The Cleveland Cavaliers have been without their star point guard Kyrie Irving for the first 24 games of the season and yet have remained the top team in the NBA’s competitive Eastern Conference. All of the credit has gone to LeBron James but a small bit of it should go to their Australian back up point guard, Matthew Dellavedova, who has taken his game to new heights.
Dellavedova’s rise began in the Finals with tough defense on Stephen Curry, which helped the Cavs take a two games to one series lead in the Finals before losing in 6 games. He has used this as launching pad to continue to get better. In his third season in the NBA, Dellavedova is earning the respect of the Cav fans and players. After Game 3 of the NBA Finals last year James summed up his game. “He gives us everything until the tank is empty, and then he has a reserve tank.”
Described as a tough and gritty defender, his offensive improvements and contributions are often overlooked. His three point shooting has improved from 40% last season to a team leading 46.1%. This ability to shoot has allowed the Cavs to punish teams that double team James. In the clip below, the Thunder goes to double James and Dellavedova’s defender drops into the paint leaving him open. Dellavedova does a great job of making sure he’s in James’ line of sight and is ready to knock down the three.
His shooting ability is not the only thing that has improved. Dellavedova does a great job in pick-and-rolls, he seems to always make the right decision and is constantly setting up his teammates with his deft passing ability. This has caused his assists numbers to go from 3 per game to 5.4 this season. He is fourth in the NBA in assist to turnover ratio at 3.5 assists per turnover. The clip below shows how he creates opportunities for his teammates with highlight worthy passes.
As he has made improvements on the offensive end, he is still a tough and gritty defender. Dellavedova is second in the Cavs in plus/minus at 8.3 only behind James. His value may not always show up in box scores, since there are no stats for diving for loose balls, boxing out the opponent’s big man so another teammate can get the rebound. It’s not at all uncommon to see Dellavedova give up his body to take a charge like in the example below.
Dellavedova comes up big in big games, like the showdown vs. the Thunder. He finished the game with 11 points, 10 assists and 1 turnover as they put an end to the Thunder’s 6 game winning streak. Dellavedova’s 10 assists led to 20 points for the Cavs, making him responsible for almost 30% of their points. All of the little things he did on the court all add up to a four point victory for the Cavs.
Dellavedova has done a great job filling in for Irving and his play will allow the Cavs to ease Irving into game shape and monitor his minutes. Dellavedova’s improvements this season has helped to keep the Cavs as the top team in the East and battle for a NBA championship.