National Basketball Association
Why do we talk about Matthew Dellavedova in absolutes?
National Basketball Association

Why do we talk about Matthew Dellavedova in absolutes?

Published Jun. 12, 2015 10:36 a.m. ET

By Joseph Nardone

Matthew Dellavedova has had a pretty wonderful NBA Finals through four games. The undrafted Saint Mary’s guard (in what is now a well-documented story…) has become a household name over the last handful of games because of his defense on Steph Curry. While the league MVP could certainly look inward and blame himself for part of his struggles, it has to be said that Dellavedova is substantially responsible for Curry’s inability to score in ways everyone has grown accustomed to.

It has also helped, sans Game 4, that Dellavedova has hit some key shots during the series, all of which have helped the Cleveland Cavaliers be tied 2-2 against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA Finals that had many predicting doom for the sports title-challenged city of Cleveland.

Something strange has happened, though. A combination of grit, hustle, and coffee (yeah, coffee), has turned Matthew Dellavedova into a “Delly” phenomenon — the kind of which would make Aaron Craft blush and Tim Tebow go weak in the knees.


Don’t get me wrong. Some of the credit attributed to the Aussie is richly deserved. He’s done his fair share of holding down the fort as better Cavs players, such as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are forced out due to injuries. In fact, whether he is the reason for Curry’s troubles or not, it is admirable that he’s playing so hard that it resulted in a hospital visit after Game 3. On the flip side of that, however, one must ask why — on one hand — we credit Delly for cramping up and attribute that to heart, but when LeBron James does it, his cramping is a sign of weakness or something — we’ll get to that in a minute.

Much of the Dellavedova hoopla has managed to find its way into a hyperbolic chamber of sorts, a machine that is attempting to make him into a folk hero, mythological beast, or another form of legendarily incomparable comic book hero that is getting a bit more credit than deserved.

It is tricky on one hand, but not really if you’re too far on either end of the spectrum.

The NBA Finals is more often than not the result of each teams’ stars getting their respective franchises in position to reach the pinnacle of the league. During the Finals themselves, most of the same can be said: Usually a star or two will lead a team to the top of the NBA mountain. However, there’s always a role player or two who hits clutch shots, plays above his means, or does some sort of crazy thing which helps his teammates get over the hump.

For Cleveland, if the Cavs are able to pull off the upset (and it would be an upset), the role player who would get most of the credit would be Matthew Dellavedova — deservedly so, but not in the vacuum in which his performance is currently being presented.

Other Cavs are having terrific series as well. This is worth pointing out, as many prefer to merely hand the credit to LeBron James, and “grit hero of the world” Delly. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov have both produced highly impactful games, with the latter having a truly great series. Mozgov has established himself as the most important player Cleveland has outside of The King.

Dellavedova, though, has managed to become “the” hero for many. Some of the reasons behind this development are surely educated. That part can’t be understated, because it is not as though his performances should simply be dismissed as some sort of fluke. At the same time, however, there’s a need to simmer on the praise sent his way: Delly is not exactly an eater-of-worlds or franchise player.

If we were to be honest with each other — and we should, because we are friends — part of the Delly love flows from some people wantingsomeone like him to have some exaggerated role on the sport’s biggest stage.

Ask yourself this: If Patrick Beverley were to have the very same series as Dellavedova, what would the narratives around the Houston Rockets’ guard be?

We should also be clear, too, as people are now using Delly’s “unknown” status as a way to justify their feelings, thoughts, and expectations for him: Dellavedova wasn’t and isn’t an unknown commodity. He was a two-time All-American in college, who most figured would be D-League-bound for most of his career, a guy who is (still) limited offensively and is (still) at best a rotational guy in the NBA that might give you good minutes in spurts. Delly just so happens to be excelling (still, only) in spurts on the grandest NBA stage.

“But, Ben Wallace and Bruce Bowen were both praised to the heavens for their…” — and Ben Wallace and Bruce Bowen were both NBA All-Star-level players, All-NBA Defense types, who were far superior to what Dellavedova is now.

