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Matthew Dellavedova: From Folk Hero to NBA Basketball Player

The hype for Matthew Dellavedova surpassed the guard's actual play on the court. This season, Delly is flipping the script.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Dellavedova has an image problem. Well, to be clear, we have a problem with how we view Matthew Dellavedova.

Delly inspires extreme reactions, for whatever reason. He's either end-of-the-bench trash or he's a hero to the blue-collar people of Cleveland, earning their love with grit, grind and probably other words that start with the letter 'G'.

He's an effort player, no doubt, and players like that will always win fans, especially in markets like Cleveland. Though it's easy to pick at his effort in the Finals in hindsight, there really did seem to be something going on there. He was genuinely playing to the point of physical collapse, and on the road to doing that, was the last player to genuinely annoy Stephen Curry.

No, Dellavedova did not "lock down" the league's MVP. What he did do was irritate him. He held Curry off the ball, he got up in his airspace, and generally just made the kind of annoying contact that starts fights on the pick-up court. He, of course, had the magical Game 3 in which he scored 20 points and hit this nonsense:

It was honestly insane. Delly eventually tailed off from his frankly unsustainable performance, and the Cavaliers lost their next three games, but the "damage" was done, and the fan base's love was cemented.

While Delly had impressed in the playoffs, there was a dirty little secret about everything he had shown prior to the Playoffs: he wasn't very good at basketball in the 2014-15 season. He was known as an intangibles player, but the Cavs net rating dropped from +5.3 with him on the bench to +0.6 with him on the floor.

He shot a brutal 36 percent from the floor, including a putrid 28.1 percent in the restricted area. He remained an off-guard in a point guard's body, and he was in the 10th percentile as the ball handler in a pick and roll. His defense was good, but certainly not Tony Allen-esque.

While some fans idolized Delly, others were not swept away quite so easily. They saw his flaws for what they were, and either didn't want him on the team at all or would only accept him as a third guard.

Delly the Folk Hero and Delly the sub-par basketball player combined to create a contentious discussion on what the third-year guard was worth in free agency, and this is when the dichotomy in viewpoints became clear. Delly ended up signing for a small contract that angered nobody, but many, including myself, didn't have particularly high expectations.

Then the season started, and all of the sudden, Delly, real life Basketball Player, is looking closer to what people think Delly, Folk Hero, looks like.

For starters, any look at the best lineups the Cavaliers run out feature a healthy dose of the Aussie guard. He's featured in every single one of the top-five five-man units the Cavaliers have in terms of net rating (min. 15 minutes played.), and he's in the each of the top eight four-man lineups the Cavs have trotted out (min. 40 minutes played.)

His assist to turnover ratio is, well, astounding. He's suddenly turned into a really capable distributor, and is leading the entire NBA with a ratio of 3.69. The Delly-Tristan lob remains weirdly unstoppable, and I don't entirely understand why teams defend it the way they do. They either hilariously over-commit to Dellavedova to make the lob the easy decision or to Thompson, making the layup the choice. Basically, they make it easy, and Delly's been making the play happen.

He was a perfectly acceptable three point shooter last season, and this season, he's even better. He's up to 44.1% on the year, but it's inside the arc that his value is skyrocketing.

One season after making a comically low 30.7 percent of his two-point field goal attempts in 2014-15, he's up to 44.7%. Teams have to at least pay attention to him now, and it's paying dividends on the court.

When he's hit the bench, the Cavaliers have cratered. They're being outscored by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, and shellacking opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

My first impression was to chalk most of that success up to sharing the floor with LeBron James, and the King certainly gets some of the credit. When the two share the court, they're straight murdering teams. Their net rating is +18.8, and Delly's assist/turnover ratio skyrockets from 3.69 to 5.82.

It's not a parasitic relationship; LeBron's numbers bottom out with Delly on the bench as well. When Dellavedova heads to the bench, the team's net rating with LeBron on the floor falls 15.5 points, all the way to a pedestrian +3.3.

At this point, Dellavedova is backing up his reputation with measurable on-court production. He's not just a collection of platitudes about "hustle" anymore, he's an actual quality rotation player. There's a good chance some of these stats regress as more and more tape comes out over the course of the season, but it looks like Matthew Dellavedova is going to be in the rotation to stay, and as it stands, he's earned it.

Delly will probably always be divisive. Folk heroes always are. But his play is helping to bring both sides of the argument a hell of a lot closer together.