Welcome to the rotation, Matthew Dellavedova

Matthew Dellavedova 2

If Crocodile Dundee and the Energizer Bunny consummated a night of impulse-fueled nuptials, the offspring would be Matthew Dellavedova—the gravelly Australian accent, floppy hair, three days worth of growth plastered to his face, and non-stop movement that only serves to simultaneously fuel and agitate. The mouth guard he wears looks as if it were fitted for a hippopotamus, so large that when adorned, his mouth is permanently agape. He wears low-top basketball shoes, forgoing all risk to his ever-moving ankles. He answers to “Delly.” He stands at 6-feet-4-inches, but his never-ending hustle—crouching, running, fighting through screens—makes him appear smaller. If a teeth-laced leather bush hat and bass drum were allowed on basketball court, he’d rock them both without skipping a beat, and would still relegate opposing guards to hoisting prayers.

Cleveland has had its sporadic tastes of Dellevadova’s game in the last few weeks. He has played filler minutes, providing relief in the absence of shooting guard Dion Waiters. He hasn’t scored much. He certainly won’t be confused for Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. But what he has done—the screen-setting, the hustle, the emotion—while not showing up in the box score, has made him a bit of a cult figure within the local sports realm. What Dellavedova did on Wednesday night, exuding a never-say-die level of effort that allowed his team to get back into a contest which they had no business being in, may have cemented him as fixture within a Cavaliers rotation that is in dire need of anything that represents effort. The fact that hit a few three-point field goals was just an added bonus.

“We didn’t compete,” said head coach Mike Brown after. “We had one guy that competed the entire time he was on the floor—that’s Matthew Dellavedova. It’s a concern for anybody when you don’t go out there and compete or you don’t play hard.

“Anybody can see, defensively, the last 18 minutes of the game and the rest of the game. We didn’t do anything differently, but because we played hard and competed, we were able to get stops… I’m going to find guys who are going to play hard, consistently.”

During the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, while the rest of his teammates loafed through what was ultimately a seven-point loss to the Washington Wizards, Dellavedova turned Bradley Beal, a sharp-shooting guard who had done whatever he wanted to on the floor prior to this point, into a brick-laying personification of frustration. Through three quarters, Beal amassed 22 points on 17 shots; in the fourth quarter, despite playing all 12 minutes, he was held to four points (on just three shots) by the undrafted rookie from St. Mary’s. The one shot Beal did convert was aided by multiple screens, the player rolling all the way from the three-point line, across the baseline and around both elbows, only to catch and immediately shoot over the outstretched hand of Dellavedova, who had chased him every step of the way. The one shot Beal did led to Dellavedova slamming his closed fist through the air out of frustration. There was not much he could have done differently without committing a foul, yet there he was, in the middle of a raucous Quicken Loans Arena crowd, chastising himself for something his teammates would not have even considered doing in the first place.

“He’s obviously a really good player,” Dellavedova said of Beal following the game. “I was just chasing, trying not to let him catch. I tried to bring energy and some physicality on defense.”

By all accounts, Dellavedova is an unassuming kid, just 23 years old, looking to make it in the game which he loves. He’s an Olympian. He’s incredibly proud of his heritage. When on the road, he watches St. Mary’s basketball on his hotel room television. He’s a fan of the game, tweeting pictures of the banners which hang from the rafters of opposing teams’ arenas. Looking to attend a his first NFL game, rather than using his agent or a lackey of some kind to finagle seats from the Cleveland Browns, he took to Stubhub where he landed a pair of upper deck seats in the north side of the stadium. Given that it was a November game on the lakefront, it the air was brisk. Dellavedova wore a “beanie.” The Browns would go on to win, topping the Baltimore Ravens for the first time in roughly a decade. “Cleveland fans are awesome,” he would later say.

Dellavedova caught on with the Cavaliers for their Las Vegas Summer League play and proceeded to turn the head of a general manager in Chris Grant who was looking to finally provide some depth behind his All-Star point guard. The way Delly plays would rarely lead to him landing on a fantasy basketball roster of any kind. He has just four more points than fellow rookie Anthony Bennett who, despite having the largest contract in his draft class, cannot seem to buy a bucket. But it was a style which immediately earned him some extra time with a team looking to instill a defensive identity. When Jarrett Jack, one of the summer’s free agent additions, was forced to miss time with a small injury, it was Dellavedova who took advantage during the team’s preseason, showing his grit and physical style of play that led to Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown referring to him as a “Neanderthal.

It’s this Neanderthal way of taking to the floor that allows a player like Dellavedova to earn a single-game point differential of +21 in just 26 minutes of play without recording a free throw, assist or steal. It’s this style which led to Mike Brown sticking with him through the course of an entire second half and overtime period just a few days earlier, again given the task of guarding Beal, ultimately leading to a Cavaliers win and Irving to refer to him as his “Australian brother.”

