Discover more from The Antisocial Basketballer
Delly The Scorer
Plus Ja Morant's MVP case, Josh Green, Lakers trade value, Illawarra Hawks and Mojave King.
Matthew Dellavedova, Returning Hero, Scoring Threat?
When it was announced that Matthew Dellavedova would be signing back in the NBL with Melbourne United, basketball fans in Australia were understandably excited. Here was an Olympic hero, an NBA champion, a modern representation of the Australian style of play, grittiness bordering on dirtiness in the eyes of some, but always unwavering and relentless.
Matthew Dellavedova’s unexpectedly decorated (at least if you knew him coming out of Saint Mary’s back in 2013) NBA career was characterised by being the cliche “glue guy.” That guy who would make the extra pass, put his body on the line in the face of much larger humans, and hit open threes.
Delly is the epitome of talent maximisation.
Australian fans knew he was capable of more than just being that hustle merchant, though. A senior year average of nearly 16 points a game and over 6 assists in a very competitive West Coast Conference, featuring teams like BYU and Gonzaga, while shooting over 38% from three, doesn’t come from being a corner specialist. You don’t get named to the preseason Wooden Award Watchlist for being a glue guy.
And of course, those 2016 Olympics, maybe the peak of Delly’s career in terms of his actual play. Fresh off an NBA championship, Delly rolled into Rio and put in 9 points and 7 assists a game, while only turning it over 1.4 times a game, and shooting a scorching 47% from three. At the right level, Delly could produce numbers.
But back to the NBL, when it was revealed Delly was coming home, besides the aforementioned excitement at one of the sport’s prodigal sons returning, I had some doubts. The NBL, from top to bottom, is the best it’s been since maybe it’s halcyon days in the mid 1990s. It’s got global eyes, blue chip imports and highly sought after NCAA and NBA draft prospects choosing it as the next step before the big leagues.
This isn’t a cupcake league anymore, and the last two years of Delly’s play got me hesitant. It can be traced back almost to the 2019 World Cup, where we were presented with an entirely different (albeit still very ugly) jumpshot to the one we’d gotten used to. It didn’t work.
Then came the concussions and other injury woes. In his final two seasons in Cleveland, he played a total of 70 games, including only 13 in 2020/21.
The final cherry was the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Delly’s spot on the plane was booked through years of dedication and service to the national program, his place was never questioned.
But as the tournament wore on, we saw the sands of time wear thin, as Dante Exum, Matisse Thybulle and Josh Green began proving themselves as more effective options for the fast paced style the Boomers needed to run. All this culminated in Delly getting benched for the critical bronze medal game against Luka Doncic and the Slovenians.
Delly came into the NBL after effectively washing out of the NBA and winning a legacy medal in Tokyo. A highly decorated player but one with plenty of mileage and legitimate questions. His handle has never been elite, he hasn’t really shown the ability to create his own looks, his shooting percentages were worrisome and his defence, which relied on effort over physical gifts, was beginning to wane.
The early NBL results weren’t good. In his first six games, he averaged 7.7 points and 5 assists with 2.5 turnovers, while only shooting 32% from the field and a miserable 11% from three (2/19). A lot of that production came in a 19 point, 10 rebound, 5 assist loss to the Phoenix. Dire numbers.
However, after a two week break where the league effectively paused to manage a COVID outbreak, Delly has been more aggressive looking to score, and has been paying it off. Take a look at his numbers from his last four games.
15.5 points, 6.3 assists, 2 turnovers, 48% FG, 59% 3PT
Sure, Delly exploded in a win over Illawarra with 33 points and 9 assists while nailing 7-11 threes, but his last four games have all been that more aggressive mindset. He’s cracked double digits in scoring three times in the last four, compared to just once in the opening six.
Delly’s threat to score opens up so many new facets for an already overpowered Melbourne United offense. Caleb Agada, a prized recruit fresh off an Olympic campaign with Nigeria, took a few games to settle but has been strong as both a lead guard and off guard with both Dellavedova and Chris Goulding.
Jo Lual-Acuil, widely considered amongst the upper echelon of NBL big men, has continued his strong form from last season, while the returning Jack White appears to be shaking off the rust following a lengthy injury layoff.
And of course, we know what Chris Goulding is about.
Delly being that threat removes a double team from one of these other weapons. Earlier in the season, with FIBA rules, teams could get away with abandoning Delly outside and doubling Lual-Acuil down low, or sending two at Goulding coming off a curl cut or flare screen.
Scouting reports will still list Delly lower due to his traditional variance and short burst of hot shooting, but if this is him turning a corner as a shooter and scorer, then Melbourne add another cylinder to a Formula 1 engine in a go-kart meet.
