If you have watched the last two games of the NBA Finals, you have seen the transformation of Matthew Dellavedova into a defensive wizard. Literally, Dellavedova, an undrafted player out of St. Mary’s, has stymied the best pure shooter possibly in NBA history for two straight games in the NBA Finals.
In Game 2, when guarded by Dellavedova, Curry scored 0 points on 0-8 shooting and committed two turnovers. In fact, Dellavedova has now held Steph Curry, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose to their worst shooting performances of the season in the Playoffs. Cleveland has won both games since Kyrie Irving has gone down with a knee injury thanks in large part to the constant defensive pressure of Dellavedova.
Dellavedova is no athletic freak. He’s not doing anything particularly crazy on defense that no one else is capable of doing in the NBA. The only thing he is doing differently is working his butt off on every single possession to have his body glued to Stephen Curry around all 4,700 square feet of the court. At the end of game 3, Dellavedova was so dehydrated that he had to spend the night in the hospital receiving an IV and fluids.
Dellavedova has been worth his weight in gold to Cleveland, and he was not even drafted. What if the Pels could find Dellavedova-esque value with the 56th pick in the Draft? Surely, it is possible.
Enter Pat Connaughton.
First off, a little about his draft stock. He is a senior from Notre Dame who is currently ranked somewhere between 65th and 80th on big boards. I have yet to see a mock draft that has Connaughton going before 56th in the draft.
Personally, I cannot imagine why Connaughton is ranked so low. Let me just rattle off a few quick stats. He is 6’5" shooting guard, so good size. He shot 42.3% from three last year. He had the second highest maximum vertical jump in NBA combine history. He was the second fastest among guards in the lane agility test and ¾ court sprint. At the very least, Connaughton should be a high floor draft prospect as a shooter whose athleticism could turn him into a great 3 and D guard.
However, scouts have knocked his defense and believe these athletic traits won’t quite translate to NBA defensive success. I simply disagree. Why? Because Pat Connaughton can do exactly what Matthew Dellavedova does—give maximum effort defensively for as many minutes as necessary. How can I be so confident of this?
As a senior, Connaughton played power forward in the ACC because Notre Dame simply had no better options than a guard who would just outwork the forwards. He was a 6’5" power forward who averaged 7.2 rebounds per game and still managed to get off nearly 6 three’s per game (and make them at over a 40% clip). If that’s not heart, take a look at this.
It’s the last four minutes of the Kentucky-Notre Dame Elite 8 game. Pat Connaughton is #24, and he is guarding Willie Cauley-Stein as he did all game. He gave up 7 inches in height and over a foot in wingspan. Yet, he still grabbed 9 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, and held Cauley-Stein to only 4 rebounds in 33 minutes.
If that still does not convince you, one more really important thing about Pat Connaughton. He may be a better baseball player than basketball player. Last summer, playing minor league baseball between his junior and senior season at Notre Dame, his fastball clocked at 96 mph. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Orioles, who, even with the knowledge that Connaughton could choose to play basketball over baseball, still gave him a $400,000 signing bonus.
Pat Connaughton could have made a lot more money playing baseball and would have had a much clearer path as a high draft pick than a possible second-round pick in the NBA. I cannot go inside his head, but everything about him makes it seem like he plays the game all out for all the right reasons. He will succeed. (Also, the fact that he has never played basketball before makes me believe his ceiling may be higher than expected when he turns his attention to basketball for the first time ever.)
People around the Pelicans have been clamoring for more shooting and more athleticism on the perimeter. Connaughton checks both boxes as a second rounder, plus he comes with so much more than any tangible stat a la Matthew Dellavedova, and he has done this all without ever playing basketball full-time.
If Pat Connaughton is still on the board at 56, Dell Demps should do a little happy dance, draft him, and enjoy the little pot of gold that this Irish alumni brings with him.