As you’ve likely heard by now, the Milwaukee Bucks will reportedly sign Matthew Dellavedova to a four-year, $38.4 million offer sheet when teams are allowed to begin signing players on July 7. Dellavedova is a restricted free agent, so Cleveland will have 72 hours to match Milwaukee’s offer, but, given this Tweet from LeBron James and word from various NBA reporters, it sounds like Cleveland will not match.
First things first: Get over the money. The salary cap is going up $24 million. Money is out there. If Milwaukee hits the salary cap next season, which seems reasonable, Dellavedova’s deal takes up approximately 10.2% of their cap. For comparison’s sake, in 2010-11, the Bucks had a total team salary of $67.3 million and Drew Gooden made up 8.6% of that total salary, at $5.76 million. Delly is making more money, but he’s only taking up a fraction more of the team’s overall salary than Gooden did and he’s probably going to be tasked with a similar grand scheme role.
Now, if you think that role is too big for Matt Dellavedova, that may be fair. But let’s think about what that role is going to be before we do any more screaming and shouting.
As Milwaukee was working on its deal with Dellavedova Friday afternoon, news broke about two unrestricted free agent guards who played for the Bucks last season. Jerryd Bayless will sign with the Philadelphia 76ers and O.J. Mayo will play for no one, as the NBA announced he’s been “dismissed and disqualified” from the NBA. He’ll have the opportunity to apply for re-entry after two seasons. Dellavedova will be part of the group tasked with replacing last season’s veteran guards.
Not that Milwaukee’s facing some monumental task in replacing Bayless and Mayo. Bayless finished fourth in the NBA last season in 3-point percentage and was generally productive across two seasons in Milwaukee for just $3 million per year. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, he missed 30 games with various injuries last season, which hurt his overall impact. Opinions on Mayo varied, as some seemed to appreciate what he was bringing to the table as a veteran who commanded respect in the locker room and others couldn’t get past his productivity lapses. He missed the final 17 games of the season for Milwaukee after it was announced he fell down some stairs at home. That was all very strange and now seems even more unusual given his ban.
Replacing Bayless and Mayo (Bayo?) isn’t Gotham City attempting to replace Batman and Robin. These two were not centerpieces, crucial to Milwaukee’s future. Replacing them is like Marvel sorting out the back end of the Avengers roster. There’s a guy named Nova on the back end of the current Avengers roster. I have no idea who that is. That’s Delly. He’ll be a member of the Bucks rotation next season, but if we’re ever saying, “Well once Delly gets back, Milwaukee will turn it around,” as some said about Mayo last season, we’ll know the season is spinning out of control.
The Bucks will go as far as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton will take them. As long as those guys are here, that sentence will be correct.
But Delly will have a role and him successfully filling that role will make life easier for the stars. His strengths are considered to be his ability to hit the 3-point shot, defense and selflessness. Milwaukee will ask him to play to those strengths.
He’s a career 39.8% 3-point shooter coming off his best season from deep. He was the 11th most accurate 3-point shooter in the league last year at 41%. Two out of every three of his 3-point attempts were catch and shoot threes and he shot 46% on those threes. That all sounds pretty good in a vacuum! The Bucks need shooting, and this guy does it. Perfect fit.
But how does that stack up with some of his peers? I found six players who ranked in the top-20 in 3-point field goal percentage with at least 100 3-point attempts last season that do some of the same things Delly does. Each of these guys either primarily plays point guard or could comfortable moonlight in the position. Among this group, Delly ranked towards the bottom in percentage of his overall 3-point attempts that came off a catch, while Bayless ranked near the top:
When I first heard about the signing, I was worried about Delly leaving LeBron. Last year, Delly was a much better 3-point shooter with LeBron James on the court (46%) than he was with LeBron off the court (33%). And some guys struggled when they no longer had LeBron around. When James left the Cavs in 2010, Mo Williams was a mess, going from a 40%+ 3-point shooter to a sub 30% 3-point shooter. But when he landed on a solid Clippers team later that season, he was back over 39%. Teammates make a difference. Delly isn’t shifting roles in a major way, like Williams going from sidekick to star. Delly will still be a role player, and the Bucks aren’t likely to be one of the league’s worst teams.
Hell, if another 10% of Delly’s 3-point attempts next season are catch and shoot, perhaps he could even see his 3-point percentage increase with the Bucks. That’d be a huge boon for Milwaukee. He isn’t a very creative passer, he won’t chip in any offensive rebounds and he basically never attempts a free throw. Delly isn’t super gifted, folks. But offensively, the Bucks are very likely to ask Delly to do little more than move the ball, avoid turnovers, throw the occasional lob pass to John Henson (or whatever big they end up using alongside Delly) and make open 3-pointers.