The playmaking will always be there (Delly is third in the league in assists), and the shooting might come and go. But with Delly being even a league average threat from behind the arc, teams will be forced to match up on him and stop cheating off, leaving their top tier offensive threats like Agada, Goulding and Lual-Acuil in single coverage.
The threat to shoot and score for Delly doesn’t just help his teammates though. If Delly rebuilds his reputation as that shooter, close outs suddenly become more aggressive. Instead of a token stunt before going to the glass for a rebound, a defender will have to begin legitimately closing out with a hand up.
That presents two new wrinkles for United.
One, Delly shoots the ball despite the close out. Delly is intelligent enough to still read the close out. If it’s slightly lazy or short, he’ll let it fly, but by shooting it, regardless of make or miss, he’s done his job, because it’s dragged a rebounder away from the paint, creating more room for Lual-Acuil or Mason Peatling, both good offensive rebounders.
Alternatively, in the event of an out of control close out, the fly by presents itself as an option. Here, Delly can fake the three and force his defender to over commit. From this, he can either shoot once the defender has cleared, or drive inside for one of his patented push floaters, or drive and kick to one of his bevy of other shooters.
The threat to score is so much more than a couple of extra points per game for one man, it’s a whole new element in an already stacked offense.
That’s bad news for the rest of the league.
So if you’ve been following the NBA even casually this season you’ve probably seen a lot, and I mean, A LOT, of Ja Morant highlights floating around. The third year Grizzlies guard is one of the most mixtape level players in the league, with his handles and 40+ inch vertical leap, creating Kodak moments on both ends of the floor.
Morant averages over 25 points a game this season, while dishing a shade under 7 assists, and pulling down 6 rebounds, all while shooting nearly 49% from the floor and 35% from three, pretty good for a man they said couldn’t shoot coming out of Murray State in 2019.
It takes a certain level of special to make a team OK with missing out on Zion Williamson in the draft. Ja Morant has been that level of special.
But with his play comes attention, and with attention comes discussion, and with discussion comes claims. The claim today?
“Ja Morant is my MVP”
Now, full disclosure, I pulled that directly from the mouth of Greg Kelser, the colour commentator for the Detroit Pistons on Bally Sports Detroit, during today’s game between the Pistons and Denver Nuggets. The crew were discussing MVP candidates and Kelser listed Morant as his first choice.
Kelser was just my inspiration for this segment, but he definitely isn’t alone in his summation.
So is Ja Morant the MVP?
Right now, Basketball Reference lists Morant at 10th on its MVP tracker, with a 2.1% chance at winning the award.
As we can see, the MVPs for each of the last two seasons, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, are the firm favourites to win the award, with everyone else making up numbers.
Back to Kelser’s original case, I did find it hilarious that he was espousing the case for Morant while quite literally watching Jokic put up 28 points, 21 rebounds and 9 assists while dragging the undermanned Nuggets to another win, albeit against a terrible Pistons squad boosted mainly by Cade Cunningham’s historic 34 point, 8 rebound, 8 assist, 4 block game, the second such game from a rookie in NBA history, after only Michael Jordan (if you thought I wasn’t going to reference that today you don’t know me at all).
The MVP discussion always develops interesting storylines and subplots. It really comes down to what you define as valuable.
Both the Bucks (30-19) and Nuggets (25-21) have pretty much sleepwalked through the regular season for differing reasons. The Bucks, in a weaker, top heavy Eastern Conference, can afford to rest guys. Coming off a title, the regular season is an extended tune up.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, have been bitten hard by injury. Pretty much everyone not named Facundo Campazzo, Aaron Gordon and Monte Morris have missed time at one point or another.
So that raises the question, how do you value the MVP? Is it raw numbers? The best player on the best team? A player dragging a middling team up?
To me, the MVP race right now has two legit candidates and 4-5 fringe guys.
Jokic and Giannis are the two frontrunners, and it’s so mind bogglingly obvious to me that I get annoyed when someone else comes up. Inexplicable voter fatigue will be the only reason, at this point in the season, to me anyway, why one of these two won’t win it.
The other contenders, to me, are Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan and Ja Morant.
I appreciate Lebron’s greatness every year, and the Lakers might legitimately be a 13 seed without him, but his case to me is a lite version of someone like Morant or Jokic this year, dragging a team up. Chris Paul has far too much help at Phoenix for me to legitimately think he’s a contender, while Kevin Durant and James Harden take votes off each other, and the return of Kyrie Irving won’t help that moving forward.
Joel Embiid is the Philadelphia 76ers right now. To me, he’s the closest thing the top two have to a challenger. His raw numbers are insane at over 28 points and nearly 11 rebounds a game, but it’s how Philly seemingly only wins right now by riding on Embiid’s back.
