Dellavedova must continue to be Cavs' controlling presence in playoffs
The Cleveland Cavaliers Big Three was dominant in their first round sweep over the Detroit Pistons. Coach Tyronn Lue said it was the best he has ever seen the trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love play together and it is hard to argue that point.
For the first time in two years, the Cavaliers offence didn’t neglect any of the attributes James, Irving and Love bring to the table. Isolation numbers were down, meaning neither James nor Irving were playing outside the flow of the offence and Love finally rediscovered his shooting touch from the beyond the arc. Cleveland also did a nice job of getting Love an adequate number of post touches, keeping him engaged in the offensive system through the series.
It wasn’t just the Big Three that benefited from a highly competitive first round series against the Pistons though. As he did throughout the regular season, Matthew Dellavedova was able to provide the Cavaliers with a calming, controlling presence off the bench.
Dellavedova’s vast improvement this season has been well documented. Once known as simply a gritty defensive player, which he still is by the way, Dellavedova has evolved into an effective spot-up shooter and a player who can efficiently run an offence. His ball handling shortcomings haven’t been as prominent as in seasons past; Dellavedova’s steady all-around offensive game has been able to mask some of his weaknesses.
In the first round against Detroit, Dellavedova averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 assists per game, while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from beyond the three-point line. While four assists are a tad below his season average, it doesn’t tell the full story of his playmaking ability seen in the first round.
With Dellavedova on the court, Cleveland had an offensive rating of 121.2, a 65.5 percent assist percentage, a 4.75 assist to turnover ratio, a 20.2 assist ratio, a 55.6 effective field goal percentage and a 58.9 percent true shooting percentage. All of these figures are representative of an elite offensive system, and the Cavaliers' rankings in all six categories decreased when Dellavedova went to the bench.
When the ball was in Dellavedova’s hands, the Cavs offence was controlled and calculated. He was able to dictate the flow and tempo of the game, as the Cavaliers also played with a quicker pace with Dellavedova on the floor as opposed to off it in the first round.
Let’s use some possessions from the Cavaliers game two victory over the Pistons to show how Dellavedova was able to effectively run the Cavs offence.
To begin this possession, Dellavedova has the ball up top against Steve Blake. Meanwhile, Channing Frye is spacing out to the corner, which pulls Aron Baynes out of the paint. Additionally, both Anthony Tolliver and Reggie Bullock are hesitant to help off of Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert respectively.
With the floor nicely spaced out, James, who is being guarded by Stanley Johnson, sets an on-ball screen on Blake.
As the play develops, both Blake and Johnson choose to trap Dellavedova, in an attempt to take away his surprisingly effective floater and try to force a turnover. However, with Dellavedova possessing the basketball IQ that is necessary to read and react to an NBA defence, he notices that it leaves an open lane for James.
The play results in a simple alley-oop executed by Dellavedova and James.
On the next Cavaliers offensive possession, the team goes back to the Dellavedova-James screen and roll combination.
This time, the Cavs are operating on the left side of the floor, with Frye up top and Shumpert and Jefferson spaced out on the weak side. Once again, Cleveland’s spread of shooters on the floor forces the Pistons defenders to at least stay close, leaving the floor appropriately spaced for Dellavedova and James to work.
Unlike the first screen and roll though, this one completely collapses the Pistons defence. As you can see, with the threat of another James dunk fresh in their minds, all five Pistons defenders are solely focused on the Dellavedova and James action. Blake and Johnson go to trap Dellavedova again, while Baynes drops into the paint, with Bullock and Tolliver slowly cheating down into the lane as well.
Dellavedova notices this, and with a lob to James being too risky of a pass to make, he instead opts for a swing to Jefferson, who is now wide-open in the corner, as Tolliver has committed to trying to stop a potential Dellavedova floater or James dunk. The play results in Jefferson hitting the corner triple.
On this play, the Dellavedova-James pick and roll confuses the Pistons defence once again.
The same five Detroit defenders- Blake, Johnson, Baynes, Bullock and Tolliver- are all looking at the Dellavedova-James action on the strong-side wing. Meanwhile, Frye, Shumpert and Jefferson are all evenly spaced out.
As the play develops, Bullock, who is guarding Shumpert, helps all the way across the floor, to assist Blake and Johnson in defending the screen and roll.
With no way of James receiving the ball, as the Pistons smoother him with defenders, Dellavedova’s floor vision allows him to notice a wide-open Shumpert on the wing. Shumpert would miss the shot, but the play is another example of how Dellavedova has vastly improved his decision-making skills as a playmaker on the offensive end.
Finally, on this possession, the Cavaliers go with a Dellavedova-Love pick and roll duo, with J.R. Smith, James and Jefferson spaced across the floor.
As Dellavedova drives towards the basket off the screen, Detroit’s defence is forced to collapse, with all eyes on Dellavedova. This opens up a sea for James to sprint into, and Dellavedova doesn’t need to do much more than make a simple pass, which leads to a rim-shaking slam from James.
With a look back at these possessions, it is no surprise that the Cavaliers were a better offensive team with Dellavedova on the floor in the first round, as opposed to off it. His basketball IQ, passing ability and intelligence to make the correct decision based on reading and reacting to the defence was excellent.
A second round match-up looms against the Atlanta Hawks, who will pose different challenges for Dellavedova. Hawks' point guards, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, are both speedy, the types of guards that Dellavedova typically has trouble guarding.
Also, don't underestimate the emotional challenge, with the Hawks seeing Dellavedova as public enemy number one, after last year's Easter Conference Finals. Scrutiny will be high, and the Hawks' players will be looking for revenge.
Dellavedova played well against the Pistons, but the competition gets stiffer in the second round. Importantly, he'll need to continue to be a steadying influence for the Cavs' offence if they're to progress to another Conference Finals.
All stats via NBA.com/stats