Matthew Dellavedova went undrafted in 2013. There were questions about his speed, there were questions about his athleticism and there were questions about his ability to hang with NBA players.
As it turns out, defense and toughness are wildly underrated.
Yes, aside from LeBron James, Dellavedova has been arguably the most important player in the NBA Finals. How surprised should we be by the Aussie’s ascent?
“I’m surprised it’s happened this quickly, just two years into (his career),” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Playing the point guard position, it takes awhile. I always thought he was an NBA player. I was pretty adamant about that and just kind of shocked that people didn’t see it the same way we did. I see why, though. He’s not what they’re looking for as far as super quick and super athletic, but he is good defensively – and that’s where people were sleeping on him. He was a really good defender in college. We could put him on whoever the best perimeter player was, and I can’t ever remember a guy really – actually, Damian Lillard hurt us – but that’s about it. And the rest of the guys, he would shut down.
“But it doesn’t surprise me when you’re keeping score and he’s playing in a game and it’s about competing and how hard you’ll compete,” Bennett continued. “It doesn’t surprise me that he succeeds in that because I think he’s an elite-level competitor. People just throw that out on people, but this guy’s special. He’s a good offensive player. He makes good plays. At that level, he’s not the guy you’re going to play off, but he’s does some subtle thing offensively that help you win.”
Dellavedova can hit outside jumpers and shoot the floater, but his true value is on defense. How has he been able to stymy Steph Curry?
“He’s not giving him any easy shots,” Bennett said. “Matt’s really smart, really disciplined, and he’s really tough. So he’s not going to make mistakes on Curry. Curry is just going to have to just out-quick him or get some help with an on-ball (screen) where somebody else has to guard him and can split it – like he did last night. He’ll get Tristan Thompson one-on-one with a switch. But Matt, he’s not going to make mistakes. He’s going to know what the play is as soon as Curry makes a cut. He has a really high basketball IQ. He’s going to play every situation the right way, and he’s not going to give Curry easy baskets. But Curry can make some tough shots. If he makes tough shots, then he’s going to score on the Cavs, but I don’t think he’ll get a lot of easy ones as long as Matt’s involved in it.”
Bennett expected a close and competitive NBA Finals, and that’s exactly what he’s gotten.
“I thought the Warriors had more talent – and I still do,” he said. “They have more depth, I should say. But I thought it was going to be a tight series. I would maybe give the edge to Golden State because they had home-court (advantage), but everyone thought it was a bigger gap than I thought it was. They’re different. They’re two different teams. The Cavaliers are a gritty, tough, grindy team – except they’ve really become good defensively and they really play hard. I thought if they could take the Warriors off the three and out of transition, then it’s who’s got the best player. And I think it’s pretty obvious who’s got the best player.”