixers guard missed Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards with lower-back stiffness. He's the league leader in deflections with 33 already.

Sixers guard De'Anthony Melton leads the NBA in deflections.
Sixers guard De'Anthony Melton leads the NBA in deflections.Read moreMatt Marton / AP

In many ways, the 76ers knew what they were getting when they acquired De’Anthony Melton from the Memphis Grizzlies in a draft-night trade.

The guard was an established three-and-D guard with an ability to add instant toughness to what had been recognized as a soft team, which explains why the Sixers were happy to part ways with Danny Green and first-round pick David Roddy to get him.

Now, Sixers fans are seeing what team president of basketball operations Daryl Morey already knew.

Melton missed Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center with lower-back stiffness. Joel Embiid also missed his second straight game with the flu. However, Melton was leading the NBA in deflections with 33 entering the contest and was third in deflections per game (4.1). He also ranked seventh in steals per game (2.0).

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“Adding a guy that can get their hands on the ball and deflections,” coach Doc Rivers said, “the one game we had like 46 deflections. He had like 14 of them. It’s amazing how many times he has the ability to get his hands on the ball.

“I’ve not seen it very often and he does a great job. So that helps.”

Offensively, Melton has scored in double figures in each of his last five games to bring his scoring average to 9.5 points in eight games, including two starts. He also shot 40.7% on three-pointers and averaged 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

He’s also better than expected as a roller to the basket in the pick-and-roll.

“It’s rare that you have a guy that actually plays the point sometimes that is actually your roller,” Rivers said. “Now, he’s catching it and his decision-making is absolutely terrific. It’s been great for us.”

And what’s scary for opponents is that he appears to get better with each passing game.

“I think with more games, I’m starting to get used to the offense and what other players like to do on my team,” Melton said. “So I’m trying to go out there and play hard and make the right play, take what I feel like is open, attack on both ends, offensively and defensively.”

In a 118-111 victory over the Wizards on Monday, he had a season-high 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting along with two steals.

More touches are part of the reason for Melton’s improved play.

“We are sharing the ball more as a team and he feels more involved,” Rivers said. “He’s such a disrupter defensively. Again, I keep saying it, I knew he was good. I didn’t know he was this good, defensively. His hands are just incredible.”