Delly's back: Matthew Dellavedova is proving himself once more, through playmaking success and veteran leadership
“I mean, I think I always feel I have to prove myself. Prove myself to get here. Prove myself to stay here. I never think that goes away. I’m always out there.”
The underdog narrative had never quite left Matthew Dellavedova, despite a sterling career with St Mary’s Gaels, fighting his way onto an NBA roster, and being part of an NBA championship run with the Cavaliers. He was back in Cleveland, but fighting for his place on the team.
“You don’t have to prove shit,” Tristan Thompson quipped in response in the locker room, following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 104-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. “Know what you do. You can always play in this league. As long as you want.”
Thompson’s comments were a response to Dellavedova’s thoughts on having to constantly prove himself. They were also a firm reminder of the impact Dellavedova can have on the Cavs, when placed in the right situation. That opportunity arrived, when Darius Garland suffered a strained left groin in late February. Over four games played in March, the former Gael averaged 6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists a game, including a career-high 14 assists against the Nuggets.
The Cavs closed the San Antonio Spurs out earlier on Monday, and Dellavedova recorded a 14-point, 11-assist performance, earning MVP chants at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.
Three other Cavaliers had double-doubles in the overtime 132-129 win – Andrew Drummond, Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. Fellow Australian Boomer, Patty Mills had seven points and two assists in the game.
“[Dellavedova] is a true professional. He comes in and he runs the offence very well. He gets everyone right in their spots, he did a really good job of getting me where I needed to get to on the floor,” Drummond shared after the Spurs game, on how Dellavedova has helped ease his transition back onto the floor. “Some of the plays I didn’t know, he did a great job of showing me where I needed to be. A hell of a guy to play with, man. Great defender, plays hard every possession, I love playing with him.”
All of the above isn’t to say that Dellavedova has fully recovered from the shooting slump that has persisted all season –right now, the Boomers guard has made 21.3% of his three-point attempts for the season– but there are positive signs. In the nine games following the All-Star break, Dellavedova has shot 37.5% from beyond the arc, with 46.2% coming on catch and shoot attempts. Let’s not forget the clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter that extended the Cavs’ lead over the Nuggets on Saturday.
“He is what coaches dream about from that standpoint, being able to orchestrate a game on his own and it’s all about the team,” Cavs interim head coach, J.B. Bickerstaff said on Saturday post-game. “It’s plays to make everyone else feel like they’re involved and then the courage to take that shot down the stretch and knock down the 3 speaks to his character. You think about the minutes for him have been up and down, and he’s never wavered in his approach. He’s a pro and he’s great for our team, he’s great for our young guys.”
Things are slowly trending the right way, after an extended stretch of frustration. Dellavedova’s experience, relentless defensive mindset and playmaking savviness continue to see him in good stead, and his shooting woes could be a thing of the past soon. He has been a piece of the Cavaliers’ championship history, and he’s doing his part to be a bridge for the next generation, along with Thompson and Love.
“It’s bigger than just this season that we’re a part of,” Thompson shared. “We’re a part of everlasting history here and you got to cherish that moment and take a lot of pride and responsibility. I know I do. I know Delly does and Kev, as time goes on in life you got to enjoy those moments and cherish those memories.”
Much like how Dellavedova learnt the art of proper conditioning from LeBron James, he is in turn imparting his work ethic, his mindset on staying ready to the younger Cavaliers. “He takes care of his body, he helps the young guys even when he is not on the floor and he’s not playing. He’s a guy that you’d have on your team in any situation,” Bickerstaff said. “If you’re in the current situation that we’re in, if you are a championship team, no matter what it may be, Delly is the type of guy you want on your team. Especially for us, we’re grateful because we are building something here and as a veteran player, he is a role model and he shows the young guys what it’s like to be a professional and how it is to prepare every single day.”
The positive results are coming at the right time for Dellavedova, and it’s hopeful that he will continue rising, as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics inch closer for the Australian Boomers.
“To me, there’s nothing better than putting on the green and gold to represent Australia in Olympic games,” the guard shared in early February with The Pick and Roll. “It’s a dream come true for me… growing up in Maryborough. I think, 2000 Olympics was the first one that I’d really grasped the magnitude of. And obviously, being in Sydney, there was a lot of coverage.
“Can’t wait for [Tokyo].”