Steph Curry will always have a place on this list by name alone, but the Warriors have been an elite team all season on the back of his play. Funnily enough, what might hurt him is his numbers not being amazing due to the amount of blowouts the Warriors perpetrate, which is a ridiculous thing to say about someone averaging 26 and 6 in 34 minutes a game.
Rudy Gobert’s MVP candidacy has risen in large part due to his absence recently. While out, the Jazz’s defensive deficiencies were laid bare for all to see, and people began to appreciate how much of the perimeter’s weaknesses are covered up by the multiple time Defensive Player of the Year.
DeMar DeRozan was a popular early alternative vote due to Chicago’s hot start, but for some reason his campaign has cooled, not even making the top ten of Basketball Reference’s tracker. DeRozan is still averaging 26-5-5 for the second placed Chicago Bulls. What hurts DeRozan, I’m guessing, is the presence of Zach LaVine, and the stellar play of the supporting cast guys like Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Lonzo Ball and Nik Vucevic.
Ja Morant’s case is similar to DeRozan’s but boosted a touch by a much tougher Western Conference, in which the Grizzlies sit third at 32-17. Morant’s supporting cast, like DeRozan’s, has been stellar, elevated by the play of their leader. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr in particular have dragged a lot of the weight with Ja, and Morant’s missed time through injury, during which the Grizzlies barely faltered, will hurt his case.
Morant being the MVP isn’t a ridiculously outlandish take, he’s definitely putting up the numbers and having the team success to lay a very legitimate claim. Unfortunately for him, unless, like I said above, the voters go for a sexy new pick through sheer fatigue, I struggle to see the award winner not being Jokic or Giannis.
Hey There Josh
Josh Green has had a pretty quiet start to his NBA career so far. After being drafted 18th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft to Dallas, there was an expectation that, with a stacked guard rotation, Green would have to bide his time. And that’s what happened.
Fortunately, this didn’t hinder his selection for the Boomers squad in Tokyo and while he got far less minutes than I thought he deserved, he was clearly better for the experience. Back to the bench in Dallas.
However, since December 27th, something has changed. Before this date, he had appeared in 17 games for the Mavericks, averaging 7.4 mins of playing time, only playing more than 15 minutes three time, generally relegated to garbage time duty, and having 15 DNPs or inactive designations.
Cue December 27th, in a big win over the Blazers, Green got his chance. In a game where Dallas were missing a host of stars, including Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr, and a bunch of hardship COVID replacement players were playing, Green got extended run and delivered, with 9 points and 10 assists off the bench in 26 minutes.
That game has appeared to prove to coach Jason Kidd that Green deserves more minutes, and including that game, since December 27th, Green has averaged nearly 18 minutes per game, scoring 5.7 points, along with 2.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 50% from the floor.
Green still has obvious limitations, namely as a shooter (only 22% from three since that date), but has clearly shown value as a defender and now playmaker. One of the reasons Boomers fans were calling for him to get minutes at the Olympics was his obvious athletic advantages in FIBA play. While that advantage is limited in an NBA setting, he’s still a plus in that department.
Green hasn’t had a DNP since that game against the Blazers, and appears to have usurped Trey Burke and Frank Ntilikina in the Dallas guard rotation. With Tim Hardaway Jr suffering a broken foot in today’s loss to Golden State, the chance is there for Green to cement himself even more minutes.
Do You Want My Leftovers?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
There’s a report of a 20 point per game scorer maybe being in trade discussions. This player is their team’s leading scorer, has been in All-Star and award conversations for years, and is looking for a new challenge amid his current team’s struggles. This player is on a very friendly, multi year contract as well (before you ask, no this is not specifically about Jerami Grant).
Lakers fan on Twitter: “THT and Nunn should get it done.”
The next person I see suggest THT and Nunn for ANYONE is getting throat punched, I don’t make the rules.
Firstly, let’s start with Horton-Tucker. I feel like people like the idea of Talen Horton-Tucker far more than they like THT himself. He’s an athletic, bigger guard at 6’4” and a massive 230 lbs. He’s very mobile, can get to his spot, and rebound.
The reality is THT is a highly inefficient offensive player (33% of his shots are threes, and he’s shooting them at 25%) who has failed to develop as a consistent two level scorer, let alone three level scorer. He’s only shooting 37% between 3-10 feet from the basket.
If he gets his head down and gets to the rim, he’s converting at nearly 62%. That being his entire offensive value right now is fairly ugly.
Still, he’s still only 21, and third year players in a situation like LA right now are never the finished product.
Kendrick Nunn is salary filler who has played a grand total of /checks notes/ zero minutes this season, out with a foot injury.
What a glittering trade haul for that lucky team looking to offload its star and begin the new era.
