The more things change for Matthew Dellavedova, the more they stay the same.
After missing 15 games with a bout of knee tendinitis, Dellavedova returned to the Milwaukee Bucks line-up in mid December. His return brought back the familiar storylines that have dominated his career.
The Bucks have benefited from Dellavedova’s defence and leadership when on the floor, all while being restricted by the limitations of his offensive output. Then there was the ‘incident’ with Bradley Beal, which (surprise surprise) saw Delly being labelled the dirtiest athlete alive yet again.
Some things will never change.
With the addition of Eric Bledsoe and the continued development of Malcolm Brogdon, Dellavedova has seen his playing time reduced. After posting a career high in minutes last season (26.1 per game), his role has returned to what it was as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Since returning from injury on December 19th, the Maryborough native is averaging 16.9 minutes per game. Dellavedova’s minutes haven’t been this low since his rookie season. The Australian started his first game back, but has been used exclusively as a reserve guard ever since.
Jason Kidd’s rotation roulette saw the minutes fluctuate dramatically over the Christmas period, but Dellavedova’s role has crystallised early in the new year. His minutes almost exclusively bracket the quarter breaks, a time where he regularly shares the floor with fellow Australian Thon Maker. Somewhat alarmingly for the Bucks, the Aussie Connect has a ghastly net rating of negative 16.1 in the 153 minutes they have shared since Dellavedova regained fitness.
Dellavedova’s statistical averages post injury are as modest as always - 3.4 points, 4.3 assists, 1 rebound and 1 turnover per game – although, as we know, traditional numbers have never been able to quantify his impact. The Australian spent his rehabilitation time carefully assessing the performance of his Bucks teammates, thinking about their strengths and how he could be a positive upon return.
“I think when you’re away or not playing you get a bit of a different perspective on what is needed and how it looks out there because when you’re in it it’s a bit tougher to see sometimes," Dellavedova explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this month. "I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do when I came back and I think we found some things that have worked, especially for the second unit.”
Passing is one way that Dellavedova is helping his teammates. Since returning from injury, Dellavedova has the seventh highest assist percentage in the NBA. This run of distributing was highlighted during Milwaukee’s recent road trip to Oklahoma City and Toronto, where Dellavedova assisted in 19 field goals in just 54 minutes of playing time. This is made all the more impressive because he committed just one turnover over the same period.
Dellavedova doesn’t have the reputation of an elite distributor, but his passing abilities have come leaps and bounds since entering the league. He is adept at reading opposition defences and leading his big man with the pass.
This play may have looked clunky as all get out, but it is a tremendous read from Dellavedova and John Henson was able to do the rest. The Bucks will never ask Dellavedova to control basketball games with his scoring. But with the talent around him set to improve – Jabari Parker is due back in the coming weeks - the Australian’s savvy playmaking will be extremely valuable as Milwaukee jostles for play-off positioning in the Eastern Conference.
This pick and roll with Maker is another perfectly executed example of Dellavedova's capabilities. Both Australians patiently run the action, waiting for the defence to commit to covering basketball, before Dellavedova sets up the alley-oop slam.
Having now regained full health, Dellavedova has settled into a familiar role, one where his experience is vital for a Bucks team that remains youthful by NBA standards. Dellavedova is the only member of Kidd’s rotation with NBA championship experience (not counting 2011 NBA champion Jason Terry as he has only payed 145 minutes on the season so far). When the postseason arrives, Delly's value will only increase and his leadership will be vital for a franchise looking to win their playoffs series since 2001.