Aussies in NBA: How has Dellavedova's absence impacted the Cavaliers?

Matthew Dellavedova has been out of the Cleveland Cavaliers' lineup for nearly two weeks now. His sore left hamstring has resulted in an extended absence since the Cavs' February 1 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Five of those games during his absence have coincided with a blah 3-2 record for the Cavs, including losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics, the first back-to-back defeats under Tyronn Lue’s stewardship. That the Cavs have since won three straight to right the ship heading into the All-Star break, says more about the schedule and level of competition than anything else, especially when those wins have all come against sub .500 teams: the Pelicans, Kings and Lakers.

The All-Star break can’t come soon enough for the Cavs. Since Delly’s injury over that five game stretch, the Cavs have seen their defensive rating plummet from a robust 100.7 points allowed per 100 possessions for the season, good for eighth in the league, to 104 points allowed per 100 possessions. That mark would be barely above that of the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, if extrapolated over an entire season.

But that's exactly what we are not doing, because peaks and troughs dot the landscape of every team’s regular season landscape. There’s also plenty of noise to accompany that rough stretch; noise which poses real questions surrounding the Cavs' rotation and minutes puzzle.

Since Lue took over the reins, Delly’s minutes have taken a dive. Delly averaged 26.4 minutes a night across the season, but that number has dipped to 20.8 minutes a game under Lue. Coalescing with that dip in minutes has been the Cavs tearing it up on the offensive end. Through six games from January 23 til February 1, the Cavs have sported an outrageous offensive output of 13.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark bettered only by the offensive juggernauts of Golden State and Oklahoma City over the same period. The Cavs also sport a 5-1 record and a point differential of plus-7.2 in that span.

Still, basketball is played across both sides of the ball. Despite the gaudy points totals, the Cavs have allowed 107.7 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, a mark that would be the second worst in the league.

The recent 3-2 stretch without Delly has the team sporting a plus-6.8 point differential, sixth in the league over that span. Essentially, they’re still pulverising the opposition on offense, whilst being comically bad on the defensive end.

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Again, it’s a small sample size, and we should be careful to draw conclusions. The Cavs’ offense have feasted on weak competition, with the Lakers, Pelicans and Kings triumvirate represent some of the worst defense in basketball. At the same time, the Cavaliers have been awful on the defensive end, with the numbers not necessarily reflecting the calibre of the opposition.

Whilst Delly is incredibly impactful – I’ve made my case that he deserves MIP consideration – it’s probably a reach to suggest that the Cavs’ title fortunes hinge upon his imminent return. Instead, his absence leads to trickledown effects along the Cavs rotation that impact upon the bigger picture.

It’s a thought echoed by Lue.

“I think the most important thing, for me, is just getting his health right going into the second stretch of the season,” says Lue. “He can guard ones and twos because he’s strong enough. He’s physical. Offensively, he gives us a great chance also because he knows what we want to run. He has a great feel for the game and getting guys involved offensively.”

Mo Williams clanks his way to more minutes

Speculation of Delly’s uncertain future following the firing of David Blatt was always going to be premature – simply because the alternatives at backup point guard have been a disaster.

Williams has been the main beneficiary of Delly’s injury. After recording eleven DNPs in the month of January --and averaging a mere 5.8 minutes a night when he did play-- Williams has seen his minutes average rise to 11.8 minutes per game since Delly was, well, hamstrung. But it’s hard to see how his presence benefits the actual team, with preseason predictions that he would lock in the backup point guard position looking increasingly silly.

I previously wrote that Williams has been a net negative for the Cavs whenever he sets foot on the floor. Oh, that hasn’t changed. Over the past 5 games, Mo “All-Star” Williams has logged 59 minutes in total and is a disastrous minus-11 in those minutes, prolonging his season-long theme of futility.

He’s clanking that basketball in this five-game stretch at a 35.7 percent clip, including a Kobe-esque 28.6 percent from 3-point range. Lineups with Williams will always be defensively-challenged, but when you couple that with fruitless chucking, that’s a recipe for disaster.

And it’s been slim pickings for Jared Cunningham, who has logged a grand total of 5 minutes in the month of February, and jacked up a single shot.

Tristan Thompson’s declining production

Tristan Thompson has suffered the most, with a downtick in shot attempts and field goal percentage since Delly’s absence. That Delly/Thompson pick-and-roll lob is no secret, but hidden beneath those theatrics is a real connection. Thompson’s touches are largely Delly-centric, with no other Cavs teammate coming close to meshing passing volume to Thompson, and assisted field goal percentage – Thompson scores at a DeAndre-esque 76.3 percent clip when Delly is the passer.

Speculate upon that downtick in opportunity with caution though. That’s also partly to do with Thompson becoming a more permanent fixture of the starting group, after a season-long flip-flop with Timofey Mozgov. Tyronn Lue seems to have settled upon Thompson as the frontline starter alongside Kevin Love, a starting group that also contains a certain LeBron James, and another high usage offensive stud in Kyrie Irving. As a result, Thompson’s usage rate has declined from a season-long mark of 11.4 percent, an already low figure, to a now subterranean 6.5 percent.

On a related note, Dellavedova has assisted on 44 of Thompson’s made field goal attempts this season. Kyrie Irving and Mo Williams? 14 combined assists.

The Bench Numbers

The Cavs bench, in general, have also suffered with Delly’s absence. In the last 5 games without their Aussie floor general, the bench have scored at a bottom ten rate of 100.8 points per 100 possessions. Prior to that, they were 13th in the league 101.4 points per game, and sported a robust defense, allowing 99.1 per 100 possessions.

Across the season, the Cavs’ bench had outscored their opponents by 3.0 points per 100 possessions, good for 6th in the league. That’s plus-50 across 837 minutes as they rested their stars. Those are crucial minutes, when most in the league (outside of the ridiculous Spurs bench) merely hope to break even. That the Cavs bench was outdueling the opposition was a huge advantage.

Over the past 5 games? The Cavs bench have literally broken even, but again, those games have come against some of the worst squads in basketball. Their last 3 opponents have sported benches that were all net negatives across the season, which clouds a break even result when you consider the context.

All in all, these have been the trickledown effect of Matthew Dellavedova’s injury. His injury has a real net effect on the Cavs’ rotation puzzle – raising questions about their backup point guard depth, and the subsequent usage of a key big man.

It’s an intriguing situation for the Cavs, and a puzzle that they will need to address heading into the final third of the season – a rotation puzzle in which you expect Delly to be a key piece.