CLEVELAND-Although wandering around dimly-lit city streets may not be the wisest of decisions, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt has some advice to offer if you do.
"If you're ever caught in a dark alley, you'd want Delly [Matthew Dellavedova] on your side," said Blatt. "If I am, I hope that guy's standing next to me."
This kind of unusual compliment is a testament not only to Dellavedova's toughness but also his ability to always have the back of those around him.
Over the course of his three NBA seasons, Dellavedova has blossomed from undrafted rookie to NBA Finals sparkplug to one of the most valuable players on the Cavs.
His boyish looks and "aw shucks" attitude combined with a heavy Australian accent led many to believe that Delly would be nothing more than a flash in the pan. A nice story to be sure, but not someone who could successfully sustain an NBA career.
After gaining national fame in last year's Finals, Dellavedova is now proving his importance to the championship-hopeful Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers were a hot mess in Dellavedova's 2013-14 rookie season.
Mike Brown was inexplicably hired back by the organization. Andrew Bynum was signed, suspended and traded all before February. Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes were traded for in desperation, only for both to walk in the offseason. Cleveland finished a disappointing 33-49, fired Brown and had few bright spots to hang on to.
One of these was Dellavedova, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 assists in his 17.7 minutes of court time.
The Cavaliers admired his all-out effort, defensive intensity and ability to irritate bigger and stronger opponents. While he shot a modest 36.8 percent from downtown, Delly was far from being considered an offensive threat. Even though his turnovers were few and far between, it was always an adventure with him bringing the ball up the court. Cleveland would often have to pair him with Kyrie Irving or Jarrett Jack, keeping a reliable ball-handler nearby.
Hustle and defense helped Dellavedova keep his job on a lottery-bound team. As soon as LeBron James signed on, it was clear everyone would have to raise their game.
To his credit and undying work ethic, Delly's done just that.
By year two, Dellavedova's ball-handing, outside stroke and ability to get into the paint had noticeably improved. His 40.7 percent success rate from deep was good for second on the Cavaliers. Blatt trusted him at point guard far more than Brown did, as Delly's playing time at the one jumped from 28.0 to 67.0 percent.
With Irving lost to a knee injury in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Dellavedova had to both increase his own offense while limiting MVP Stephen Curry's as well. Cleveland won the next two games with Delly as its starting point guard. After playing a combined 81 minutes, however, he had to be hospitalized following severe cramping and dehydration, to which he received an IV.
This kind of heroic spot-starting offered us a glimpse of just how tough the 25-year-old is and set up what's been a breakthrough season thus far.
Delly's marks of 8.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 44.1 3P%, 13.6 PER and 89.5 percent success rate from the free-throw line are all career highs.
Impact on Cavaliers
The best thing about Dellavedova has nothing to do with his own numbers, but rather the improvement of those around him.
The ultimate team player, Dellavedova always works to find the open man, either by land or by lob.
After James, no player has made as big of an impact on both the offense and defense. The Cavaliers score 13.0 more points per 100 possessions with Delly in the game, while allowing 7.8 fewer points over the same amount of time. This total improvement of 20.8 points is better than that of the next two closest Cavs, Tristan Thompson (plus-9.3) and Kevin Love (plus-8.6), combined.
At what point did he finally hit his stride?
"In the playoffs last year," Dellavedova told Bleacher Report. "I think it's carried over to this year."
"Matthew Dellavedova finds his way on the court because he helps his team win," praised Blatt. "People love hard-working people, hard-working guys who care about the team."
For Blatt, it doesn't matter who he plays Dellavedova with, as nearly all lineups featuring the Aussie have outscored opponents. Cleveland's four-man unit of Delly, James, Love and Thompson is beating teams by an average of 40.7 points per 100 possessions. Of the Cavs' top-five four-man lineups, only Dellavedova finds himself included in every one.
Not even James or Love can lay claim to that.
"He's made of steel, or something," James said during the Finals via an on-court interview with ESPN's Doris Burke. "If there's a ball on the ground, he's going to be the first guy to the ground. He's huge. He's huge for our team. He gives us that grit, that grit that we need. He gives us everything until the tank is empty, and he has a small little reserve tank that he continues to work through. He's huge for us.”
Delly is having quite the impact on The King himself, too.
James carries a plus/minus rating of plus-10.5 this season. With Dellavedova on the court with him, this number jumps to plus-17.4. When Delly sits, James' rating drops to plus-3.4, per NBA.com.
Perhaps no player has benefited more from Delly's presence than his alley-oop partner, Thompson. Not someone to create offense for himself, Thompson needs to be set up by good point guard play. This season, the bench duo has been an unstoppable force.
Cleveland's Delly-Thompson combination is outscoring opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions. Thompson is receiving more than a third of all his passes from Dellavedova, to which he's shooting a whopping 75 percent. From James, Thompson converts just 57.9 percent of his tries, per NBA.com.
With Delly alongside him, Thompson averages 14.7 points and 19.9 rebounds per 100 possessions and is plus-16.3 while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. Without him, these numbers drop to 10.2 points, 14.2 rebounds, minus-10.8 and 40.5 percent shooting.
The pair are a regular threat to connect on a lob and dunk, something Bleacher Report's Dan Carson affectionately refers to as "Koalobs." When asked his thought on the name, Dellavedova politely referred to it as "creative," adding "whatever you come come up with is good. I can't think of anything myself."
Whatever you want to call Delly's passing, it's starting to reach elite levels. His 3.69 assist-to-turnover ratio is the NBA's best, while he's also top-8 in free throw assists and secondary, or hockey, assists. His 9.0 dimes per 48 minutes is higher than that of Curry (8.4), Kyle Lowry (8.4) and James (8.2).
Cleveland simply operates so much more smoothly on both ends when Dellavedova takes the floor.
With no Irving yet this season, Dellavedova has played a large role yet again and has recently been inserted into the starting lineup over veteran Mo Williams.
When Irving and shooting guard Iman Shumpert make their returns, however, what will it mean for Delly?
Blatt has to find time for his bulldog guard, even if it means experimenting with smaller, quicker lineups.
"He's going to have the same role he's always had here," Blatt said. "He'll be playing. He'll be contributing. His minutes won't be the same just by nature since we have two starting guards who are sitting on the sideline right now, plus Mo Williams, who's playing really good basketball."
While Delly likely can't keep up on his 28.5 minute-per-night run, we should still see a solid 10-15 minutes out of him.
The Cavaliers' best lineup may end up being a backcourt of Irving and Dellavedova with Shumpert and James at the forwards. From there, Blatt could use either Love or Thompson depending on matchups and need for offense or defense.
At this point, Dellavedova isn't just a nice story or hustle player, but arguably the most valuable Cavalier not wearing No. 23.
Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @CavsGregBR. All quotes originally obtained unless otherwise noted. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise sourced and are current as of Dec. 10.