By J.P. Pelosi
Sometimes playing point guard well, orchestrating the offense, distributing, hustling at the foot of the defense, and urging teammates on, isn't enough. Sometimes you need a high profile, or a personal brand, or maybe even a hyphenated last name. People like these things. They also like tweeting pictures of themselves. So, you know.
One of my favorite college players, Matthew Dellavedova, a man with simple attributes and a humble profile, will trial with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the upcoming summer league. Running the point for the Cavs, the young Aussie will push for an NBA roster spot, something 30 pro teams apparently felt he was unworthy of during the recent draft.
Or perhaps he just never occurred to them.
It happens, especially to average-sized medium-paced point guards from little west coast schools rarely seen by the east coast media. And yet, some experts definitely saw Dellavedova because he was recognized as a standout collegiate point guard at St.Mary's University. For a start, he was named by the Associated Press as an honorable mention All-American for the second straight year in April. But this was just the icing on a sweet stack of accolades, including first team All-West Coast Conference honors three times, the league player of the year in 2012, and CoSIDA Academic All-American twice. He was also twice named among the five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard. Trey Burke won the last Cousy award, and whether you agree with that selection or not, you can't deny the buzz around him helped.
Pro scouts probably weren't all that impressed by Dellavedova's localized trophies, and just as equally deterred by his relatively slender physique and lack of speed. This is hardly surprising: We've seen countless basketball experts write off players based on size, or personality, or even something less tangible, like 'intangibles'. Feels like they're more wrong than right sometimes, doesn't it?
Fortunately Cleveland coach Mike Brown knows of Dellavedova and has apparently visited Moraga in San Francisco to watch him train with St. Mary’s. Brown has seen the extreme effort and strong character up close. I'm guessing few other NBA coaches have and that's why we're here, with Delly, on the outside looking in. So just to offer further evidence of his high character, here's what Gaels coach, Randy Bennett, said of Dellavedova after he broke the school's scoring record: "The best thing about Matt is he couldn’t care less about the scoring, the assists, any of that. He cares about his team winning."
Maybe Dellavedova wasn't the nation's best floor general by highlight video, but any team at any level would be hard pressed to find a more determined, selfless and clever point guard. He plays the game with intuition and a probing eye. He's methodical and patient in his offensive approach, and yet deftly aware of the angles and movements that allow for quick flashes of brilliance, be it via a look away lob, or a sudden 3-point bomb. In this regard, I can't think of another point guard prospect who works the court like he's already in the pros - knowing when to slow, accelerate, or maneuver obstacles in front of him.
Maybe to some, stats matter more than awards. So let's consider them briefly too. The 6-foot-4 guard finished St. Mary's program as the school's all-time leader in scoring, assists, 3-pointers, free throw percentage, games started and appearances. His senior year he averaged 16 points, 6 rebounds and a handful of assists. It's a strong line, I think. But hardly the whole story.
Dellavedova is a player with poise at the position, which is bolstered by good size. The kid is tough. He can take a bump, or grind a defender down in the post, and even jostle for rebounds with the tall timber. If you don't believe me, look up some of the highlights from last year's Olympic Games when he led Australia's backcourt with Patty Mills. Against Team USA he didn't back down, rebounding, dishing and successfully pestering the likes of Kobe Bryant, no less. One play sticks out, in which Bryant stormed toward the hoop on a customary drive, and Dellavedova back-pedaled with such cool-headed urgency that Bryant seemed surprised to see him there. The Lakers great barreled into the plucky Boomer - charged - turning it over. It was a very sound play for a young player on such a big stage.
I'll concede Dellavedova isn't prototypical for the NBA, and therefore easy to overlook. He's perhaps more plodding than other guards, and less dynamic than, say, Burke or Michael Carter-Williams (notably hyphenated). His speed has improved, however, and can get better, not to mention that his footwork is outstanding for a less athletic guard. He will hustle to the ball - there's no question of that. And in a team defense situation, he can manage redirecting the ball handler.
I'm not concerned about his defense for these reasons, and also because there are so many players at the pro level granted a free pass on defending simply because they're so spellbinding on offense. It's a weird double standard that penalizes slower or smaller guards who actually scrap for the ball and ferociously fight through screens.
To this point, I found it interesting that Baylor's Pierre Jackson was drafted in the second round last week, when he not only lacks size (he's 5-foot-11) but has been scouted as a player who falls asleep on defense. Sure, Jackson posts more points than Dellavedova and is far more explosive, but he's known for poor decisions, turning the ball over too much, and is a less accurate shooter than the former St. Mary's star. So who is making these calls anyway? Possibly the same sorts of suits that drafted Wesley Johnson over Paul George.
Now I'm not saying Dellavedova will definitely be on an NBA roster after the summer, but if Jackson is being afforded a shot with Philadelphia as the 42nd overall pick, then so should Dellavedova. At the very least, NBA coaches and scouts should consider his high basketball IQ which makes up for his lack of speed or bulk. He can dictate the pace of a game, find the open man, especially when penetrating the top of the key, and can knock down the open three. He'll organize the floor like a conductor and he'll bark at his teammates when they're letting up. He'll release the wing with a beautifully whipped chest past on the go, and he'll float a delicate runner like Tony Parker. Interested yet, dear scouts?
Granted, Dellavedova's not a billboard name. Heck, some people probably fumble over it like they're ordering from an antipasti menu. But he'll win over teammates and fans with his tenacity, effort and guile. I seem to remember a fairly unknown quantity named Steve Nash doing the same thing a few years ago.
The Cavs already have All-Star point Kyrie Irving, sure, but they do lack depth at that position. Dellavedova will head to Las Vegas to train with the team before meeting the competition, a task I'm certain he will acquit himself of, regardless of the final judgement.