Dogged Determination

December 19, 2013
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Matthew Dellavedova

Just a few months into Matthew Dellavedova’s NBA career, two terms that have been used to describe him have been “pit bull” and “Neanderthal.”

After another gritty effort in a win over Orlando last weekend, Anderson Varejao called Dellavedova the team’s pit bull. (Or “peet bull,” with the Varejao accent. Andy even provided the requisite sound effect: “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”)

Before the Cavaliers-Sixers preseason matchup in Cincinnati, Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown, who coached Dellavedova on the Australian team in the 2012 London Olympics, said, “He, at times, might not be pretty. He’s a little bit Neanderthal in how he goes about his business, but he’s for real.”

OK, so it’s not very nice to compare someone to a vicious dog and a caveman – especially around the holidays. But both comparisons were done so with much love and respect.

After getting five DNP-CDs in the Cavs’ first six contests, the man they call “Delly” scrapped his way into Mike Brown’s rotation, and it looks like the native Australian will be there for a while.

The season is just a month-and-a-half old, and it’s already been a whirlwind for the 6-4, 200-pound guard.

“I didn’t know what to expect (this season),” admitted Dellavedova. “I was coming into training camp trying to make the team, because obviously that’s the first step – you have to make the team before you can get minutes. So I tried to take it one step at a time and do what the coaches ask and try to improve. I’ve always got high expectations of myself and even though I didn’t get drafted, I thought I could play at this level.”

The rookie from St. Mary’s might not have been selected this past June. But he definitely made an impression on the club that eventually signed him during his pre-Draft workouts.

Cavs Coach Mike Brown loves to tell the story. While working out some potential draft picks in three-on-three drills this past June, Dellavedova’s team won each of the first three games. Just to mix it up, Brown “traded” Delly to the opposite team – which proceeded to win the next three games.

It was then that Brown knew he had something unique in the Aussie import.

“By the end of the session, all five guys that were here with him, they were listening to him,” Brown recalled. “He was telling them what to do – all eyes were glued on him.”

“Well, I remember it was a pretty good workout for me and obviously, it mattered,” laughed Dellavedova, recalling that day. “You want to show them how competitive you are. And the best way to do that is to win every drill, especially when they change the teams. You want to make sure you’re on the winning team every time. So whatever way you do that – talking, encouraging your teammates, getting rebounds or setting screens, stuff like that.”

Delly reaffirmed his toughness and leadership in July when he impressed coaches with the Cavs Summer League squad in Las Vegas. That led to a partially-guaranteed contract in Training Camp. And during preseason, with Jarrett Jack sidelined with a left knee ailment, Delly continued to make his mark. On October 25, the Wine and Gold announced the 15-man roster they’d take into the season, and Dellavedova was officially a Cavalier.

Dellavedova has put up some solid numbers in 17 games for the Wine and Gold this year – netting 3.8 points, 1.4 boards and 1.1 assists per contest – about the numbers that you’d expect from a first-year player averaging 13.6 minutes per game.

But the one number that tells the real story of Delly’s early-season success is the coveted “+/-“ statistic – or, basically, how the team fares when a certain player is on the floor. On the season, when Dellavedova is on the floor for the Wine and Gold, they’re +46 -- easily tops on the team. The next-best Cavalier, Henry Sims, is +9.

Dellavedova is happy to contribute in this statistical category. And while he may not be putting up monster scoring numbers, he is shooting the ball very efficiently – cashing in when his number is called. He’s shooting .489 from the floor, including .458 from beyond the arc.

He went 2-for-3 from long-distance in last Friday’s win over Orlando and hit both treys he attempted one night later in a near-upset of Miami. Two nights later, in the shootout loss against Portland at The Q, Delly drilled a game-tying three-pointer late in the third period.

He’ll never be a volume shooter at this level, but Delly knows how to pick his spots.

“We’ve obviously got some great scorers on this team, and you have to find a little bit of a role,” said the Maryborough, Victoria native. “There’s five guys on the court and there’s only one ball, so not everybody’s going to come down and shoot it each time. There’s a lot more to the game. You’re playing defense 50 percent of the time, so your focus is there. And obviously, when the time comes and you’re open, you need to knock down a shot as well.”

In last Saturday’s matchup in Miami – one night after Varejao labeled him the club’s pit bull – Dellavedova again earned his new nickname, thoroughly frustrating Dwyane Wade as the Cavs were making their second-half comeback bid.

“The biggest way to probably frustrate a good player is to deny him the ball,” opined Delly. “Because all good players want to have the ball in their hands. If you can deny them the ball, that’s probably the best way to do it.”

Is frustrating the opponent something Dellavedova thinks about on the floor?

“Not really,” he admitted. “I don’t have time to worry about that because I’m thinking what my next job is. Whether it’s denying the ball and then helping and boxing out and pushing the ball. So that really doesn’t cross my mind too much.”

Delly’s scrappy style of play is quickly making him a fan favorite. Before Cavalier fans embraced him, the former St. Mary’s standout had a small fan club half a world away in Maryborough, Victoria, Australia (pop. 7,630) – about a two-hour drive from Melbourne.

“I’m always like texting (my family) or Skyping them when the times line up,” smiled Delly. “But they actually got out (to Cleveland) on Sunday, so they’re excited to come to the games. But there’s definitely been a lot of support from back home – people watching on League Pass and things like that and following the results. And my mom and dad have said everyone’s always asking them about it. So it’s cool to know that everybody’s supporting me back home.”

It’ll be the first time in the snow for both his parents – (“It’s a bit of shock to them,” laughed the younger Dellavedova) – and they’ll be here throughout the holidays.

His mom might not like her son’s new nicknames. But they’re appropriate. And the style of play that earned them is what has the international rookie entrenched into the Cavaliers’ rotation, through the holidays and beyond.