In our “What’s Next” series, a Right Down Euclid writer will look at each individual member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by analyzing what their future looks like and/or what’s the next step in their development. In this piece, Right Down Euclid editor Chris Manning looks at Matthew Dellavedova, the Cavaliers’ top rookie last season despite going undrafted.
Dellavedova’s final stats: 72 GP, 17.7 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 2.6 APG, 41.2 FG%, 36.8 3P%, 53.4 TS%
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova’s rookie season exceed just about every expectation set for it, plain and simple. For Dellavedova, it took solid summer league play to even make it to the Cavs’ training camp. When he made, it looked as if Dellavedova was going to spend his rookie season on the bench, racking up more DNPs that assists. His contract was non-guaranteed and he played the same position as one Kyrie Irving. If there was any expectation for Dellavedova, it was that he would provide depth behind Irving, the star player whose track record with injuries was spotty at best.
To be fair, Dellavedova could have made a handful of memorable plays (such as taking an elbow from Indiana Pacers forward David West) and he would have exceeded expectations. There also wasn’t one specific moment this season that saw Dellavedova’s announce his arrival, which only enhances the peculiarity of his rookie season. He gradually worked his way into the rotation by playing Anderson Varejao-esque hustle basketball in limited minutes and hitting open threes when the presented themselves. Over the course of the season, Dellavedova entered the rotation on a full-time basis, seeing a lot of time in the three-guard lineups that Mike Brown came to depend on towards the end of the season. And by the end of the season, “Delly” became one of those gutsy role players fans love to get behind, especially in blue-collar city like Cleveland that has a history of embracing scrappy hustle players (see Varejao, Anderson) over the players with undeniable talent (see James, LeBron).
At one point, he even gave up his No. 9 jersey to Luol Deng, switching to No. 8 the day Deng became a Cavalier. He noted his hesitation to Deng, but Dellavedova gave up the number Deng has worn for his entire career with no hesitation (and likely for a decent amount of money).
That simple act, coupled with his easily digestible playing style, sums up Dellavedova’s rookie season: He did what was needed and what was asked, whether that was playing out of position or checking the league’s likely MVP, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. Although he entered the NBA as a point guard, he spent the majority of his minutes off the ball this season simply because that’s what the Cavs needed him to do. He settled in nicely as a utility guard, filling in gaps when Mike Brown asked and even starting four games when Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were banged up. In season full of drama and disappointment, Dellavedova was the surprise birthday gift that you end up liking more than any other present.
His future and role with the Cavaliers, however, is uncertain. Although he was a really effective fourth guard, he’s a fourth guard on a team whose success is dependent on the three guards ahead of him. And despite his solid rookie season, Dellavedova was only part of two of the Cavaliers top-20 five-man units. His three-point shooting, while just a shade below league average, is replaceable if Cleveland can find a low-usage shooter (or two) that can play the two and three, it’s not hard to see Dellavedova getting his minutes cut down significantly. In other words, the day Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein decided to go back to Kentucky was a bad day for Dellavedova.
Even if the Cavaliers don’t find capable wings, it’s fair to note that Jarrett Jack’s second season in Cleveland is likely to better than his first. Brought into be the Cavaliers’ sixth man and compliment both Irving and Waiters, Jack struggled most of the season to find any sort of rhythm for a variety of reasons (competing for shots with other high-usage guards, playing more off the ball, etc.). But there isn’t a doubt that he’s better player than Dellavedova. Add in the fact that Jack now has experience playing with Irving and Waiters (and was part of the eight of the top-20 Cavs lineups), so it’s not out of the question that we see Jack adjust his game play the Dellavedova role better than Dellavedova while simultaneously providing that all important veteran leadership.
No matter how you look at it, next season and beyond doesn’t look great for Dellavedova. He’s going to battling for playing a time at a position where the Cavs are strongest. His skill set is easily replaceable by both potential offseason acquisitions and the presence Jack. But Dellavedova has been that unexpected gift you fall in love with for no good reason. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll be that again.