“He comes to work every single day, going against me and Jack,” said Irving of his point guard mate. “He’s ready, and coach trusts him.”

It’s that last part that may be the most instrumental in Dellavedova’s No. 9 getting called a lot more often in the coming games. The Cavaliers now sit at a disappointing 4-8. Despite being just a game out of the top eight, the wins that the Wine and Gold have amassed have been by the skin of their teeth—two have come in overtime, one coming in a nail-biting win over the Minnesota Timberwolves after they squandered an incredible, late-game lead. Brown would not yield to any sort of impulsive decision-making following Wednesday night’s loss, saying that he would rather sleep on any sort of changes that would be made to the starting five or minute-earning rotation. CJ Miles, the most recent version of what the Cavaliers refer to as a starting shooting guard, left the contest early with a calf strain. If he would be unavailable for the impending slate of games, Brown could opt to go with Dion Waiters, the former starter, or change things up even more by giving a starting nod to a kid who came into this fall with nothing to cling to but a dream and an unguaranteed contract.

Eyes don’t lie, and what Dellavedova did before those of the Cleveland fans who decided to stick through what was about to be another drubbing should be more than enough to garner some playing time before the games are out of hand, one way or the other. His play has been more than worthy of the reward.

Image: Original photo via David Liam Kyle/Getty Images, edited by WFNY)

  • MrCleaveland

    An unassuming Energizer is just what we need.

    The problem with fielding a team of lottery picks is that they were all mega-stars in high school and elite players during their one of two years in college. With so much talent, everything came easy for them, and they’ve never had to work at it before.

    Now they have to work, and not all of them know how to or want to or think they should have to. So I’m all for the Cavs giving a chance to a hustling Kipnis-like dirtbag.

    You can’t put the Cavs lackluster play on the coach. Coaches can’t do anything when the ball’s in play. This is on the players.

  • Kildawg

    Delly starting alongside Irving would send a clear message to the team (especially Dion Waiters): Play defense well and hustle on the court and you will get playing time, possibly starts as well.

  • Harv 21

    I blamed Byron for two years of consistent lack of effort. Brown is only a few games in but if this continues all season I will absolutely blame him. Guessing that some of our high draft picks, who were AAU superstars before a one-(or two)-and-done college career, just aren’t open to marching orders that require a change in their play and attitude.

    As Lenny Wilkens used to say, “the one weapon I have with players is minutes.” I hope Brown starts using that. Then we can get the whining and pouting over with and create that identity. I would hope Andy would be the respected veteran acolyte to show what Brown wants but Andy’s never seemed like a team leader, in addition to the fact that right now he’s playing more like a guy in a Varajao mask than the real deal.

  • Bruce

    i feel like i am taking crazy pills. Dellavadova should not be playing so many minutes. The cavs go nowhere with him playing this much. This is not rocket science, mike brown. Dellavadova should not be playing more than 10 minutes a night. Mike Brown should have never been rehired and needs to be fired immediately.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    He may not have the natural talent of Bennett, Waiters, Irving, Thompson, but his work ethic and effort on the court make up for that in a big way. Our failed comeback against the Wizards came when he was in the game. Beal was nearly completely shut down while Delly was playing.

    You are being absolutely ridiculous with your stance and have absolutely nothing to justify it with.

  • Bruce

    Dellavadova Game 1 stats: 31min. 1-5 from field goals. 2 steals ( one of which was a lucky bounce from beal). What exactly does this accomplish on a team? The only reason he got some support is because Kyrie had in incredible game in an OT win.

    Dellavadova Game 2: 27 min 3-6 from three and nothing else. While I admit the three ball is nice, he was definitely in the game when the cavs had zero offense and went down over twenty before he “inspired” the comeback.

    For a team trying to contend, playing him this many minutes gets you nowhere. (kind of like luke walton last year). I watch every game and tons of NBA and the eyetest is all I really need.

  • Pic

    Suggest you get some glasses.

  • JL

    What you miss in only looking at Delly’s individual stats, is that he makes the players around him better, some of that is through his demonstration of effort and hustle. But, much of it is also because of his basketball smarts. The team was +16 and +21 when he was on the court during the past 2 games. I’d be willing to bet that he has the highest basketball IQ of any player on the team. His teammates love him for his effort, but they respect him because they know how smart he is as a basketball player. At St. Mary’s, he made mediocre players look like superstars everyday. In the past 2 games, the TEAM has been much better when he is on the court… heck, just look how KI’s scoring has heated up with Delly on the court. He moves the ball, he moves off the ball, he pushes in transition, he spaces appropriately. He does each of these things with intention, knowing full well that it will cause his teammates to move appropriately and cause defensive reactions that they can take advantage of. As an example, there are 6 ways to defense a high on-ball screen… he knows all 6, can read the defensive movement and know how they are defending, and know where to move the ball because he knows what will be open 3 passes away. The kid knows his limitations… he knows Beale would beat him in a game of 1 on 1. Knowing that he plays how he can win… he gets in Beale’s shorts and makes him work like a dog to even catch a pass… limit his touches to limit his scoring. Yes that’s hustle, but it’s also smart, and it is the reason the Wiz only scored 18 in the 4th qtr. If you only look at Delly through the lens of an individual superstar, you’ll never see his value. But consider looking at what he does bring vs what he doesn’t.
    All that said, he shouldn’t be starting, but he should be getting the minutes, and they should come earlier in the game. Right now this team is better with him on the floor.

