From the moment the order was determined by the lottery, the 2013 draft was always going to be a big one for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After taking Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick, Sergey Karasev with the 19th pick and Carrick Felix with the 33rd pick, who would have thought that their strongest rookie performer would be an Australian guard from a college with only seven NCAA tournament appearances in its history? Yet that’s exactly what has happened. Sure, that says a lot about the Cavaliers and the choices of their management, but it says even more about Matthew Dellavedova.
Born in Maryborough, Victoria, Dellavedova made his way stateside via the Australian Institute of Sport. Having previously struck gold by recruiting Patty Mills from the Institute, the Saint Mary’s Gaels looked to replace him with a fellow countryman. When Mills was drafted by the Trail Blazers, Dellavedova was brought to California to try and fill that void. Four years later, it definitely wasn’t a decision that Saint Mary’s was left to regret. Dellavedova left college as the Gaels all-time leader in points, assists, 3-pointers made, free throw percentage and wins, yet David Stern failed to call his name out on draft night.
Many players fail to recover from that sort of blow, but as anyone who has ever seen Dellavedova’s play can attest, quitting isn’t in his character. Potentially a carryover from playing Aussie rules football in high school, Dellavedova has a remarkable competitive spirit and rare levels of fight. Having played a part in the Cavaliers Summer League squad, the young Australian was invited to Cleveland’s training camp as an under-the-radar prospect. With the odds stacked against him making the final roster, “Delly” continued to confound expectations and became a favorite of coach Mike Brown.
With hindsight it has become easy to understand why he survived the training camp cuts. Dellavedova has a high basketball IQ and his high energy gives him the potential to be a real difference maker. Averaging 16.5 minutes per game so far this season, the 23-year-old has certainly made his presence felt. At 6″4, Dellavedova has shown great versatility having played at both guard positions as well as small forward for the Cavs. On a team that has struggled significantly with the woes of Anthony Bennett, and the failure of their Andrew Bynum gamble, Dellavedova has managed to remain consistently impressive.
Ranked fourth on the team in offensive rating, only Luol Deng, C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao have driven the team to more points per 100 minutes in their time on the floor. Dellavedova has proven to be a potent playmaker irrespective of position in his rookie year. The Aussie leads the Cavs in both assist ratio, and assist-to-turnover ratio. These stats are particularly intriguing seen as they are not generally areas where rookies excel. His high assist to turnover ratio is indicative of Dellavedova’s impressive maturity and confidence in his own ability. Having represented the Australian national team in the London Olympics, he is no stranger to playing at the highest level and the NBA doesn’t seem to have daunted him at all.
Dellavedova’s shooting has also been impressive, particularly from long range. He is currently second on the team, only trailing new arrival Luol Deng, with a 3-point percentage of 43.6. It’s not just his long range shooting that has been efficient either, Dellavedova leads the Cavaliers in true shooting percentage at 58.5 percent.
Defensively, “Delly” has proven to be a pest. Tightly guarding his man, whether they have the ball or not, he provides the sort of suffocating defense that makes a player very unpopular with opposing teams. Bradley Beal, for one, must be dreading his next matchup with the Australian rookie. When the two teams met back in November, the Wizards led by 27 points in the third quarter before Dellavedova turned the game on its head. Combining top class 3-point shooting and some of the most energetic defense the NBA has seen in years, he dragged Cleveland back to within four points of victory.
And it’s that type of heart that the Cavaliers need most of all. With a roster including talent like Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng and Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers should be competing at a higher level within a dire Eastern Conference. If they find themselves in search of a magic formula to turn their fortunes around, they needn’t look further than Dellavedova. The appetite and energy that he brings to the court is an example to veterans with twice his experience in the league, and as a result Dellavedova could well be a valued weapon to NBA teams for years to come.