Aussies in NBA: Dirty is in the eye of the beholder

Is Matthew Dellavedova a dirty player?

Apparently so. The dirtiest, in fact.

That is, if you take into account the thoughts 24 anonymous folk, made up of fellow players and coaches, canvassed across the league in Broderick Turner’s piece for the Los Angeles Times. It’s worth noting that Boomers teammate, Andrew Bogut, also made the list.

According to Broderick, a coach within the Western Conference thinks that Delly is “as dirty as they come.”

When asked about his feelings on the label during a teleconference with Australian media yesterday, Dellavedova politely declined comment, and distanced himself from the debate.

Another coach cites Delly as dirty for breaking Kyle Korver’s leg, a particularly loaded charge, that seems to insinuate intention to hurt.

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Whilst what happened to Korver was unfortunate, it sure looked like Delly had eyes only for the ball, and turned his back in the last possible moment to protect himself.

Isn’t that the sort of play, the no-holds-bar-free-for-all, that happens countless times throughout the course of a season? Isn’t that the sort of play that coaches themselves deem as “championship” plays, whatever the heck that means?

What constitutes “dirty” to some, could just as easily be construed as “hard-nosed” for others. Narratives are easily created to suit the popular belief at the time.

As one East coach puts it, "His stuff really ain't intentional. It's just like goofy.”

It's a comical concoction of endearment and clumsiness when you watch Delly flail around over the top of Andre Iguodala's back, in the clip below.

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There’s a real case to be made that Delly is just clumsy; that he he’s just playing hard, completely devoid of self-consciousness. Watch him dive maniacally for the ball against both James Harden and Trevor Ariza in the one play.

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Once again, Delly only has eyes for the ball; you could argue that the only difference between this play and the Korver incident was that Ariza also dived for the ball.

Turner also notes from an assistant coach:

"See, guys resent people that play hard because they don't want to play hard. So if a guy plays hard, he's dirty. He's not dirty.”

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The "Dellavedova is dirty/scrappy" narrative flip flops depending on subjectivity, and how you value that type of "scrappiness". That subjectivity, when we evaluate notions of effort on a basketball court, begins to dissipate when have access to more sophisticated and objective measures of hustle and energy on the court.

The NBA experimented with tracking hustle stats during the Las Vegas Summer League this year, attempting to measure the intangibles of the game. Tracking hustle stats will allow teams to better quantify effort on the basketball court, providing a more holistic picture of a player's value.

Such stat tracking isn't expected to be available any time soon, with the league expected to undergo careful consultation and tweaking before a full time, public release is considered.

Until then, we only have clips like this to judge if Delly is indeed dirty, or just playing hard. That judgement is in the eye of the beholder.

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