Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant loves to search for hidden gems of players not valued by other teams. Seriously, I refuse to believe that there is another executive that has given late second round picks and undrafted free agents and developmental league stars and perennial 10 day contract players the amount of opportunity that Grant has over the last 3+ seasons. It isn't just that Manny Harris, Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, Semih Erden, Lester Hudson, Donald Sloan, Kevin Jones, and a bunch of others that I can't think of off the top of my head but refuse to research have made the Cleveland Cavaliers roster; lots of NBA teams have fringe NBA guys filling their 13-15th roster spots. No, what makes Chris Grant and the Cavaliers unique is that they have not only employed these players, but given them actual, meaningful roles.
It hasn't been pretty, of course. Alonzo Gee, in a true feel-good story, earned himself a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. I don't think you could say that he has played up to the contract, but he played the 2nd most minutes of any Cavalier last season and can be valuable guarding point guards and shooting guards sometimes. About two or three times a year he has a really neat dunk. He helps Kyrie Irving warm up before every game. He tries really hard and got along well with Byron Scott, and now Mike Brown.
Alonzo Gee is the success story. Donald Sloan has an NBA contract, and if we want to be generous and include Washington Wizards cast-off Shaun Livingston, Grant has found a couple guys who are real NBA players. But neither are with the Cleveland Cavaliers now, and I don't lose much sleep over either one (I was never real big on Livingston, though he really did play alright for us. The two man game between Livingston and Luke Walton was really fun and oh my gosh this is depressing me). The rest of the mining for a diamond in the rough has gone pretty poorly, both on the court for the Cavs, and for the players once their time in Cleveland came to an end.
But this story is about a Christmas miracle, of sorts. One of the things I was most excited about this year was the fact that the Cavaliers would be less reliant on fringe NBA players after adding top overall pick Anthony Bennett and free agents Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and Andrew Bynum. When the Cavaliers punted with the 31st pick in the draft, took Carrick Felix, and started throwing some guaranteed money at undrafted point guard Matthew Dellavedova, it didn't register much with me. Dellavedova struggled in Summer League and looked overwhelmed in the preseason, and a lot of Cavs fans wondered why the heck he even got a training camp invite. I couldn't find the energy to care.
The early negativity surrounding 'Delly' appears to have been as misguided as my notion that he somehow wouldn't have a big role with the Cavaliers this season. The Australian point guard who played his college ball at St. Mary's College has been a revelation, one of the few bright spots on a team that has disappointed. Dellavedova has appeared in 20 of 27 games for the Cavaliers, and they are unquestionably a better team with him on the court than with him off of it thus far.
On a team full of guys who love to dribble and shoot, Delly is one of the few guys that has consistently looked to keep the ball moving. The Cavaliers are scoring 123 points per 100 possessions in the 304 minutes he has played. That is an insanely good number. Right now, the Portland Trailblazers have the highest offensive rating in basketball at 114. Overall, the Cavaliers rating is 100.4, ranking 27th. It's a small sample size, but the offense is scoring when Dellavedova sees time.
Delly has a tiny usage rate, which measures the percentage of a team's possessions that a player uses while he is on the floor. He doesn't shoot often. Still, when he does, he has been incredibly effective, shooting 45+ percent from three point range on 30 attempts with a true shooting percentage over 60.
The area that Dellavedova has really won over the fans is with his tenacious play and resolve defensively. I don't think anyone has said it better than Anderson Varejao: "He's like our pit bull. He gets into the game and he's like grrrrrrrrr."
Kyrie Irving and C.J. Miles agree:
"@masfresco: Delly for president..." He's got my vote— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) December 14, 2013
It seems like at least once a game, Dellavedova frustrates an opposing point guard into a turnover that leads to an easy basket. Some nights, it seems like his energy is infectious and the other Cavaliers buy in as well. Other nights, the team gets killed anyway. Still, it is amazing to see an undrafted rookie show leadership for an NBA team. I scoffed at it before the season, but here we are.
I don't particularly love that the Cavaliers are still giving serious minutes to guys who may or may not be real NBA players. If the Cavaliers small forward situation was a little more settled, or Sergey Karasev was a little more ready, perhaps Delly wouldn't get this opportunity. But he is making the most of it, and is far from the reason the Cavs continue to struggle. Maybe Chris Grant finally found his diamond.