Basketball ‘Tonya Harding’ Powers Cavs to NBA Finals

AP Photo
The Associated Press
Auburn, AL

The “Tonya Harding,” dubbed so by the Atlanta Hawks radio team, who helped the Cleveland Cavaliers sweep the Atlanta Hawks is a former rugby player who “Americans hate,” according an Australian news outlet, and who has “got to learn,” according to the player who nailed him in the head with an elbow.

He likely becomes the the first four-year college star to start in an NBA Finals in over a decade.

Matthew Dellavedova is one of only three players to be a four-year college star at and then start in the NBA Playoffs. Still, Dellavedova went undrafted, like most seniors (players good enough to make the NBA usually leave early), but at the Cavs tryout camp in 2013 his coach gave him a roster spot after noticing whichever 3-on-3 team he played on always won.

With Kyrie Irving struggling with injuries, Dellavedova became a surprise starter and combined sharp-shooting with intense, in-your-face defense and aggressive play that injured Hawks sharp-shooter Kyle Korver. He made opponents so angry that Hawks star Al Horford nailed him with an elbow while on the floor to win an ejection in Game 3. USA Today quoted Horford as saying Dellavedova needed to learn a lesson.

“He’s got to learn,” Horford insisted. “He’s only been in this league for a couple of years or whatever. But he’s got to learn at the end of the day it’s a big brotherhood here. Guys look out for each other. I don’t think it was malicious, but he has to learn.”

Dellavedova is one of only 15 players to be a true superstar for four years in college, as defined by finishing among the top 4% of all college players all four years (top 160 out of 4000+ players at Value Add). Dellavedova was the 152nd best player in the country as a freshman at St. Mary’s, then improved to 96th his sophomore season, 37th his junior year and 59th in his final season.

The following are the only 15 players to match the feat with their rank every year.

Top 4% all 4 Years Team Years Fr So Jr Sr
Pangos, Kevin Gonzaga 2012-15 106 65 107 120
Tuttle, Seth Northern Iowa 2012-15 135 124 62 44
Craft, Aaron Ohio St. 2011-14 72 22 39 59
Dellavedova, Matthew St. Mary’s 2010-13 152 96 37 54
Hummel, Robbie Purdue 2008-12 32 64 29 33
Scheyer, Jon Duke 2007-10 105 30 29 1
Hansbrough, Tyler North Carolina 2006-09 24 14 3 17
Dunston, Bryant Fordham 2005-08 104 73 129 39
Lofton, Chris Tennessee 2005-08 81 47 29 72
Dudley, Jared Boston College 2004-07 71 9 26 3
Fazekas, Nick Nevada 2004-07 63 43 3 7
Redick, JJ Duke 2003-07 80 47 6 2
Smith, Craig Boston College 2003-06 23 19 64 11
Brown, Dee Illinois 2003-06 57 100 15 109
McNamara, Gerry Syracuse 2003-06 36 49 52 80

Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga and Seth Tuttle of Northern Iowa both accomplished the feat over the past four years and it is very unlikely either will make the NBA.

In fact, fewer than half of the players on this list ever made the NBA.

Dellavedova, Tyler Hansbrough, and JJ Redick are the only three on this list to also start in the NBA playoffs.

Jared Dudley has also been an excellent NBA player since finishing at Boston College, but he has not started in the playoffs.

Robbie Hummell and Nick Fazekas were the only others to even make an NBA team.

Oh, yeah. The Cavs have another star in the best player on the planet in LeBron James. And he skipped college.