Hell, even the local alt-mag got in on the lovefest, publishing an October article called "White Rabbit: Matthew Dellavedova is the Scrappy Backup Cleveland Can't Help but Love".
But that hoopla amplified how valuable a player he is. And with injuries depleting the roster and coach David Blatt developing an unhealthy fascination with his play, Delly is being exposed for exactly what type of player he is.
First, it's worth establishing that Delly's game was never as good as the perception of his game.
He is an excited defensive player and mediocre ball handler and shooter. He can be beaten by savvy and athletic guards, most recently Tony Wroten (who scored the game winner on an over matched Delly in Philadelphia).
His PER from last year, 10.7, would rank, this year, between Robert Sacre, with a blistering 10.73 PER, good for 265th in the NBA, and Marcus Smart, with a 10.68 PER. (Stats from Basketball-Reference.com)
To this point, Delly's 2014-2015 PER is a flat 6.0. I'm not even sure where he ranks. (Yes I am. That's the 336th best PER in the league. Want perspective? Kendrick Perkins has a PER of 8.13. You remember Kendrick Perkins, don't you? He's the guy you're always making fun of with your buddies.)
Last season, in 17.7 minutes per game, he averaged 4.7 points, 2.6 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.1 blocks. His 3-point percentage was .368 and his overall field goal percentage was .412. He shot about 79 percent from the line.
These are backup numbers from a perennial backup player. I understand that cities frequently develop a fascination with bench players because of their unheralded status. Cheering for Delly is like being the cool kid who knows about a band before his friends do. You're in on something that other fans may not be.
And Delly is occasionally a fun player to watch; a spark plug from the bench that enters the game with frenzied energy, lunging after rebounds and attacking opposing ball handlers. But he's ultimately an Eh player. If he leaves your team, someone else will fill the void. If he stays, Eh.
Then David Blatt came in. A lifelong Euroleague coach, Blatt is used to players like Delly; overachieving, energetic, easy to coach. Malleable.
But Blatt's Cavaliers team was not composed of Matthew Dellavedovas. He's managing one of the most top-heavy and top-talented rosters in the league. James, Irving and Love (who was talked about as a Top 10 Player as recently as last season) all came to Blatt as experienced vets with egos and a desire for the ball. There's nothing wrong with that, either. Great players should demand the ball, it's their right.
The opening night lineup was filled with the Cavaliers most talented players: Irving at point, Marion at shooting guard, James at small forward, Love at power forward and Varejao at center. Dion Waiters captained the second unit. This was a veteran starting five being led by a rookie NBA coach.
That first game was a disaster. James' homecoming was spoiled by a pathetic Knicks team. The Cavs looked lackluster. James was miserable, shooting poorly and playing piss poor defense. The defense was porous and far too much isolation ball was played.
As the season stretched on and the wins didn't pile up, Blatt made a decision. He was going to roll with Delly.
Delly is not a starting quality guard in the NBA. He's just not. Anyone with eyeballs and a common sense notion of the game can tell you that.
Then why is he averaging 23 minutes per game this season? Or 26 minutes the last 10 games? Or 34.7 minutes in the last three games? (Stats from ESPN)
It's certainly not his his increased production. This season, Delly is scoring 4.4 ppg (down from last season), 2.2 rebounds (up from last season by .5 rebounds), 3.3 assists (up by .7), 0.4 steals (down by .1) and .1 blocks (the same). He's essentially giving you less production in 7 more minutes per game.
Delly is slow for an NBA guard, his handle is respectable but not good or great, and it's very difficult for him to get where he wants to on the floor. He especially struggles to penetrate.
He's not a great leaper, nor does he have great wingspan. But right now, this second, what's his biggest problem?
He's forgotten how to shoot. While his 3-point percentage has increased from roughly .370 to .390, his overall field goal percentage has plummeted. He went from shooting .412 from the field last year, to a dismal .309 this year. And he's taking one more shot per game then he was last year.
We can keep hoping this is a shooting slump but Joe Harris, the Cavs rookie from Virginia, was pulled out of the lineup for a similar struggle.
Why is he playing?
The obvious answer is injuries. Irving, James, Marion and Love have all been injured forcing Blatt to get creative with his lineups. When Love was absent, he would occasionally push Marion to the four slot and Thompson to the five, leaving a gap at the two or three spot. Thus, Delly plays.
The other answer is that Dion Waiters never caught on with management. Waiters was reportedly temperamental, clashing with coaches, teammates and most frequently star point guard Kyrie Irving. He allegedly believed that he was as good or better than the 22 year old, two time NBA All-Star. It is worth noting here, somewhat sarcastically, that Waiters didn't start for his college team, Syracuse. To prove a point, Blatt and management decide to play Delly.
It is also worth noting that cronyism is another problem that has plagued this Cleveland team. General Manager David Griffin has clearly made a series of concessions to his prodigal son of a star player, LeBron James, bringing aboard Mike Miller and James Jones and refusing to mention Tristan Thompson in trade talks. Those two hires left the Cleveland wing position thin and old and the rim wildly unprotected. To provide youth and defense, Delly plays.
Struggling on defense
The Cavs are a poor defensive team that are not helped by an aggressive system. Blatt sends his big men all over the court, demanding hard hedging on pick-and-rolls. This system might have worked in Miami with the light-footed Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen but it has been an unmitigated disaster with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao. Opposing guards are either scoring on drives to the hoop, pulling up for uncontested Js, hitting a rolling big man or finding themselves in isolation against players like Delly.
(I can go into the stats in another article, but dig this: Cleveland's opponents are shooting 62.9 percent against them, the second worst mark in the league. And Cleveland is giving up the second most shots between 5-9 feet.)
Adding a rim protector might help. It might alleviate some of Delly's embarrassment and erase some of his mistakes. But it still doesn't excuse his being out there for 20+ minutes a game, particularly when he's shooting at an awful clip.
The biggest issue for Delly is that Blatt seems to love him too much. Delly might recover some of his game if he wasn't being asked to carry the team. With Irving injured and Waiters yanked from the lineup at the last second, Delly played a startling 39 minutes. He scored three points on 1 of 7 shooting. He clanked two free throws that would have won the game. He also missed two late-game clutch shots.
Some of that is on Delly. He has to hit those free throws, regardless of anything else.
But he played 40 minutes. Shawn Marion played 20 minutes. Mike Miller played 25. AJ Price (who played well in the game) got a measly 13 minutes. Delly got 40. Forty minutes. And he more or less lost the game.
Delly doesn't decide how much time he receives on the court, though. David Blatt does. Which brings me to this.
David Blatt, you have JR Smith now, you'll have Iman Shumpert soon. We're still praying that Griffin adds a legitimate big man to the roster. Stop playing Delly. Stop it. Please God, stop playing him. He's not that good. He's not that talented. He's a bench player. Put him back on the bench. Give him Alex Kirk's minutes and sit him down.