Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t supposed to happen. He was a stud at Saint Mary’s, but just by looking at him you knew he didn’t have the makeup to translate that success from a mid-major conference to the NBA. But sometimes, on a special occasion, grit and hustle mixed with a little bit of luck gives a guy a chance to shine. And that’s certainly been true during these NBA Playoffs as Dellavedova has gone from unknown role player to one of the most well known WCC alums to hit the NBA since Bill Russell.
It’s very easy to overlook that Dellavedova had already proved himself to the Cavaliers before all this happened. He’s playing on a two-year deal he signed after impressing the organization in the 2013 Summer League. This came after he was undrafted coming out of Saint Mary’s. He was actually working his way into a pretty prominent role for the struggling Cavaliers, and he averaged 17.7 minutes per game as he appeared in 72 contests during the 2013-14 season.
And then everything happened. Lebron James. Kevin Love. The Cavaliers went from struggling franchise to a title contender. On the one hand this was great for Dellavedova. He was now playing alongside the best player in the game today. But that also meant much less playing time for an undrafted player who lacked the physical skill set of the All-Stars brought in to win a championship. It should have been the end for Dellavedova, at least in terms of him having a real chance to do something in Cleveland.
But Delly still found a way. His numbers during the 2014-15 regular season were actually just slightly up from the previous year. That included an increase to 20.7 minutes per game, and more than three times as many games started. Of course, injuries to Kyrie Irving have played a big role, especially in these playoffs.
But that set up his opportunity to be thrust into the spotlight. He doesn’t get this attention if he wasn’t replacing a star, guarding the MVP in Stephen Curry, and playing a key role in the newly improved defense that has the Cavaliers on the verge of making history as Lebron James tries to seek redemption by bringing a title home to Cleveland. Everything set up for Dellavedova to either become a huge headline or fail spectacularly. And so far, he has risen to the occasion.
It’s safe to say that Dellavedova will come out of these playoffs with a vastly improved reputation as a scrappy and tenacious defender, decent shooter, but still an overall lower-quality player who doesn’t have the physical tools to match his work ethic. So where does that leave him? His two-year deal is up this season, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Whether the Cavaliers win it all or not, teams have seen the role he can play. He now is a valuable asset to a team, even if he’s never a star. It’s safe to say he will have multiple suitors this offseason, and will have a nice pay raise coming his way.
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But will he do when he gets it? His skill set, as mentioned, will never make him a star. They physical tools just don’t stack up to the best professional players. But he can absolutely be a solid role player, whether as a part-time starter or one of the key defensive substitutes off the bench. And there’s still potential for a very good and lengthy career in that kind of role. Just like fellow Gaels alum Patty Mills has done, Dellavedova could stick in the league for a while. If he stays with the Cavaliers, he could become a beloved player and part of a number of successful teams in the future.
So is he for real? You bet he is. Considering he came from humble beginnings as an undrafted player and doesn’t have the normal makeup of an elite athlete, he’s doing amazing. And even after the spotlight of these NBA Finals go away, he will still be around.