NBA fans overrating their own role players is nothing new, it’s a cultural phenomenon that’s been around since before time. It drives Philly fans to shoot down any trade offer that involves them losing Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle. Boston losing Payton Pritchard? How dare you. No New York absolutely cannot afford to lose Immanuel Quickley you’re insane.
But it does raise a good discussion. What COULD THT and Nunn get you?
The answer? Not a lot.
This trade package has been floated with the addition of a, let’s say distant, first round pick (2027 by reports), which doesn’t really do much to get executive tongues wagging. Sure, Lebron is probably retired by then and there’s every chance the Lakers will suck, but is a risk on a pick in 5 years really worth it?
Nunn is dead salary at this point until he actually plays. He becomes an expiring contract this summer unless he declines his $5.2M player option (absolutely zero chance that happens), so he isn’t a huge investment.
Again, you’d need to convince yourself that the idea of THT and the actual THT aren’t that far apart. This springs to mind.
Cam Reddish got traded to the Knicks for Kevin Knox and a bag of chips. THT and Nunn could probably, by that logic, get you more than Cam Reddish.
Is the Jerami Grant valuation actually that far off? Well, considering other reported offers from other teams (Minnesota potentially with McDaniels and Beasley, Washington with Hachimura, Avdija or Thomas Bryant, Chicago maybe giving up Pat Williams), it falls below them, but it’s the lower end of that scale.
For Lakers fans, that package could probably get you some legit help (Buddy Hield anyone?) It isn’t enough to trade for one of the jewels of the trade deadline, but that probably isn’t what the Lakers need anyway.
Last week I did a pseudo-mailbag so I put the call out again. Predictably, not a lot came in but loyal reader Lachie did hit us up with some more NBL related questions so let’s go.
Ok let’s answer these two questions separately, first on Illawarra.
ILLAWARRA FLAT TRACK BULLIES?
In short, no I don’t think so. If you look at Illawarra’s roster, yes they’ve returned key pieces in Justinian Jessup, Tyler Harvey and Sam Froling, but they are still incorporating a slew of high usage, important guys.
If you look around the league at the other presumed top teams, Illawarra look the most different to last season. SEM are integrating Xavier Munford and Zhou Qi, sure, but the rest of that roster is largely intact and they’ve always had great local depth.
Melbourne only have one import right now in Caleb Agada, but again, besides him and Delly, it’s largely the same roster that won the title last year, minus Jock Landale. Jo Lual-Acuil and Chris Goulding still being there provides tremendous continuity.
Illawarra have a new starting center, starting wing and sixth man, three very important positions, and I think the results are positive. Xavier Rathan-Mayes in particular has impressed as a sixth man with his do-it-all play, although you’d like both him and Antonius Cleveland to be more consistent threats from deep.
I wouldn’t be concerned about Duop Reath either. He’s averaging 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds, both maybe a little lower than you’d like, but he is shooting 38% from three, and you have to remember with high usage guys like Harvey and Jessup, Reath was always going to be that third banana rather than a leading light.
It’s very rare for a team to change their usage patterns so heavily in one off season and have an immediate and flawless transition. A 5-3 record is a good start and maybe the quality of wins isn’t there yet, I see signs it’s getting better. Tomorrow’s game against Perth will be a good litmus test to see where the squad is at.
MOJAVE KING’S NBL FUTURE
Will King be on an NBL roster in 12 months time? I’d say so.
If he isn’t, I’d say it’s more a reflection of the situations he’s found himself in rather than his talent or production. Remember, King doesn’t turn 20 until this offseason.
King is an interesting player. Not known as a shooter, he’s shot 45% from deep this season for Adelaide on limited volume. Known more as an athlete and slasher he hasn’t really gotten the minutes or chances to show his open floor talent.
Adelaide’s guard rotation right now is somewhat crowded with Mitch McCarron, Dusty Hannahs and Sunday Dech, so a lot of his minutes are coming at the three where he doesn’t have that same size advantage.
His best flashes in Cairns last season were with the ball in his hands and the chance to attack downhill. Unfortunately he hasn’t gotten that same opportunity, relegated largely to spot up duty. He’s also run into trouble with turnovers in his short NBL career.
Adelaide is a bit of a mess right now, same with Cairns last year. If he does manage to find himself on the NBL scrapheap a smart team (Perth, Sydney, Melbourne) will pick him up and give him the stability and opportunity to show what he can do.
With the way Luke Travers stock is rising, don’t be surprised if he’s out of the NBL and overseas next year, and all of a sudden there’s a space in Perth for King.
I might make this a regular thing, reader questions. If you want a mailbag segment or just have something specific you want to see discussed, feel free to tweet me @bensquag, and my DMs are open.
Use the hashtag #AntisocialBasketballer if you want to tweet me an idea for the newsletter.
As always, follow the rest of my longer form writing at beyondthefence.com.au.