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)