LAS VEGAS — When the Orlando Magic selected Mo Bamba with the No. 6 overall pick in the NBA draft, the broadcast on ESPN showed him at a table in the Barclays Center in New York, following him as he walked to the stage to shake Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand.
Meanwhile, Melvin Frazier sat with friends and family at a restaurant in New Orleans. Thirty seconds before the Magic announced their next selection 29 picks later, Frazier received a phone call.
His NBA career had its starting point. The former Tulane star had been selected by Orlando with the 35th overall pick.
Frazier’s face lights up when he recounts his draft-night experience. Instead of letting everybody in on the news, he kept quiet, letting them find out when his name showed up on TV.
“It was like a feeling I can’t even describe,” he said. “Seeing the look on my mama’s face when they called my name, it was just emotional.”
Now in Las Vegas for the NBA summer league, Frazier has begun to prove his worth to the Magic, a team he never worked out for in the months leading up to the draft.
After earning second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors in his breakout junior year at Tulane, Frazier became the school’s first to leave for the NBA before his senior season.
Although he hoped to earn a first-round selection, the 6-foot-6 Frazier is confident he’ll make a positive impression on the Magic.
“It really didn’t matter where I landed,” Frazier said. “I just know wherever I landed at, I was going to make an impact on the team, so it’s good for me.”
That impact initially will likely be on the defensive end of the floor. With his quickness and a 7-2 wingspan, Frazier led the AAC in steals. He showed off his active hands in the Magic’s first contest in the Las Vegas Summer League, something Orlando’s summer league coach Pat Delany noticed.
“He does that stuff naturally,” Delany said. “We need him to do that with a little bit more discipline, but he’ll do that. He’s a great listener, a great worker. He’ll do better each day out.”
Offensively, the Magic want Frazier to play within himself and within their offense, taking open shots when available. Because of questions surrounding jump shot and ability off the dribble, teams had concerns about what he could provide on offense. However, he showed improvement during his collegiate career.
After former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy took over at Tulane in March of 2016, Frazier went from shooting 40 percent as a freshman to 55.6 percent as a junior, including 38.5 percent on 3-pointers.
Moreover, Dunleavy’s extensive NBA experience gave Frazier what he calls the “cheat codes” to the pro offenses, adding that the concepts are similar and just have “different names.”
Dunleavy shared his optimism toward Frazier’s ability to process and retain information, something many rookies struggle with when transitioning to the NBA. Although some players might have had troubles remembering what Dunleavy described as his “extensive playbook,” he did not have that issue with Frazier.
The Magic has taken notice.
“Every rookie obviously has to learn some stuff, but you can tell he’s been fast-tracked by coach Dunleavy in his couple years with him,” Delany said. ”(Frazier) paid attention when he was there. He’s had great carry-over, and it’s just fast-tracking his career.”
For a young player, success in the summer league provides reason for optimism, but it in no way guarantees a direct path to an NBA career. Frazier knows his calling card is on defense, and his offensive development is key to whether he can fulfill his potential as a two-way player.
Frazier said he hasn’t been to Las Vegas since his AAU days, and his family is in town to share the first steps of his career. Whether his immediate future includes breaking into the Magic’s rotation in the regular season or getting sent to the G League, the Louisiana native is savoring his first taste of professional basketball.
“It’s just a good feeling,” Frazier said. “Everybody doesn't get this chance, so I’m just trying to take advantage of the chance to show what I can do whenever I’m in the game.”