The rookie class of 2013-14 has been one of the most disappointing in recent memory, with very few first-year players stamping their authority on the game. Anthony Bennett is a perfect example, with his 4.2 points and 3 rebounds in an average of 12 minutes per game the worst stats for a number 1 pick since 1950. The 21 year-old felt the heat early but as the season wore on, the rookie focus in Cleveland shifted to a player who was performing well; the un-drafted Australian, Matthew ‘Delly’ Dellavedova.
Listed at a generous 6’4”, Dellavedova is not an imposing figure amongst the giants of the NBA but his defensive tenacity is what initially drew Coach Mike Brown to him. His belief in the Australian point guard had grown so much throughout the season that in a game against Oklahoma City in March, Dellavedova was given the task of guarding Kevin Durant. He forced Durant to miss five of his first six shots and, with his confidence brewing, Dellavedova went on to a record a double-double of 11 points and 10 assists. On his effort, Brown stated, “One thing Delly is going to do: He’s going to fight. He makes you work for points.” Although Durant wouldn’t admit it, the scoring champion was forced to adjust his game before eventually leading the Thunder to victory.
Dellavedova played 73 of a possible 82 games this season but began primarily as a defender off the bench. This type of play did not lead to impressive stats, with an average of just half a steal a game for the Aussie. However, watching game tape illustrates Dellavedova’s impressive ability to stay on his man by pushing through screens. He also exhibits a strong ability to cut off the passing lanes, thus keeping the ball out of his opponent’s hands. This solid defence impressed his coaches and team-mates but did little to gain recognition around the league. That changed on March 16 though when Kyrie Irving was sidelined with a bicep injury.
In two of their next three matches (including the Oklahoma City game), Delly recorded consecutive double-doubles, with 14 points and 10 assists coming against Houston. On March 26 against Detroit, he shot 7-9 including 5-7 from the three point line to finish with a career high 21 points and 6 assists. By the beginning of April, the Cavaliers had won four of their last five and were, incredibly, in the race for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. The return of Irving reduced Dellavedova’s minutes but he managed two more games of 10+ points before the end of the season with a 14 point, 12 assist effort against Detroit on April 9. March was certainly his breakout month, improving his season average of 4.7 points to 6.9, 2.6 assists to 4.3 and 1.7 rebounds to 2.7. He also shot 8% better from the field (49%) and 14% better from beyond the arc (51%).
The Consummate Team-Mate
Dellavedova’s ability to step up in the absence of Irving was an impressive sign of his continuing maturation but the question of whether he is a true starter remains. In four games as part of the starting five this season, his points, steals and field goal percentage were all up compared to his bench numbers. However, his assists dropped by half while he turned the ball over almost double the amount of times and although he played six more minutes, he attempted just one more field goal per contest. His +/- numbers were also far better off the bench at +1.3 compared to -4.0, although he still finished with the best +/- of any Cavaliers player. In addition, Delly finished with the third best shooting percentage from the three point line, fifth from the free throw line and was sixth overall for assists in Cleveland.
In analysis conducted by Trevor Magnotti at ‘Right Down Euclid’, Dellavedova was found to be in the Cavaliers strongest five man line-up alongside Jarret Jack, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao. Compared to the most commonly used five of Irving, Jack, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson and Spencer Hawes, Delly’s line-up finished +19.9 in offensive rating, +14.5 in defensive rating and +33.9 in net rating. The Aussie was also named in the best four man, three man and two man line-ups and based on net ratings, was the best team-mate for eight Cavalier players while only impeding Irving who struggled to play alongside another point guard. These are fascinating figures and would motivate any NBA player to want him as a team-mate.
Dellavedova does not have a guaranteed spot with the Cavaliers for next season with his contract having a ‘team option’ clause. This means it is up to management whether they keep him for the 2014-15 season but at this stage, Dellavedova wants to remain in Cleveland and he is confident they will retain him. If, for whatever reason, the Cavs do not have a place for him in the roster, there is no doubt that several teams around the league will look to pick him up. With the guard stock as talented as it has ever been in the NBA, numerous sides are in need of a defensive minded shutdown player such as Delly and if his offensive game continues to improve, the Aussie will be impossible to pass up next season.