He captained Fenerbahce on their greatest night but barely saw the floor. He has been a leader for his national team through multiple competitions but struggles to get in the mix for his club. Now, when Fener really need it, their getting the peak version of Melih Mahmutoğlu
If Melih Mahmutoğlu opted to play for Pinar Karsiyaka, Darussafaka, or Galatasaray, he’d see a lot more minutes. His salary would probably drop and he wouldn’t win as much but that’s not why he stays with Fenerbahce. Melih is a competitor, he won’t settle for being a god on a lesser team. He needs the challenge, no matter how unlikely it is he’ll get the chance to shine.
That was his lot through his first six seasons at Fenerbahce. Save for the first year, all of those seasons involved trips to the Euroleague Final Four. Three straight were to the title game and he was the man who got to raise the trophy in Istanbul that May night in 2017. He just wasn’t able to make much of an impact on the floor.
Fenerbahce has rarely lacked for backcourt talent during its golden age and Mahmutoğlu has been lost in the mix. With the Turkish national team in Berlin in EuroBasket 2015, he featured heavily as the national side ground its way into the knockout stages. A few months later in the same venue, he managed just 2 minutes and 16 seconds in total.
The following year, when he lifted the trophy, he played just 1 minute 12 seconds in total when the game against Olympiacos was already a blowout. He was a benchwarmer and justifiably so. Whatever he earned couldn’t be enough for a competitor, he needed to grind, he needed his shot.
It really didn’t look like it was ever going to come. Through those first six seasons, he was rarely relevant. After managing 14 minutes a night in his debut year with Fener, he didn’t break 12 per night on average. He was a guy, he had the right passport, and that was that. A warm body to keep things going.
Yet with Turkey, it was such a different story. Playing alongside the three amigos of Cedi Osman, Kenan Sipahi, and Furkan Korkmaz, in EuroBasket 2017, he was a deep threat machine and an offensive threat for the national side. The depth at Fenerbahce didn’t take away his game, if anything it made him grind more.
So we got to the World Cup this past autumn, where Melih was a key piece of the giant scare Turkey gave the USA. He was just a baller in the tournament, averaging 18.9 points per game. Put this man in a red jersey and he thrives. Put him in navy and yellow, it’s a different story.
At least it was. The injury woes that have plagued Fenerbahce through the start of the season gave Zeljko Obradovic no choice but to give the man a run. That was all Melih needed.
14 points on 8 shots, including 2/2 from deep against Asvel. 19 on 10 shots, including 5/7 on threes, against Khimki. 17 more against Alba Berlin, 5/9 from deep, as Fenerbahce were dragged back into playoff contention by a man who rarely sees the floor in games that matter.
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That said, we could have seen this coming. Melih worked his way into getting minutes that mattered in the playoffs and Final Four last year. In the five previous seasons, not so much.
Through the 2018 run to the title game, he only played 1 minute 20 seconds of Game 4 of the playoffs against Baskonia and zero of the big game in Belgrade. His playoff outings (excluding F4s) in 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined amounted to 31 minutes and 14 seconds across 9 games for a less than amazing average of 3 and a half minutes a game. Unsurprisingly he was helped by amassing a bunch of those in the 2015 series with Maccabi, before Bobby Dixon arrived, when Fener had less backcourt competition.
It’s a testament to his drive that he stuck with it. Anybody who has seen Melih in a Turkey jersey knows that if he gets going he can be downright thrilling to watch. As basketball fans, we’re greedy, we want to see guys thrive where they can flourish the most.
With Melih, that would scream of a team that is more of a playoff contender in the BSL than with a team that wants to win the Euroleague title annually. If we’re greedy, we’re still right, but it’s his career and those few nights we’ve had of late really point to him being at his best when he gets to compete against the best.
A German journalist came to me outside the arena in Berlin during that EuroBasket talking about Dennis Schroeder. Now Melih’s not at his level but what the guy said about Dennis rings true for Mahmutoğlu. “There is a ball, there is me, and there is you. Let’s see who is better?”
That’s Melih’s game. He had an off night against Efes on Thursday but he gets two more shots next week. Even if Fener reload their backcourt soon, he’s going to keep fighting and waiting for his chance to show he belongs.