Rising Above from Down Under
Is there anything better than exceeded expectations – when something good comes out of almost nowhere?
In the 1986 Draft, after already selecting two studs in the first round, the Cavs dealt for a smallish point guard in the second – acquiring Mark Price from the Mavericks. In 1992, Cleveland inked a player from the CBA’s Sioux Falls Skyforce named Bobby Phills to a 10-day contract. In 2004, in a deal that sent Tony Battie to Orlando, along with Drew Gooden and Steven Hunter, the Wine and Gold received a second-rounder from Brazil named Anderson Varejao.
Those players exceeded expectations – if there were any to begin with. All sports fans love an overachiever. And all Cavalier fans love an overachieving Cavalier.
This season, the Wine and Gold’s epiphany emerged from Australia. And it’s not that he’ll turn into Mark Price or Bobby Phills or Anderson Varejao. But rookie guard Matthew Delladova does have one thing in common with all those classic Cavaliers – he has the unquenchable work ethic and on-floor tenacity of his predecessors.
His rookie season progressed with the same speed and tenacity as his game does between the lines. It didn’t take Delly long to go from an undrafted rookie to the middle of Mike Brown’s rotation. After getting five DNP-CDs in Cleveland’s first six contests, the former St. Mary’s star found his form midway through the season’s first month.“I always thought I could play, even at the start of the year when I wasn’t playing and wasn’t suiting up,” recalled Dellavedova. “But I think when I played in Washington and we won in overtime, that’s when I got my first real minutes and I kind of built on it from there.”
Delly played a season-high 30 minutes in that OT victory over the Wizards. The next night, also against Washington, Delly got another extended run – burying three treys in the process. In those two games, Delly combined for 11 points, nine boards and two assists. Not hugely impressive statistics, but there was a number that did jump out in that weekend set: the Cavaliers were a combined +37 points when the second-string guard was on the floor.
Dellavedova’s stats on the season are modest, but his +/- number is second only to Anderson Varejao – (Cleveland is +64 with Andy on the floor; +57 with Delly). The digits don’t lie: good things happen when those two are in the game.
Based on his relentless style of play that’s a combination of hoops and Australian rules football, Delly has been labeled the squad’s “Honey Badger.” (“Is that the YouTube video?” he laughed. “[Cavs performance coach and fellow countryman] Alex (Moore) showed me that. It was pretty funny.”) He was also famously dubbed the team’s “pit bull” by Anderson Varejao after a win in Orlando – complete with the snarling dog sound effects. (“My sister sent me the link of Andy doing that. That was pretty funny as well.”)
Naturally, none of the numbers or nicknames has mattered to Delly as he’s navigated through his freshman campaign.
”I really didn’t know what to expect; my first goal was to make the team and go from there,” recalled Dellavedova, as the Cavs wrapped up their final practice of the season. “But I think you’re always going to be readjusting your goals and not thinking too far ahead. You have to take care of one step at a time.”
After watching Delly’s performance in Vegas Summer League, there was no doubt he’d be a dogged defender and strong floor leader – and he turned out to be better than expected. But his marksmanship from the outside has probably been the biggest surprise. Only New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr. has hit more three-pointers as a rookie off the bench this year than Dellavedova – the only non-first-rounder in the top five.
Once Delly cracked the rotation, he was rock-solid. But at a point in the season when some rookies are hitting the mythical “wall,” Dellavedova’s only gotten better. In back-to-back games against OKC and Houston, the first-year guard doubled-up in each outing – making him the first player to record consecutive point-assist double-doubles off the bench since John Morton in March 1991.
Less than a week later, Delly canned five treys in a dramatic win in Motown and four more bombs – plus a career-high 12 assists – in a blowout win over the Pistons in Cleveland earlier this month.
With the season wrapping up, the former All-American is turning towards a big summer.
“I was happy that I could contribute a little bit, but you’re always wanting to do more,” said Dellavedova, recapping his inaugural season. “I’m looking forward to having a big summer, getting better. It’s been good to be able to play this year to see what I need to work on. So I’ve got some things heading to the summer that I need to work on and get ready for next year.”
Dellavedova made his mark in last year’s Summer League session. He’s likely to return to Sin City with the Cavs this July, but whether he does or not, there’s a full offseason ahead (after some time back in the Bay area and a trip Down Under to see the family).
“(I) talked to Griff and Coach Brown and see what they say, but I’ve got a pretty busy summer because I’m playing for the World Championships for Australia in Spain,” said Delly. “Their training camp starts towards the end of July and then you get a few more days at home. Then we go to Europe, then it’s pretty much from August to like mid-September, I think.”
Despite the constant comparisons to vicious fur-bearing beasts by his teammates, that ferocity has made him a pure fan favorite in Cleveland.
”Playing at The Q in front of the Cleveland fans has been pretty awesome – how friendly people are around the city and just in general,” smiled the rook. “(They’re) just really friendly people who make you feel at home. So it’s been really good.”
Those Cavalier fans might not have expected much out of Dellavedova coming into the campaign, but they know what they’ve got moving forward – one of the toughest pound-for-pound young players in the NBA.