When Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto the right ankle of Atlanta’s Kyle Korver while diving for a loose ball during a game in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs, it led to an injury that ended his season. It was also the initial step toward the Cavaliers’ reserve guard being branded a dirty player.
Dellavedova also got tangled up with Atlanta’s Al Horford while diving for a loose ball in the same series. Dellavedova fell onto the legs of the Hawks center, who retaliated and was given a flagrant foul 2 and ejected for contact above Dellavedova’s shoulders. That increased the belief that the Cavaliers guard played dirty.
When Dellavedova fell to the court and squeezed both of his legs around the foot of Chicago’s Taj Gibson while trying to box him out in another playoff series last season, it led to another altercation. Gibson was also given a flagrant foul 2 and ejected after he kicked Dellavedova. It was more fodder that the Cavaliers guard was considered the dirtiest player in the NBA.
The 24 people who spoke anonymously — some of them voted for more than one player — listed their top five dirtiest players:
Dellavedova received 13 votes. Oklahoma City center Steven Adams was next with seven votes. Golden State center Andrew Bogut (5), Memphis forward Matt Barnes (4) and Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka (2) rounded out the top five.
“Wow! Delly and Bogut are both from Australia,” an Eastern Conference player said about the tally. “How about that! Delly is kind of dirty and he does cross the line. But I don’t even think it’s even close with Bogut. Dellavedova is a little bit wild and out of control.”
The spotlight began to shine on Dellavedova during the playoffs after his plays were called into question. It didn’t help that Korver had to have surgery on his ankle.
“He’s as dirty as they come,” a Western Conference coach said. “When you’re hurting people, that is not OK.”
“He was kind of dirty in the playoffs, for sure,” an East coach said. “He broke Kyle Korver’s leg. He held Taj Gibson with his legs and Al Horford’s legs and got them kicked out the games because they retaliated against him.”
But there are those who question whether Dellavedova should be called dirty. They ask: Is he dirty or scrappy? Does he go overboard or is he hard-nosed? Does he cross the line or just have a way of getting under the opponents’ skin?
“He ain’t dirty. He just plays hard,” said an old-school East assistant coach. “See, guys resent people that play hard because they don’t want to play hard. So if a guy plays hard, he’s dirty. He’s not dirty. He just plays hard. People question the play he made in the playoffs against Korver. I just think it was poor judgment.”
A younger coach from an Eastern Conference team agreed.
“His stuff really ain’t intentional. It’s just like goofy. It’s not like John Stockton, where John Stockton was calculated. Dellavedova is accidentally dirty. He can’t help himself. He’s a quality backup point guard.”
Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who is driving past Raptors guard Delon Wright during a game Jan. 4, is considered by many to be the NBA’s dirtiest player.(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova lands on top of Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard while battling for a loose ball during a game Dec. 8, 2015.(Jason Miller / Getty Images)
People in L.A. probably know this from his seasons with the Clippers and Lakers, but Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes -- fouling Chris Paul while attempting a steal -- ranks among the NBA’s dirtiest players.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard pays the price while trying to drive around Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes (22) during a game Nov. 21, 2015.(Darren Abate / Associated Press)
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, the first big man mentioned among the NBA’s dirtiest players, fouls Heat center Hassan Whiteside as he tries to dunk during a game Dec. 3, 2015.(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) tries to power his way past Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) during a game Dec. 16, 2015.(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)
Warriors center Andrew Bogut, the first of two 7-footers to appear among the five dirtiest players in the NBA, fouls Jazz forward Gordon Hayward as he’s driving to the basket during a game Dec. 23, 2015.(John G. Mabanglo / EPA)
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is no match for a well-placed elbow from Warriors center Andrew Bogut as they scramble for a loose ball during a game Dec. 12, 2015.(Mike McGinnis / Getty Images)
Thunder center Steven Adams (12), the other 7-footer among the NBA’s five dirtiest players, keeps Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns at bay with a well-placed elbow during a game Jan. 12.(Jim Mone / Associated Press)
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams grabs the arm of Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett as they scramble for a loose ball during a game Jan. 12.(Jim Mone / Associated Press)
Adams is the 7-foot, 255-pound center for the Thunder who does all the “dirty work.” He sets the screens, boxes out, fouls hard and uses his big body as a weapon.
“The stuff that he does is not cool,” a West coach said. “He throws elbows, extra hitting dudes away from the ball, hitting them with the chicken wing [elbow] and trying to get a rise out of them. That kind of stuff.”
Added a player from the West: “He’s real physical, but he crosses the line with stuff. He’ll throw a sneaky elbow, push you in the back and foul you extra hard.”
At 7-feet and 260 pounds, Bogut is the Warriors’ tough guy down low. He doesn’t mind giving a hard foul and setting a hard screen.
“He crosses the line with some of the stuff he does. I think he hurts guys,” a West player said. “He doesn’t always do it, but he goes across the line. What Bogut does is very calculating. He knows what he’s doing. His elbows, the way sets screens, grabbing and holding guys.”
Barnes is known for his hard-nosed play and for fouling hard instead of giving up a layup.
“He just does stuff to be doing stuff,” a West assistant coach said. “He fouls real hard, is the first one to want to fight, grabs and holds. He does dirty stuff to me.”
Ibaka earned his reputation after punching Clippers forward Blake Griffin in the groin and bloodying his nose with an elbow.
“Ibaka is the dirtiest player to me because of the stuff he did to Blake,” a West player said. “He thinks he’s tough. He ain’t tough at all.”
The old-school coaches actually laugh at the idea that players are dirty these days. They said the NBA has cleaned up that sort of play.
“I don’t think there are any dirty players anymore,” a West coach said. “Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you could cheap-shot guys. But now it’s a fine, it’s a suspension, it’s a points system. There’s no enforcer like there used to be. Who’s an enforcer like Charles Oakley? There’s no enforcer because of the rules. How much can a little guard get under your skin? And Dellavedova is a backup. He ain’t dirty. None of these guys are dirty.”
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter: @BA_Turner
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