Even though they look weird, it feels fairly safe to say Dellavedova should remain a good 3-point shooter with the Bucks. He made 38% of his threes in college and 37% before LeBron arrived in Cleveland.
It seems fair to assume that Delly’s was a target for Milwaukee largely due to his defense and selflessness, though.
His defense of Stephen Curry in the 2015 finals turned him into something of a cult hero. He shadowed Curry and momentarily made life a little bit more challenging for the world’s greatest shooter. While he isn’t an actual Curry Stopper and he wasn’t important enough defensively that Cleveland felt like he had to be on the court in the finals, he still offers a lot on that end. His size and mobility allows him to matchup on most guards. He’s 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and he plays a physical style. He’ll give Milwaukee some versatility. Most importantly, he’ll give Milwaukee disciplined versatility.
He seems like the type of player to take his responsibilities on the defensive end very seriously. After Milwaukee’s struggles with rotations and being disciplined last season, that should be a breath of fresh air for Sean Sweeney and the rest of the coaching staff.
The other question about Dellavedova that always comes up is about his … uh … style. He was literally voted the NBA’s dirtiest player in a small poll of players and officials around the league last season. Of course, dirty is a subjective descriptor. I have a hunch that Tim Grgurich, who hangs out around the Bucks a lot and has been around the league for over 20 years, would see no problem with how Delly plays. The Cavs certainly seemed to appreciate having him on the roster. It’s easy to get a quote out of a coach or player about how hard working a teammate is, but almost every story that’s been written about Dellavedova has centered on the theme that he never stops working or trying. He’s all effort. He’s all hard work. It’s easy to believe those stories simply by checking the math on Delly.
By one estimate, in early 2014, just over 3,000 players had played in the NBA. Let’s say that list has jumped to 3,150 now, factoring in new players over the past season and a half. 708 players have played in at least one game without being drafted. That’s 22.4% of all players. Those odds are not favorable. Delly overcame them. That’s work, effort and not being an asshole. It feels good having a guy like that on a roster – so long as he’s contributing.
What Delly will contribute will be interesting to watch, maybe even painful at times. He’s got a strange release on his 3-pont shot, but that’s just one part of his game. In watching tape of him as part of my research for this post, I got to thinking that he was sort of like the anti-Tracy McGrady. He makes everything look difficult. Can’t you already hear yourself saying stuff like this to your friends:
- “I think he does more than just stand there on offense. He moves the ball really well. THAT’S WHAT THEY NEED.”
- “Yeah, he looks kind of weird out there, but he hustles his ass off.”
- “Okay, maybe it does look like he’s launching a water balloon from a slingshot when he releases, but he hits 40% of his threes.”
- “No, I haven’t seen too many other players jump on another guy’s back, but his teammates seem to like him, so I don’t know what to say.”
- “I don’t want to come off as defending a guy who lets the air out of the tires of the other team’s bus before it can get to the arena, but I think it does show how much he wants to win.”
He’s an unorthodox player. I don’t think I can really sell you one way or the other on Matthew Dellavedova. It’s tough to get too excited about signing a player who doesn’t have the traditionally admirable physical traits of a basketball player. He’s not big or fast. He doesn’t jump very high. He went St. Mary’s. Cleveland’s lineup that featured him in the finals two seasons ago was described as LeBron and a bunch of scrubs/nobodies/bench players. Then he largely remained on the bench as the Cavaliers took down the Warriors in seven this season.
But he does some real things! I know coach speak is coach speak, but this is pretty a strong endorsement from Tyronn Lue last April:
“If you don’t you love Delly, then you don’t love basketball. Seriously.”
Of course, this is the same Lue who had a chance to use Delly in the finals and played him for a total of 45 minutes. (Update: It’s been pointed out that injury played a role here. He injured his ankle in game two. But injury was not cited as the reason his time was limited. Definitely possible it made him a less effective player though.) That’s the opposite of an endorsement. When the Cavs needed to win games, they didn’t think Delly was their best option.
This is a signing anyone can spin either way. Maybe the Bucks overpaid for a guy who not only isn’t the answer as a backup point guard, but is going to force them to keep looking and commit more money to the position. Or maybe the Bucks found someone who’s a perfect fit next to Giannis.
We’ll find out.
(I recognize this may be an unsatisfying end of the post. But I mean, what do you want? I can’t say if this is good or bad. We’ll watch games next season and we’ll say, “That signing was good!” or “That signing was bad.” I dunno, man.)