The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague’s first-ever non-playoff month with six games saw no teams escape unbeaten, but a couple of them courageously climbed back from the bottom of the standings into the playoffs race. For his role in making Brose Bamberg one of those resurgent teams, forward Nicolo Melli has been chosen by EuroLeague Basketball as the MVP for December. His selection is Melli’s second as MVP of the month, following the award he won in November of 2015. Although last month started like much of Bamberg’s season until then, with a buzzer-beater leading to its sixth loss by 4 points or less, Bamberg got up off the canvas to win four of its last five games in December with Melli as the team’s leader. The 25-year-old forward, now in his seventh EuroLeague season, posted single-game career highs in points, rebounds and performance index rating during December as Bamberg won twice each on the road and at home. He would finish the month with averages of 15.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1 block, with a PIR of 24.5 per game. His shooting was off the charts, above 60% on both two- and three-pointers. Indeed, Melli’s fingerprints were all over Bamberg’s transformation from a snake-bitten team tied for last place to its current place in the middle of the pack, ready to challenge for the playoffs in the new year.
The MVP of the Month honor is now in its 13th season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team’s performance. The award for December was based on the six regular season games that all teams played during the month.
Bamberg’s December started with a visit from mighty CSKA Moscow in which Melli matched his career-highs from more than 100 previous EuroLeague games with 26 points and a PIR of 37. It was all for naught, though, when CSKA won 88-90 on the game’s final shot, marking Bamberg’s fourth defeat by a single shot. So one week later, on the road against Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, Melli simply upped his game to new career highs of 27 points, 14 rebounds and a PIR of 40 – the second-highest individual performance in the EuroLeague this season – to make sure of a 70-85 victory. Home against streaking Anadolu Efes Istanbul a week later, Melli added 11 points – including a decisive late triple – to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and an index rating of 17 in a 91-83 decision that gave Bamberg its first winning streak of the season. That was cut short by Real Madrid on the road the next week, but Bamberg bounced back at home against another second-place team, Olympiacos Piraeus, as Melli had 13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and a team-high PIR of 17 in an 82-68 victory. Back on the road to finish December, Melli made all his shots from the field for 10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals for a PIR of 20 as Bamberg downed Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul 75-90 for its fourth victory in five weeks.
During December, Melli led Bamberg in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and three-pointers. He shot 22 for 35 from two-point distance (62.8%) and a remarkable 13 for 21 from downtown (61.9%). He now ties for second among all EuroLeague players with 58.7% three-point accuracy for the season and ranks third in both rebounds (8.0) and performance index rating (19.6). All those things that Melli did brought his team back into the playoffs race, which will make for a happy start to 2017 in Freak City, where the home fans will be sure to toast Melli’s award at an upcoming home game.