Aussies in NBA: Dellavedova in the spirit of giving

On Sunday, Matthew Dellavedova struggled from the field against the Orlando Magic, shooting just 1-6 from the field, including 1-5 from 3-point range. Despite his scoring struggles, Delly added 6 assists, leading the team in that category in his 19 minutes of court time, as the Cavs routed the Magic, 104-79, at Quicken Loans Arena.

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It’s a familiar refrain for Delly – Sunday’s game marked the 11th time, through 31 games, in which Dellavedova has led the team in assists this season. Data from Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN, also shows that amongst qualified players, Delly ranks 5th across the entire league in assist-to-turnover ratio, a common barometer in grading floor management.

Moreover, amongst all players who have logged at least 500 minutes of court time, Delly ranks 24th in the entire league for percentage of team assists whilst on the court, which though not spectacular, underscores his growing role within the Cavs as a prime ball-mover and decision-maker within the offense.

The names on that list contain some of the biggest pounders of the basketball in the sport, led by the likes of Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and Chris Paul. So whilst Delly won’t currently be entering any conversations surrounding the elite point guards of the league, perhaps it’s time to shift the narrative of Delly from just being a hustle player, to one that is far more complete.

The Numbers Game

Holy cow! When Delly is on the court, the Cavs score at a rate of 106.8 points per 100 possessions, and only allow 94.7 points per 100 possessions. Basically, the Cavs outscore opponents by 12 points per 100 possessions when Delly’s out there doing Delly-things.

Those Delly-like things are primarily to facilitate better ball movement for the offense, with Dellavedova leading the team in passes made per game, and 2nd only to LeBron James in potential assists – passes to teammates in which a shot was attempted.

With Delly on the court, the Cavs’ percentage of field goals that are assisted jumps to 62.6 percent, compared to 58.1 percent when he’s off the court, a testament towards better ball movement, and his ability to keep that ball zinging. Unlike some of his more illustrious luminaries who like to pound the ball until there’s a clear cut opportunity to nab a dime, it’s not at all about the numbers for Delly. He currently ranks equal 7th in the Association for hockey assists – the pass that leads to the assist – and 2nd on the Cavs with passes received, signs that he’s just happy to keep the ball moving.

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I’ve cautioned previously about drawing too many conclusions from on/off court numbers, but the overall evidence and body of work is starting to suggest that Delly’s game is clearly impactful, particularly on offense, and in the manner and quality of shots that the Cavs take.

A by-product of that pass-happy system are clean looks, and the good teams unlock the best ones – the layups and the 3-pointers. With Delly on the court, the Cavs take almost 15 shots per game inside the restricted area, and convert at a 64.9 percent clip. Compare that to 11 shots in the restricted area when he’s off the court, at 56.9 percent, per NBA.com. The Cavs also shoot more 3-pointers overall and convert at a far superior clip with Delly on the court.

It’s safe to say that the evidence is rather compelling when it comes to grading Delly’s impact in point guard play.

The Comparison

Delly’s impact is equally pronounced when you compare him to some of his luminaries.

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* All statistics courtesy of NBA.com

The players in question?

Player A: Chris Paul

Player B: Rajon Rondo

Player C: Ricky Rubio

The Teammate

“He facilitates everybody so well," Omar Samhan, a former teammate of Dellavedova’s tells C.J. Holmes of Sporting News, when discussing his impact during last season’s NBA Finals. "You see him doing it with LeBron, but that’s what he was doing as an 18-year-old at Saint Mary’s.”

Those numbers outlined above show the overall, big-picture impact of Delly’s ball distribution. In truth, no one benefits more within the Cavs from Delly than Tristan Thompson.

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I previously touched on Dellavedova’s playmaking ability from pick-and-roll actions, with Thompson being the prime moocher off of Delly’s righty lobs. In his excellent piece about Delly, Greg Swartz highlights how Tristan Thompson receives the bulk of his touches from Delly passes, per NBA.com. Thompson, on average, receives 5.7 passes per game from Delly, more than double the total from any other teammate, and converts those Delly-esque opportunities at a 73.0 percent clip! I mean, no one else comes even close.

Dig a little deeper and the Delly influence on any other individual Cavs’ shooting numbers isn’t so evident, furthering underscoring that unique chemistry between Delly and Thompson in the pick-and-roll.

Still, it’s hard to argue against Delly’s overall impact with the big-picture stuff. The eye test tells a similar tale too, with the ball zipping around whenever he’s on the court. Whether David Blatt chooses to publicly acknowledges it or not, it appears that Delly has supplanted Mo Williams as the primary lead guard off the bench.

Perhaps it’s time for our own acknowledgement. Perhaps it’s finally time to recalibrate our perceptions of Dellavedova, from being a role player on a title-contending team, to one of a prime catalyst for the Cavaliers, as they build for that elusive title.