  • Bruce

    He should get minutes but NOT 30 minutes. You picked bennett and karasev so play them no matter how bad the team looks right now. I can put up with that because the team looks awful right now anyway. If you think a playoff/championship contender can be made out of playing this kid 30 minutes a night then you and I have a difference of opinion, and it is not even worth debating.

    I have zero problem with giving this kid praise for the hustle but he cannot be playing this much.

  • JL

    I agree with you there. Optimally, 30 is too much. But his 30 is being dictated by the fact that NO ONE else is giving good minutes. If the team was more effective, Delly’s best role would be 17-20 mins, because at this point he is not enough of a scoring threat. But at this point, his ability to make others better, is the most valuable thing goin’ on. I actually do believe he could be a very good starting PG in this league on a team with more scorers at positions 2-5. This team struggles with it’s primary ball handler also being the primary scorer. KI just looks better off-ball and Jack & Waiters are also trying to get theirs, so they KI doesn’t score as well with them in the game.
    This said, I’m just a big Delly fan. I’ve been at nearly every St. Mary’s home game over the last 4 years, and this kid made me love basketball and understand the game. So… I have huge bias, and I’d love nothing more than to see him do well. It’s been cool to see Cavs fans get a glimpse of what he can bring to a game. You’re right to be skeptical of a play-off run with him having a major role, effort alone won’t do it sustainably and his NBA game needs to develop. But if you look through a slightly different lens, he could be an important piece to helping this TEAM be consistently better. Oh and give Karasev time at the 3, that kid can score and there’s no production from that spot now.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Every great team has 3-and-D guys who are smart with the basketball and play in crunch time. The Thunder have Thabo Sefolosha. The Heat have Shane Battier. The Warriors have Klay Thompson. The Clippers have Matt Barnes. The Hawks have Kyle Korver. The Bulls have your pick of Kirk Heinrich, Luol Deng, or Jimmy Butler. Delly could be that guy for the Cavs… who knows.

  • Scut_Farkus

    Delly and Beal played 55:41 minutes head-to-head. Beal had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 3 fouls, 7 turnovers, and 24 points on 9 of 26 shooting. Whereas he had 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 foul, 2 turnovers, and 30 points on 11 of 19 shooting in 21:31 minutes when Delly wasn’t on the court. I can’t stand the “black players’ natural talent vs. white players’ work ethic/effort” stereotype, and I’ll assume Ben only had in mind a comparison between the 4th overall pick with a year of experience and an undrafted rookie. But it does seem like Delly did slow down Beal significantly (although other variables could explain it).

  • Ben Frambaugh

    Because basketball is about a whole lot more than just the boxscore. There’s a lot of little things that go into the game than shows up on a game sheet bro.
    Beal had a horrible time of things once Delladova came into the game. If you can bring a guy in who can demolish a pure scorer like Beal, then it’s alright if he’s 1-5 from field goals and 2 steals.

    For a man who watches “every game and tons of NBA” you seem to have missed something on your version of an “eyetest.”

  • Ben Frambaugh

    I never made any comparison between “white” or “black” players. The fact that you even thought that was an issue actually sickens me.

    If Delladova had the “natural talent” that guy like Thompson (who’s own work ethic is noteworthy), Kyrie, Waiters, Beal, etc…he’d have been a draft pick. This is a guy (regardless of skin color) who has had to work a little harder to get recognized. But, his hard work is paying off with some playing time (that, to my armchair GM eyes) that he has earned.

    There’s a reason why he’s a 23 year old rookie. His upside, probably not very high right now. You shouldn’t expect to see massive improvements from him…but he is definitely a glue guy that every championship team has on their roster. (We need a lot more than him…but he’s a good piece of the puzzle.0

  • Scut_Farkus

    Right. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt that this was exactly what you meant. We’re on the same page.

  • JL

    To add to the fact that Delly slowed Beale offensively, he also made Beale have to work incredibly hard for everything. I think that effort slowed Beale down on the defensive end, too. In my mind this was a key factor for KI being able to explode offensively. These are the kinds of things that never show up in the box score, but are instrumental in making the players around you better.

  • pap

    this is a fantastic article. well done, sir

  • Jarrad Hurley

    mind justifying your comment?… “the team goes nowhere with him on court”… err… Delly was a good part of the reason the Cavs even made a game of the last one?

  • Thanks, pap.