It is also worth noting, since everyone loves Delly’s “grit” (my, how I hate that word), Tristan Thompson has been humorously gritty during the entirety of the playoffs as well. Why not as much love for him? Why is the grit-bubble relegated to a sole member of the Cleveland Cavaliers?

No matter what happens the rest of the way, the 2015-’16 NBA season will eventually happen, and Matthew Dellavedova will be on a team playing basketball. He probably won’t be a starter for any of them, at least not if they’re a good team, and there’s no reason to think he can play as hard has he has in the Finals throughout the rigorous grind of an 82-game season.

That leaves him as a player who isn’t a great scorer or good ball-handler, and who in no way possible can consistently create his own shot, on an NBA roster. This is meant sincerely: good for him for being in the league and staying in the league by finding a niche. Yet, it will also illustrate how insane the coverage of him has been during these particular NBA Finals.

Here is the simple, honest truth: People love Delly because he is white. That’s fine to an extent in a vacuum, but not when advanced at the expense of not crediting others who might be as deserving, or to inflate a player’s worth within the familiar “build him up to tear him down” pattern that is so (click-baitingly) familiar in modern mass-media circles. Dellavedova will have to face the repercussions of others’ stupidity and shortsightedness — we’ve already reached the point of people being on the far negative end of the Delly credit spectrum, in — presumably — attempts to supposedly “balance the scales.”

Does Delly deserve credit? Of course. He deserves as much as he’s earned, but not more than Thompson and certainly not more than Timofey Mozgov. Yet, that’s the way he has been covered, as though he was Cleveland’s second-best, or second-most important, player. He is neither.

Again, it has to be said to those who will claim this piece is an attempt to discredit Dellavedova: He has been really good. Let’s just keep the praise of him in context: reasonable, rational, and logical, and most important, in proportion to the bigger series-long contributions of Mozgov, the second-best Cavalier on the floor in these Finals. Given the way Delly has been talked about until this point in the Finals, you would not be blamed for thinking he’s on the verge of signing a $10 million-a-year deal for his exploits in the playoffs.

He’s been very good in this series, but that kind of money isn’t coming his way… since he’s not that good.

In reality, Matthew Dellavedova is a fringe NBA player who is playing his “best” basketball as a pro in front of the most eyes the sport sees on an annual basis, but he’s also a guy whom general managers would pass on for Patrick Beverley, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, and many others {insert every NBA player in the league sans maybe 40 guys — and I’m probably being generous}, each and every time that theoretical option is posed to them.

Delly can very well end up being a solid NBA player for over a decade, but it is also as likely that in three years we will look back at this series and giggle, much in the same way we have with other feel-good stories like Jeremy Lin. It is basketball, not a science, so there’s incredible wiggle room left to tell Delly’s story before it is all said and done. Hell, there are still at least two more games left in these NBA Finals to tell his story inside the context of this series.

So everyone stop, take a deep breath, and realize the insanity of this. I’m not sure how much credit is too much credit, but I do know that — as well as Delly’s been playing — he isn’t most of the things many people want him to be. He’s a mere role player who is having a solid (not great) NBA Finals — and that’s okay. That’s not a knock on him… and that’s much more than what has been expected from him … AND it is all a swell story….

Sure, people love the scrappy underdog story, specifically when part of the story is painted in a way which has a guy defying expectations. This is especially true when the guy looks like he doesn’t belong because we have a certain image we attach to certain kinds of realities in sports.

At the same time, though, we can most certainly give Delly credit without taking it to some of the absurd levels it has reached.

I’m not saying why fans should avoid giving Matthew Dellavedova credit. I’m asking why fans are giving it to him to the point of not being honest with themselves. If he gets credit for being a limited offensive player who has had three-ish good games because the guy he is defending has had a few poor shooting performances, why haven’t other guys in the league — who have done similar things better, while being more skilled offensively — gotten as much praise as the Delly-monster has?

Tell me in the comments section if I’m the one in the wrong here. Maybe I’m too stubborn on this topic.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Maybe I’m the Matthew Dellavedova of criticism, being dogged and tenacious … but then again, that sounds like the very same hyperbole I’m trying to speak against.

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