Still, one thing is blatantly clear in the early part of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2014-15 season: this team needs a backup point guard.
It’s not rational to jump to conclusions after just two games. After all, just think of how poor the Cavaliers looked in their opener against the Knicks but then how stellar they looked the next night against the Bulls.
One irrationality is often drawn from another though. And if it’s irrational to believe that the Cavaliers already need a backup point guard, it’s because it was irrational for the Cavaliers’ front office to have ever expected that Matthew Dellavedova could perform in this role.
This is not to knock Dellavedova. There’s plenty to like about the second-year, scrappy Saint Mary’s product.
His fire, his work ethic, his tenacity — it’s infectious. All of his teammates seem to feed off it.
However, the warts of Dellavedova’s game cannot be denied. He offers little offensively and is best utilized in spurts as perimeter defender. He excelled in this role last season, and there is no reason to believe he could not excel again in the same role.
That’s not the role that he’s been filling in the first two games though. He played 18 minutes on Thursday against the Knicks and then 30 minutes against the Bulls.
Dellavedova supposed to be known for his defense, but on numerous occasions, he was overmatched. This was especially true against the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich, who he struggled to keep up with for the entirety of the contest. Hinrich made it look so easy on several occasions; it was clear that Dellavedova, who was often out of position, was not yet capable of playing 30 minutes per evening.
In Dellavedova’s defense, he’s still merely a 24-year-old, second-year player and not yet a finished product. It would be selling him short to believe he could not still develop into the Cavaliers’ backup point guard of the future.
At this point though, he doesn’t see, to have the experience or athletic ability needed to man this position on a championship contending team. Kyrie Irving is one of the most dynamic point guards in the NBA, and there has been such a noticeable drop off in each of the Cavaliers’ first two games whenever he leaves for a breather.
Dellavedova averaged just 17.4 minutes per game last season, and that’s ideally where he should be this season as well. That number is destined to be much larger though as long as he is the team’s top sub for Irving.
On the year, Dellavedova has posted a PER of 6.9. The statistic, which was developed by John Hollinger as an all-in-one basketball rating, attempts to boil down all of a player’s contributions into one number. An average PER is typically around 15; Dellavedova recorded a PER of 10.7 last season while playing in a total of 72 games.
Perhaps we can expect Dellavedova to improve as he begins to grow into his new role, but even after two games, it seems like it would be stretch to believe that. His scrappy style is best for sprints — not marathons.
The one thing that has magnified Dellavedova’s early struggles is the fact that backup point guard has been one of the few bright spots on recent Cavaliers teams. During these past few seasons, when things have been increasingly difficult, the Cavaliers could still always rely on above-average play from the players that would spell Irving.
Remember Ramon Sessions? In 2011, Irving’s rookie year, Sessions was the team’s backup point guard. There was essentially no drop off when Irving left the court as Sessions averaged 10.5 points and 5.2 assists per game while posting a PER of 16.7.
Last season, Jarrett Jack did have the propensity to throw up some inefficient shots, but more often than not, he played some pretty good basketball at the point guard position. On the year, he averaged 9.5 points and 4.1 assists per game while posting a PER of 11.5.
In fact, take a look at the table below, which shows the numbers of each player who has primarily served as Irving’s top sub since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011.
|Ramon Sessions, 2011-12||41||24.5||10.5||5.2||16.4|
|Shaun Livingston, 2012-13||49||23.2||7.2||3.6||14.6|
|Jarrett Jack, 2013-14||80||28.2||9.5||4.1||11.5|
|Matthew Dellavedova, 2014-15||2||24.0||3.0||3.5||6.9|
It’s easy to forget, but even Shaun Livingston had a short, efficient stint with the Cavaliers. Again, Dellavedova has only played two games this season, so no conclusions can really be drawn from this data, but it’s hard to believe that he is capable of posting a season similar to his predecessors.
The other thing to remember here is that Irving gets hurt. It’s a common theme that has revealed itself during his first three professional seasons.
In his first three seasons, Irving has missed 15, 23 and 11 games, respectively, each year. One would garner to guess that he could go down at some point this season, which will only put greater pressure on his backup.
LeBron James would be capable of running point in Irving’s absence, but this likely would not be the most efficient use of James’ skills.
The one positive with this year’s team though is that the backup point guard will never need to be relied on to score, which is a welcomed change from recent seasons. With Irving, James, Dion Waiters, Kevin Love, Shawn Marion and Tristan Thompson, the team has a plethora of options capable of handling offensive duties.
This works in Dellavedova’s favor as we know he will never be much of a scoring threat. Still, if he continues to appear overmatched as he has in the team’s first two contests, then the Cavaliers are going to have to think about making a change or a move.
General Manager David Griffin and head coach David Blatt have likely already had this discussion, and a recent transaction this weekend seems to suggest that to be the case.
On Saturday, the Cavaliers waived A.J. Price to sign Will Cherry. Cherry, undrafted in 2013 out of Montana, spent last season with the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers’ affiliate in the NBA Development League.
Cherry averaged 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 18 games with the Charge. He then played on the Cavaliers’ Summer League this offseason and averaged 12.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
The Cavaliers would have probably retained Cherry for their preseason, but he was scooped up by the Toronto Raptors back in August before getting waived right before the start of the season last week.
It’s clear that the Cavaliers think very highly of the former Big Sky Conference standout. The contract he signed is a two-year deal and partially guaranteed; most D-Leaguers do not sign deals that are even remotely guaranteed. Also, is it any coincidence that Cherry was signed just one day after Dellavedova was schooled by Hinrich?
At six-foot, one-inch and 176 pounds, Cherry is not the biggest, but he was pretty impressive during the summer, even while playing alongside highly-touted first round picks like Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. He never seemed overmatched, and he seemed to relish the opportunity to play alongside players with so much hype.
It’s going to take some time for Cherry to learn Blatt’s offense and get acclimated, but it won’t be long before he finds himself in the wine and gold. The fact that the Cavs were willing to partially guarantee his deal proves that.
The Big Sky Conference is not exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to collegiate competition, but a look at Cherry’s collegiate numbers reveals two things: 1.) He can score as he averaged 14.1, 15.8 and 13.3 points per game in his final three seasons and 2.) He’s an efficient shooter. In all four of his college seasons, he shot over 48 percent from the field and over 40 percent from 3-point range.
If he can adapt to the NBA game, he might just be the perfect fit for this team’s backup point guard position. He likely will not need the ball in his hands to be effective as was the case with former point guards like Sessions and Jack, but he also seems capable of taking on an enhanced role if necessary. He is much more adept at scoring than Dellavedova, and his performances in both the D-League and Summer League prove that.
Really, dissecting Dellavedova’s flaws after just two games is pretty nitpicky, and it might be unfair to already call for a guy like Cherry to replace him.
But let’s just go ahead and say Cherry does stick on this team and does shore up the team’s backup point guard position. Wouldn’t that just be the icing on the cake? No, more appropriately, wouldn’t that the cherry on the shake?