Matthew Dellavedova has been the surprise story of the 2015 NBA playoffs. The four year college star first had a string of hustle plays lead to opponent injuries and ejections. More recently, he has received attention for tight defense on Steph Curry and even pitching in 20 points in Game 3.
Somehow, Delly has turned into the Aaron Craft of the NBA. The transformation into a gritty hustler has come two years after being one the most skilled players in college basketball. Dellavedova was on the floor for Randy Bennett’s team during nearly every significant minute for four straight years. His senior season, Delly played the entire game without a sub 11 times. Take a look at his career stats below:
The Aussie point guard was an offensive star for SMC. He increased his usage all four years while maintaining his efficiency. While NBA Delly is known for physical and aggressive play, SMC Delly hardly ever fouled (less than two fouls charged per 40 minutes during his final two seasons). In college, Dellavedova was closer to Jimmer (do everything on offense/stay out of foul trouble and rest on defense) than Aaron Craft.
Dellavedova’s offensive significance in college goes even beyond the numbers. St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett ran spread pick and roll after spread pick and roll for his point guard. Bennett has even said recently “Delly was our LeBron”. He really was given that same type of freedom to dominate the ball and read the defense.
Fran Fraschilla said of Delly during a broadcast in 2013 that “it’s rare that a guy so ball dominant is so good for a team”. He was certainly right about it being good for the team. St. Mary’s was in the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency during all four seasons with Dellavedova. Randy Bennett has never even cracked the top 50 without him.
In the final game of Dellavedova’s career, St. Mary’s fell to Memphis in the round of 64. Memphis ranked 13th in AdjD that season and was loaded with athleticism. However, Josh Pastner had so much respect for Delly he decided to double team the senior on every single pick and roll where he was the ball handler. The move didn’t deter St. Mary’s from running their normal offense. I counted 48 ball screens set for Dellavedova throughout the game. Take a look at Memphis’ basic gameplan below:
The man guarding the screener for Memphis was not simply hard hedging Delly. He was consistently leaving his man to double, hopefully forcing Delly to give up the ball while the other three defenders temporarily guarded 3 on 4. The strategy was a gamble by Pastner considering just how good Dellavedova was at reading the floor off ball screens, but it did pay off. The two defenders involved in the pick and roll were able to provide enough pressure to make Delly uncomfortable. He had a poor shooting game and also had six turnovers. Still, when the defense gave him just a little bit of breathing room to survey the court, Delly showed off his fantastic court vision:
There haven’t been many college players more adept at reading weakside defenses than Dellavedova. In the video above you can see he twice comes off a ball screen, jumps in the air (not exactly textbook passing fundamentals), looks off the help defender, and throws a no look pass to the roll man down the lane.
St. Mary’s finished the game just 3-15 from three and lost by two. With Stephen Holt and Beau Levesque (both career 38% three point shooters) a combined 0-8 from behind the line, SMC was unable to really take advantage of Pastner’s emphasis on Dellavedova. Regardless of the result, it’s still amazing how a guy double teamed for an entire game by a team with three McDonald’s All-Americans has become the gritty Aaron Craft-type in the NBA.
This is not to say that Delly didn’t display grit and hustle in college. He was absolutely a great leader and orchestrated the entire offense, usually waiving his teammates to different spots on the floor multiple times in a possession to preserve good spacing. A point guard with as large an offensive role as Delly had at SMC couldn’t possibly play the same style of defense he has used to harass Steph Curry in the finals. Maybe NBA draft evaluators should have cut his defense more slack given the effort he had to give on the offensive end. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress had this to say about his defense back in November 2012:
Another question mark Dellavedova faces at the pro level revolves around his potential defensively. His lack of strength, length and lateral quickness makes it difficult for him to stay in front of opposing point guards, as he doesn’t cover ground very well, and has a difficult time getting through screens. He counters this by putting a good effort in, and shows nice anticipation skills on this end of the floor, but his potential at this end of the floor is a bit murky against elite athletes.
While the Memphis game wasn’t a strong example of Delly’s ability to put the ball in the basket, NBA-only basketball watchers might be surprised at just how deadly Delly was shooting off the dribble in college. If a defense gave him any daylight off a pick and roll Delly was taking the off the dribble three, usually regardless of how much time was left on the shot clock. Check out some of his tougher threes throughout his senior season below:
Finally, we have seen some of Delly’s unorthodox runners in the paint in the NBA playoffs that he used so often at St. Mary’s. By being able to jump off either foot and release the ball off balance, Delly was able to be dangerous in the paint off of ball screens:
Watch the college version of Matthew Dellavedova and it’s still hard to imagine his game translating to the NBA even with his recent success. It’s certainly surprising for an undrafted college star (especially at the point guard position) to remodel his game into a gritty NBA role player. Playing with LeBron James is a bit helpful and it’s hard to say what Delly’s career will look like five years from now, but let’s not forget how fun he was to watch for four years at St. Mary’s.