Aussies in the NBA Playoffs: Cleveland's need for Delly's threes
During his rookie year, Matthew Dellavedova's shooting was unremarkable. The guard was hitting 36.8% of his nightly 2.2 attempts from deep, which translated to less than one made three a night. Through ceaseless hard work, he has upped his game when it comes to marksmanship.
This season, Dellavedova's scoring took a noticeable leap after the All-Star break, and he actually improved his accuracy while taking more shots from downtown.
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It seemed like Delly was ready to work as a spot up shooter, and be able to space the floor for LeBron James. It has come as a bit of a surprise, that Dellavedova's playoffs shooting has actually trended downward so far.
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In Cleveland's first-round sweep against the Boston Celtics, his shooting went from a sterling 41.3% in the season, to a mediocre 28.6%. Obviously, restricted minutes come into the discussion. It's difficult to get into a rhythm when playing time is halved. The pressure of the situation might also come into play - it is the playoffs, and everyone's playing for huge stakes. Finally, credit has to be given to the Celtics for their will to fight and not give up an easy shot. There are reasons, but the shooting slump is still a cause for concern.
After the Cavaliers' first battle with the Chicago Bulls --a game that the Bulls won handily on the road 99-92-- Delly's shooting still has not picked up. He played almost 19 minutes in Game 1 (nearly double his average in the Boston series), made only one of his four attempts from downtown, and had five points for the night.
Delly's only made three of the night came from a LeBron dish in the third quarter. James had muscled his way past Rose, snared Gasol into helping, and found Dunleavy sneaking away from an open Dellavedova in the corner. Dunleavy likely should not have helped on this play. LeBron made the right pass, kicking it out to Delly, who sent it flying without a moment's hesitation.
[gfycat data_id="CoarseIllegalBobcat" data_autoplay=true data_expand=true] It didn't look like the best possession. LeBron had to literally barrel his way into a sea of red to make the pass happen. We won't see LeBron doing this every possession, and Chicago will be wary of making repeated mistakes.
Is it Delly's fault that he's not making his threes, or is his poor shooting a symptom of a bigger issue at hand?
Let's talk about spacing
Game 1 of the Cleveland-Chicago series saw the Cavaliers shooting a dismal 26.9% (7 of 26) from beyond the arc, compared to 36.7% in the season. The problem begins with the absence of an injured Kevin Love, who not only excelled in stretching defenses with his three-pointers, but was also a decent facilitator.
”I think for us not having our normal rotation and normal roster, we have to adjust to things and we have to try to be creative. At the same time, everything that we’re doing, we have to be that much better and that much more exact because our margin of error is going to be smaller and we’re playing against a very good team as it is.” - Cleveland head coach David Blatt (source)
Coach Blatt certainly has it down pat. Missing Love definitely hampered the team's offense not only on passing, but spacing as well. The Thompson/Mozgov pairing does not generate the kind of space the Cavaliers need to operate from downtown. No slight intended, but Mozgov or Thompson at the three-point line doesn't generate the same kind of fear Love does. Their defenders are in turn, likelier to lurk around the paint, and be in position to help on defense.
The clogged floor and lack of passing lanes in turn, contributes to poor ball movement. Cleveland averaged 22.1 assists during the regular season, and only had 17 in Game 1.
The answer to Cleveland's court spacing is out there, but it comes with a price tag. LeBron can play at the four in lieu of Love, but the team might not function as well without LeBron playing point guard at the top.
It also requires that Cleveland play three competent shooters outside of LeBron. Situations like these makes the absence of JR Smith more evident, who will be serving the second of a two-game suspension when Game 2 tips off.
Irving and Shumpert are definitely part of Cleveland's small-ball roster. The Cavs have other options (Jones, Miller) as a Smith replacement. Playing a guard with an inconsistent outside shot however, will only encourage the Bulls to chuck more defenders at James. There is no question that LeBron's presence inside the three-point line far outweighs a player who sinks less than a third of his three-point attempts. Could Delly step up to the challenge, and be the third shooter Cleveland needs?
The coming game will be a tough equation. Assuming the Cavaliers tinker enough with the lineup to fix their court spacing woes, Delly could be part of the answer to Cleveland's shooting. Part of it is about staying prepared for the shot, and he's shown his readiness. Game 2 isn't too far away; let's see if the Outback Jesus can make it rain in Cleveland.