Nobody could’ve predicted that an undrafted St. Mary’s product would be the most polarizing player of the 2015 NBA playoffs. Yet Matthew Dellavedova is logged the fifth-most minutes played of anyone on the Cleveland roster in the Eastern Conference finals, hit contested jump shots in the waning minutes of single-digit games and was even the focal point of three oft–debated highlights that substantially altered three playoff games.
It should be no surprise that the Aussie is contributing this postseason—he had the highest assist-to-turnover ratio (3.44) of anyone on the roster during the regular season, and is one of three players on the team that generated more than 200 assists this season. The regular season player that averaged less than five points on fewer than five shot attempts is long gone: Dellavedova has scored in double figures five times already in the postseason (he did that just nine times during the regular season), and is posting an assist percentage of 20.4 in the playoffs, too, the second highest on the roster and 12th-highest among players that have participated in more than 10 playoff games.
However, that effectiveness—at least, on the scale seen in recent weeks—likely comes to a screeching halt in the NBA Finals.
A significant portion of the progression stems from Kyrie Irving’s numerous injuries, which have kept the all star point guard out of two games and limited his minutes in three others. In his absence, Dellavedova’s usage has spiked from 12.6 percent in the regular season to 16.8 percent in the playoffs—with the team allowing him to run the offense sporadically throughout the postseason.
Using TeamSPACE data from Nylon Calculus’ Matt D’Anna, it’s evident that not much has changed for the guard in terms of his hunting ground. D’Anna’s hunting ground data plots areas on the court where a player shoots most often and is most successful from. In Dellavedova’s case, not much has changed from the regular season to the playoffs save for his willingness to attack the rim and rely predominantly on one side of the arc for his attempts.
This lack of change creates a troubling reality: His efficient play is likely fleeting, and inconsistent against stout defensive teams. Although his rise-above-expectation play has been vital for the team thus far, it will extremely difficult for him to make a positive imprint on this series.
Using his 6-foot-4 frame, Dellavedova played well in the last two rounds when matched up with smaller point guards Aaron Brooks and Dennis Schröder. However, there’s almost no scenario where Dellavedova will have a height advantage in this series, and Golden State’s longball lineup could give him fits on both ends of the court. If nothing else, they’ll create an environment that he hasn’t played in yet this postseason—one where he has to work to create his looks.
His shooting stroke has remained tepid since mid-April: Delly, as he’s colloquially referred to, shot just 36.2 percent on jump shots during the regular season; in the playoffs, he’s shooting 36.5 percent. Though he is shooting the fifth-highest effective field goal percentage on the team (49.4), among players that have logged more than 300 minutes this postseason, much of that is a byproduct of open looks—which won’t be available against Golden State. They just won’t. Nearly 40 percent of his shot attempts have come when a defender is positioned more than six feet away from him, a wide-open shot according to NBA SportVU data, and 60 percent of his field goal attempts this postseason have been from beyond the arc. He rarely creates his own shot, instead relying on the more efficient catch-and-shoot attempts (49.4 percent of his shot attempts this postseason came without dribbling) and just 10.8 percent of his field goal attempts have come with a defender 0-2 feet from him. His field goal percentage landslides when he’s tightly guarded, too.
Moreover, Golden State has been holding playoff opponents to 31 percent on contested shots from three-point territory, and are allowing just 6.3 three-pointers per game, the second-lowest team average of all playoff teams in both metrics.
Dellavedova’s meteoric rise has helped the Cavaliers to where they are now: a team with a shot at an NBA title. However, the odds are stacked against him in this series, and his exceptional play will likely fall back to earth in the NBA Finals.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.