Bio: Senior, 6'7", 220 (Glen Cove, New York)
2012-13 stats: 18.5 minutes per game, 6.8 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 1.2 blocks per game
What we saw last season
After a sophomore season in which he tried too hard to be something he was not – namely, a shot-creator on offense – Melsahn Basabe settled in to his natural role as a junior: high energy rebounder, shot blocker and dunker. The presence of Adam Woodbury in the post allowed Basabe to function less as a primary post defender and more as a disruptive help defender, a fact reflected in his outstanding blocked shot numbers (1.2 in just under 19 minutes a game). With his role clarified, Basabe was set free to do what he does best: crash the boards, block shots, and take the occasional jump shot when the defense sagged off him too much.
What we need to see this season
The same, but more so. The days when we dreamed of Basabe as a Kevin Garnett-esque inside/outside force with a sweet 18-foot jump shot have probably passed, but he is still one of Iowa's best finishers in the pick and roll and off put-backs. The simple math of a nine-man rotation will dictate that Basabe's minutes probably won't exceed 18 a game, so the Hawks will need him to play like a man possessed while he's in. Blocked shots, rebounds, dunks, and fast breaks: these are Melsahn Basabe's job requirements.
It may sound odd to say it, but the best thing that could happen for Basabe might be a move to the second string. As things stand, he starts along with Woodbury, Aaron White, Dev Marble and Mike Gesell. This is a killer defensive lineup that is sorely lacking in shooting and spacing. The result is that defenses frequently sag in, clogging the middle of the court – the exact area where a player with Basabe's speed and leaping ability could thrive most in the pick-and-roll. Think of the Amare Stoudemire/Steve Nash-era Phoenix Suns: by spacing the court with three point shooters, the Suns created a wide-open playground for Nash and Stoudemire to thrive in the P&R. Basabe has the talent to be a similar kind of force at the college level, but the lack of spacing in the starting lineup prevents him from using it. If Basabe were moved to a well-spaced second string lineup, say with Clemmons, Jok, Uthoff, and McCabe, he might be able to take full advantage of his talents.
Most likely scenario
Things stay more or less as they are. Fran has his reasons for keeping Basabe in the starting lineup. The main reason is that opposing teams found it very difficult to score on a team where four of the five starters were 6'6" or taller, and where the two forwards were as athletic as White and Basabe. The offense was not pretty to look at, but the team succeeded anyway on the strength of that long, aggressive defense. With Basabe seemingly settled into a productive supporting niche, the coaching staff will likely stay the course and expect the same combination of energy, defense and dunks that they saw last year. We may have to shed a wistful tear for the pick-and-roll dunk machine that Basabe might have been, but the Hawks may just not be the kind of team that can make that happen for him.
Become more devious. Basabe's greatest advantage over opposing power forwards is his speed, but too often he stops moving and watches the ball. If Basabe could pore over the game tapes of Blake Griffin or even his teammate Aaron White, he would see players that are constantly waiting for their man to turn his head for a split second, and then using that momentary inattention to sprint to the rim. Basabe's minutes will be limited this year, so he should have no excuse not to go all out every minute he's in the game.