Aussies in NBA: The Unquantifiable Delly
Sometimes numbers don’t tell the real story. It’s especially the case with Matthew Dellavedova.
On Tuesday against the Celtics, Delly logged 28 minutes of court time and struggled from the field, shooting 1-of-6, and missing both of his three point attempts. He would finish with only 2 points. Still, he managed to dish out 4 assists, and was an impressive plus-13 when the on court, acting as an effective secondary distributor.
Four nights earlier, in a shellacking of the Magic, he would log 24 minutes of action and bust out with 12 points, on shooting 5-of-7 from the field, as well as dishing 6 assists, all with a whopping plus- 34, while on the court.
You see, numbers are almost meaningless when you’re discussing Matthew Dellavedova. How do you quantify effort?
He made a name of himself last season when his grit and hustle earned national media praise during the playoffs, endearing himself to hardcore Cleveland fans with frequent, and awkward, displays of splay-legged diving. Delly was all heart; he was a defensive menace, lauded as a possible Curry-stopper.
And yet if you delve into ESPN’s Real Plus Minus figures, the numbers over the past two seasons suggest that Dellavedova was fairly “blah” defensively as a point guard.
Even the eye test appears to reinforce the notion that his defensive chops was a narrative that was somewhat overstated; he lacks foot speed to check the truly elite guards, and despite his sound positional defense, his short wingspan means that people just shoot over him regardless. By all intents and purposes, average appears to be his ceiling on the defensive end.
And then he does things like this.
Did you see him blow up that original Russell Westbrook pick-and-roll? Dellavedova diligently fights through the Steven Adams screen, by all accounts a giant and mean human being, to “ice” that pick and roll, refusing to yield the middle of the lane to Westbrook, which would have unlocked all sorts of nastiness, including corner 3s or layups. That possession ultimately ends in a tough Westbrook made pull-up jumper, but not before Delly is draped all over him. It’s a made jumper, and the numbers will ultimately deem it to be a made field goal attempt over Matthew Dellavedova, but it was hard. Doesn’t that mean something?
And it makes you just wonder: what is the real value of Matthew Dellavedova?
How do you quantify a guy who just wants to win so badly? And that’s often been the case with a player of Dellavedova’s ilk. You get the sense that he understands his limitations, and plays only to his strengths, because he just wants to win.
Against the Thunder this week, Dellavedova played his part perfectly. On defense, he backed off Russell Westbrook, understanding that he would lose in a foot race, and readily conceded the jump shot, but fought hard to keep Westbrook out of the lane. Westbrook took 8 shots in the lane, per NBA Savant, converting half of his looks, lower than his season average, with the Cavs sending plenty of help Delly’s way.
On the other end, Delly was just as disciplined, never overplaying his hand. When running the pick and roll, he looked for the obvious outlet, happy to swing the ball to teammates in better positions. Similarly, off the ball he kept things simple, spacing the floor and spotting up around LeBron-centric action.
How will Kyrie’s return affect Delly’s opportunities?
How do you quantify a guy who just wants to win so badly?
With the imminent return of Kyrie Irving, it’s fair to consider how Irving’s return will impact on Delly’s minutes and play, moving forward. With Irving yet to play a single minute this season, Delly’s playing time has naturally increased, currently averaging 28.7 minutes per game, with career highs in field goal percentage, including 44.3 percent for threes, and usage rate, per NBA.com. Despite that, he still ranks near the bottom across all point guards in usage rate, despite that increase in touches, per ESPN.com statistics. That he sits with the likes of Patrick Beverley, Ronnie Price, and George Hill tells a story in itself of how he fares within the Cleveland offensive hierarchy. Ty Lawson is amongst that group too, but that’s a whole other story.
The Cavs’ preferred starting line up will most likely shoehorn Irving and Iman Shumpert in place of both Delly and J.R. Smith. Irving is an All-Star and provides that secondary offensive fulcrum for LeBron, and Shumpert will take the defensive assignment on the opposition’s most dangerous wing.
That leaves a possible second unit of Mo Williams, Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and Cleveland’s big man brigade. Theoretically, Dellavedova should mesh well with Williams and Smith, as someone who doesn’t need the ball much, and provide a release valve at the top of the arc to keep the offense humming.
