(note: I wrote this piece on Tuesday night, before the game against the Wizards. I'm willing to designate the Wizards game as Dellavedova being obscenely overmatched athletically by John Wall. These are things he's going to have to deal with in the NBA, but let's be honest: there are VERY few backup PGs like John Wall. Let's just chalk that one up as a loss and move on. The majority of this post rings true despite one bad game. Where it doesn't ring true: statistically, where they are only updated as of Tuesday night. Enjoy!)
When I saw Matthew Dellavedova at Summer League in July, I came away somewhat unimpressed with his skills. He didn't shoot well, wasn't particularly athletic, and really struggled when faced with any sort of backcourt pressure. So it came as something of a surprise to me when the Cavaliers gave him a partially guaranteed contract on August 8 after his performance. However, I'm happy to admit that I appear to have been wrong and the team was correct in their assessment of his play.
With Jarrett Jack missing the majority of the preseason with a knee injury, Dellavedova has stepped up and been nothing short of reliable this preseason as the backup point guard. The question is seemingly no longer whether or not Dellavedova will make the team; it has now transformed into how many minutes he'll play.
To begin, I've been much more impressed with his ability to initiate the offense than I was in the summer. While he hasn't faced as much pressure in the backcourt as he did in Las Vegas, he seems to be much more comfortable dribbling on the perimeter. The ability to initiate sets and get into the offense is extremely important to Dellavedova, not only as a point guard but as an individual player because it sets up his best skill, the ability to pass the ball and set up others.
He's also shown the ability to push the ball, which is something that the Cavs' Vegas team didn't really get a chance to do. I've compiled clips of his passing so far this preseason, and the two things you'll notice is that he's more decisive with the ball while on the perimeter in the half court, and that he always looks to push the ball forward in transition if he can. The Cavs haven't had a second unit point guard that can push the ball with a pass in a long time, so in this regard Dellavedova will be very useful.
His ability to play both guard positions also comes in handy. He's entered the game in the first quarter for the shooting guard in each of the last three games, allowing Kyrie Irving to see some more time on the floor before ceding the reins to Dellavedova completely. At 6'4" 200 lbs, he at least has the physical size to defend most shooting guards. More than his size, though, he has the toughness to want to defend these guards.
And toughness is really the name of the game for Dellavedova. The aesthetic quality of his game can be tough to watch; nothing looks particularly appetizing when watching him play outside of his passing. His shot has a slight hitch (although in college it was still extremely effective and he seemingly had unlimited range), his running gait isn't pretty, and he seems to embrace contact. But that toughness he exudes both physically and mentally continually appears all over the court.
His awareness of where to be is also top-notch, as he seemingly just understands where to move to in order to space the floor. Even though his shot hasn't been falling so far -- he's 3/11 from distance -- he is always ready to shoot, with his hands up and ready to go. If what Mike Brown said about role players keeping it simple is true, having Dellavedova as a third point guard is exactly what he wants. His game is ugly to watch, yet efficient in movement. It's a visual contradiction, but it's worked this preseason.
Not everything has been perfect so far for Dellavedova, though. First off, needs to cut down on his turnovers. Nearly four turnovers per-36 minutes is too many, as Tony Wroten and Tyshawn Taylor were the only two point guards to play over 200 minutes last season with rates that high. And of course, one would hope that the consistency he showed from three-point range in college will translate to the NBA eventually. But despite these two complaints, Dellavedova still rates as one of the things I have been most pleasantly surprised with so far, which is great piece of news given that Jack has had to miss time.
Jack will return and take over his rightful place as caretaker of the Cavs' second unit. When that happens, Dellavedova's purpose on this team will be reduced and his NBA worth will be minimized. He'll probably go to Canton and get experience in order to continue developing as a potential backup lead guard. But so far, he's earned the right see minutes behind Irving to start the season if Jack can't go.
And given the level of play Dellavedova showed this summer, that's the ultimate testament to the toughness that he's displayed throughout his career.