Matthew Dellavedova is ready to take the reins of a team again.
Being a role player in the NBA meant enviable contracts and even a championship, but, with two major international tournaments on the horizon, the Australian point guard has decided that the best next step in his career is to lean into where the biggest on-court opportunity lies.
That’s in the NBL, where Dellavedova signed a new two-year deal to return to Melbourne United.
Dellavedova spent the 2021-22 season with United as the team’s floor general, leading them to the best record in the NBL – and the league’s best defence – before being ousted in a dramatic semi-finals series. After a one-year detour with the Sacramento Kings – where he helped them break their long playoff drought, albeit playing minimal minutes – Dellavedova is back with United, ready to pick up where he left off.
“With the World Cup this year, then the Olympics next year, I feel like it’s best for me to play a lot,” Dellavedova told ESPN, on his decision to re-join United.
“I really loved my year in Sacramento. We had a great group there; it was really fun helping them get back into the playoffs. But, I really want to play as well.”
Dellavedova’s impact on the Kings was largely from a culture perspective, as was the expectation, but it meant playing just 213 total minutes over the course of the 2022-23 NBA season. He says he stayed in rhythm and in shape by playing pick-up with the Kings’ assistants – which included battles with Leandro Barbosa – but it was a stark contrast to his season with United the year prior.
During the 2021-22 NBL season, Dellavedova averaged 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, in just under 26 minutes a contest. With the signing, Dellavedova gets the opportunity to return to that prominent point guard role for the next two NBL seasons.
“There’s probably more differences in role and you just get a lot more reps with the ball in your hands, making plays, things like that,” Dellavedova said.
“I feel like that’s one of the things that really helped me coming back two years ago. I started off a little bit slow, trying to find a bit of a rhythm and get back healthy, and playing a role I hadn’t really played, apart from with the Boomers a little bit and back with Saint Mary’s. Having my body in a much better place coming in this time, and then knowing what to expect playing in Dean’s system again with a lot of the same guys, it’s gonna be a lot smoother of a transition.
“The main thing was, I loved my season there. I had a lot of fun, and felt my game got better. We had a great group, and looks like we’re getting a lot of the same guys back, which is going to be fun. I loved playing for Dean and the coaches. I think they helped my game on the court and, physically, the physios and strength and conditioning staff really helped me get back going. I feel like I’m in a much better spot coming in this time, so I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running.”
Dellavedova joins a United roster that includes Chris Goulding, Shea Ili, Ariel Hukporti, and Brad Newley, fellow returnee Jo Lual Acuil Jr., as well as newcomers Luke Travers, Tanner Krebs, Kyle Bowen, Flynn Cameron.
“There are so many things that Delly brings to the table,” United head coach, Dean Vickerman, said.
“It starts with his competitiveness and his grit to just want to win. You never feel like you’re out of a game when you’ve got him on the floor. He’s a leader by actions, diving on the floor, winning loose-ball possessions, taking charges, and by his play, we saw he can really get hot with his three-ball and ability to score.
“The way he assesses the game, his total understanding of how to run a team, is unmatched, and we think he can bring that from either guard position.”
As the projected starting point guard for Vickerman’s group, Dellavedova is relishing the opportunity to step into a larger role with more responsibilities, compared to the one he played over the course of his nine-year NBA career.
“It’s just a different kind of challenge,” he said.
“I feel like, throughout my career in the NBA, I’ve been able to be a great role player and figure out where I fit in, and can complement and make others better. You obviously do a lot of those same things coming back to Australia in the NBL, but the result, you have a lot more impact on that. There’s more pressure in a way, and I think it’s a great challenge to test your skills and test your game in another way.
“I’m excited for that. I really enjoyed that aspect of it two years ago. I found it challenging, frustrating at times, but also really rewarding as well. Especially after a slower start, and kind of picking things up towards the end of the year. Playing more minutes, you’re physically challenged a lot more as well.”
While Dellavedova has signed this two-year deal in Melbourne, he made it clear that he wasn’t prepared to completely rule out a potential return to the NBA, should the opportunity arise.
“Right now, it’s NBL full steam ahead [but] I would never fully close the door on the NBA,” Dellavedova said.
“Seeing what Xav [Cooks] did, winning a title, and then I saw him in his first game over there in Washington when we played him. Because the season finishes so early, if there was ever an opportunity to come back and make a playoff run after the NBL season, obviously I’d look at that. I’m locked into Melbourne for the two years and really excited about that, and that’s 100 percent where my focus is.”
Dellavedova is currently in Northern California, working out ahead of the Australian Boomers’ 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign, which begins with a training camp in Cairns in early August.
He’ll spend parts of the off-season playing pick-up basketball at Saint Mary’s over the American summer, and knows the sort of preparation needed ahead of stepping back into that much larger role.
“I’m gonna be training my ass off,” Dellavedova said.
This story originally appeared on ESPN