There isn’t a tonne of evidence in which to gauge the effectiveness of a Williams/Dellavedova backcourt pairing, with a relatively small sample size that’s accompanied by plenty of noise. The Williams/Dellavedova backcourt, flanked by LeBron, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have played 40 minutes together, and would murder all teams, save for the Warriors’ small ball of death grouping, per NBA.com, but that backcourt pairing is more likely to be sharing minutes with a combination of J.R. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Anderson Varejao. David Blatt has previously staggered the minutes of his stars to ensure that one of LeBron, Irving or Love is always on the court, and so there is the possibility of sustaining those gaudy numbers.
The on/off court numbers suggest that Dellavedova makes the Cavs a super team, staggeringly better on both offense and defense, but again, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt with a relatively small sample size, and without factoring in the on-court teammates at the time.
Delly’s impact on line-up groupings is similarly unclear. The Cav’s best heavy minutes 5 man line up, featuring Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson slot in as the 8th most effective in the NBA, behind a bevy of Warriors’ configurations. Additionally, the top three Cleveland line ups for the season all feature Delly, but again, that’s likely more of a function of the impact of playing with stars such as LeBron and Kevin Love.
Delve a little deeper, and Delly’s impact becomes slightly clearer. The Cavs’ best three-man combinations for the season all feature one of LeBron, Love, Thompson and also Delly. That sort of data isn’t so clear cut for 2014/15, in which Dellavedova fails to show up in any of the Cavs’ most effective 3 or 5 man line ups, with Irving displacing him as the prime protagonist.
And that’s the point: there’s just no real concrete data to foreground how Delly will fare within a reduced role and context, operating within different line ups.
Breaking down Dellavedova’s game
Individually, Dellavedova resides amongst the leaders in pick-and-roll action, with almost half his possessions involving him as the lead ball handler, per NBA.com. Those actions yield 0.84 points per possession, a respectable figure amongst the pick-and-roll divas of the league. To put it into context, Russell Westbrook generates the same output in roughly three times the number of possessions. Chris Paul generates 0.81 points per possessions, on roughly double the amount of possessions. Stephen Curry generates 1.05 points per possession, but we now know that Stephen Curry is not human.
Delly doesn’t draw many fouls, and that’s partly because he doesn’t really look to attack the rim, often content to rub his man off the screener (Tristan Thompson alert!), without looking to turn the corner to attack the lane. He’ll often slow down, with no intent to puncture the defense, chop his steps at the free throw line, and wait for the big man to rumble to the lane. If the enemy big engages him, prepare for a lob for the alley-oop (most likely to Thompson).
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If the enemy big drops back, happy to concede a tough floater, Delly floats up that bad boy, which becomes an adventure in itself.
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That’s a fun little chess game, and it’s also a safe chess game. Delly doesn’t have the spurt to really rumble to the rim, collapse the help defense and uncork some of the juicest shots available, such as the corner 3.
And that’s fine. The flipside is that out of control penetration leads to turnovers, and Delly has a relatively low turnover ratio amongst the pick-and-roll mavens. He ranks amongst the bottom-feeders when it comes to shot frequency after multiple dribbles, per NBA.com, suggesting that his primary purpose within the pick-and-roll is to pass.
That lack of intent, say, such as Russell Westbrook trying to murder the rim, means that help defenders on smarter teams will focus on the rolling big, neutering that lob target, and dare Delly to shoot that tricky runner within the lane. He’s currently shooting 46.7 percent in the paint, outside the restricted circle, when a defender is within 3 feet, per NBA Savant, a healthy figure, and a sizable improvement from last season’s brick-fest of 26.5 percent. Still, those shots are tricky, and something smart teams would be happy to concede on every single possession.
Conversely, that profile also suggests that he would slot in well with primary offensive options in James, Irving and Love, spotting up around that Big Three, moving the ball when needed, and generally playing sound positional defense. That sounds a lot like Delly!
Numbers will never tell the full story. You get the sense that Delly will find a way to fit in and contribute regardless of the statistics, and regardless of the context. David Blatt has preferred Iman Shumpert as the starting shooting guard, and J.R. Smith as the nominal first wing off the bench. Mo Williams will continue to toggle with Delly for the backup point guard position. But both Williams and Shumpert are almost locks to miss games moving forward, and J.R. Smith is, well, J.R. FREAKING SMITH. Delly will continue to fight, splay-legged and all, defying convention with his intangibles.
Because the only tangible thing with Matthew Dellavedova, is that his impact can’t be measured. Not in numbers, at least.