While most national coverage of the Cleveland Cavaliers is focusing on the 10 losses in the past 11 games, there is a member of the Wine and Gold playing some of the best basketball of his seven-year career.
In Saturday night’s win over the New York Knicks, Cavs center Anderson Varejao notched his seventh double-double of the season – 42nd of his career – by tallying 14 points on 7-13 (.538) shooting and a season-high 17 rebounds. If that was not enough, the man they call “Wild Thing” added two steals and a career-high four blocks just for good measure. It was Varejao’s third game with at least 15 rebounds in the last four contests, a span that has seen the big man average 13.5 points on .538 shooting, 13.5 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 1.8 blocks.
Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott could not heap enough praise on his veteran center, comparing his recent level of play to that of the best big men in the Eastern Conference.
“He did an unbelievable job [guarding New York's Amar'e Stoudemire],” said Scott following Saturday’s game. “He took the challenge and right now, I don’t know another center in the league, especially in the Eastern Conference – maybe Dwight [Howard] – that’s playing better than Andy Varejao.”
While other Eastern Conference bigs like Atlanta’s Al Horford and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert may have a solid argument over the course of the season, Scott’s assertion over the past week of play is not far off. Over the seven-day stretch, only Howard has averaged more rebounds with 14.0 per contest. And while having Varejao rank among the best in the East is an accolade for which he should be proud, what he has meant to this Cavaliers team is some next level-type stuff.
- True Shooting Percentage (.563)
- Effective Field Goal Percentage (.538)
- Offensive Rebounding Rate (11.7)
- Defensive Rebounding Rate (24.9)
- Total Rebounding Rate (18.0)
- Block Percentage (2.9)
- Offensvie Rating (114)
- Defensive Rating (106)
- Offensive Win Share (1.2)
- Defensive Win Share (0.8),
- Total Win Share (2.0)
- Win Share per 48 minutes (.121)
Compared to his NBA brethren, Varejao is among the top 12 in the field goal percentage calculations and is among the top 15 in the league in various rebounding rates. Naturally, it comes as little surprise that the top four five-man units of the Cavaliers feature Anderson Varejao’s name and that the center position is best among the five slots for the Cavaliers on a net PER basis.
Factor in the energy and unmeasurables that Varejao brings to the table on a nightly basis and it is not far-fetched to see why many other teams in the NBA are calling Cavaliers GM Chris Grant to inquire about the Brazilian big man’s availability.
“I’ve said that all along, his energy is contagious,” said Scott. ”He brings a different element to the game when he plays; it’s almost that ‘never say die’-type attitude.
“Every time he steps on the floor you know you’re going to get 110 percent from him. Other guys see that and they feed off that. He’s our emotional leader out there on the basketball floor, and he plays with his head and his heart. You’ve just got to love a guy like that.”
All 15 players have admitted that while it is not fun time right now, but they continue to work hard and exude patience. Recently, Varejao stated that the team is still in a bit of limbo with new coaches, new players and altered playing time for many. But he also said that the easiest way to get back on track is to play tough, physical defense and take care of the basketball – two things which he has done better than almost every peer over the last seven days.
At a point in the season where weaker players would raise the proverbial white flag, Varejao continues to display the effort and tenacity that permeates through the Cavaliers locker room.
“You don’t want to get shown up because you see this guy is giving his body, energy and just playing the game the way it is supposed to be played,” said teammate Antawn Jamison. “As an opponent it is as frustrating as I don’t know what, but as a teammate, you admire that. That makes you want to go out and do the same thing as well.”
(Photos via Duane Burleson/AP and Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer)