July 30, 2014

Anderson Varejao: Cleveland’s “All-Star Guy”

The elections may be long in the rear view, but the lobbying in Cleveland may be reaching new levels. As the Cavaliers dropped yet another nail-biter to one of the NBA’s elite teams, it was Anderson Varejao who continued to keep his bruised and battered team on the positive side of the ledger, pulling down 22 more rebounds, obtaining possession of balls which he had no business being near, holding the opposition to one of their worst games of the season, and even hitting a 20-foot jump shot at the buzzer between the third and fourth quarters, giving the Cavaliers a seven-point lead.

Though said lead would dissipate as the Cavaliers would convert on a mere 20 percent of their field goal attempts over the final 12 minutes of play, it was Varejao who, once again, provided one of his most well-rounded lines of the 2012-13 season, infusing non-stop energy, adding to his league-leading per-game rebounding average and making the most annoyed opposing fan bases even more so.

“Our All-Star guy did an unbelievable job once again,” said Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott of his energetic and charismatic center. “He single-handedly takes over on the defensive end — this guy is just something else.”

Though the league has altered the way in which it will award All-Star bids to centers, now grouping them in with forwards in what will be called “frontcourt players,” the way that Varejao has played through the team’s 13 games thus far is unparalleled — not only are his per-game averages of 14.1 points and 14.7 rebounds career-best marks, he’s hitting nearly 80 percent of his free throws, is pulling down over 24 percent of all potential rebounds1, is among the league’s top 10 in Player Efficiency Rating — a number which largely slants towards offensively minded players — and has been calculated to have been worth 1.9 wins just on his own. The Cavaliers have won a total of three games.

This is not the first time that Scott has linked Varejao to All-Star status, claiming that the Brazilian big man had been playing at an elite level prior to his injury during the lockout-shortened season from a year ago when he was averging three fewer points and three fewer rebounds per contest. He even earned a vote from Milwaukee’s Scott Skiles.

“Varejao’s a different kind of cat,” Skiles told WFNY last season. “He’s unreal.”

Now, in a season where most pundits expected second-year point guard Kyrie Irving to be the team’s representative in Houston come this February, Scott can toss a vague comment as he did and there is no mistaking just who he is referencing. While Varejao’s inclusion in an All-Star lineup — one that would make him the first Cavalier center to get the honor since Zydrunas Ilgauskas in 2005 — could conceivably keep Irving out of the mix, there is little doubt that the rejuvenated big man is deserving of such an honor.

When Varejao was not pulling rebounds out of the Memphis sky, helping him achieve yet another double-double by halftime, he could be found diving on the floor for a loose ball which would set up an easy two points for a streaking Tristan Thompson. When he wasn’t running pick-and-rolls with Alonzo Gee and Jeremy Pargo, he was pump-faking would-be defenders straight out of their high-tops, getting two defenders in the air at the elbow before driving and dishing to a ready-and-waiting Samardo Samuels for the highest of percentage finish as center Marc Gasol could only watch as he flew out of the picture. And of course, the 20-foot buzzer-beater topped off with a hip bump and a round of high fives and a 7-footer with an ear-to-ear smile.

“Varejao has a motor, said Memphis’ Zach Randolph, who was limited to a season-low eight rebounds against the Cavs. “He is moving non-stop. He reminds me of myself a couple of years ago. You have to give him a lot of credit. He works hard. He is non-stop.”

While Randolph will rarely ever be mistaken for a guy with high energy and non-stop movement on both ends of the floor, his praise of Varejao is genuine. It was the Grizzlies power forward who saw first hand what playing against Andy 2.0 is like. Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, who will be one of the men likely responsible for voting Varejao into the All-Star game as a reserve, agrees with every bit of praise the center has been given; it’s not every day that an opponent has to game plan for a player who is not among the leading offensive weapons on a team. A player once known simply for agitating the opposition has become a factor on every portion of the floor, creating additional possessions for a team in dire need of executing highly on every single one.

“He’s a really smart player,” Gentry said prior to his team’s match-up against the Cavalers. “He knows angles, he’s got quickness and he can get to the spot. You think you have him boxed out and he ends up on the inside. It’s just one of those deals where you just have to continuously work.

“He’s had 18 offensive rebounds the last two games. Twenty-two rebounds, then all of a sudden 19 rebounds, 17 rebounds — those are Rodman-like numbers. He thinks every shot is a missed shot and plays every shot like it’s his rebound. He’s having an unbelievable year, he really is.”

Factor in Andy’s dedication toward improving his mid-range jump shot2 and becoming a factor as a facilitator and a finisher on the offensive side, and you have the icing on the big man’s All-Star cake.

Naturally, all of this is predicated upon Varejao staying healthy. While trade talks will continue to loom, all of these ancillary discussions surrounding the player and accolades will make a difference for anyone affiliated with the Cavaliers if the oft-injured big man gets bitten once again. For now, however, the ever-active one is showing no signs of slowing down, has carried a team in dire need of a lift, and is putting up numbers that, if sustained, will keep him in the discussion for end-of-season awards.

In the interim, it will be up to Varejao’s lobbying on the floor while Byron Scott takes the reigns off of it. Twitter allows fans to vote via hashtag, but as long as the numbers keep piling up, Byron’s job will be the easier of the two. No yard signs needed.

(Image via Joe Murphy/NBAE)

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. A mark that, if it stands, would only be bettered by Dennis Rodman during his run of Defensive Player of the Year awards []
  2. Andy is taking a career-high 2.3 shots per game between 16-and-23 feet []
  • ChiTownCavsfan

    This is why you can’t give up on Tristan so soon. Who’s to say he won’t be doing the same in seven years.

  • JHop

    I really hope we don’t have to wait 7 years to see something more productive out of him.

  • mgbode

    if we can get Peyton Hillis on the Madden cover…

  • ThatAlex

    Can anyone else think of an NBA player with even a remotely similar career arc as Varejao’s? I can’t. And by that I mean, a guy who slowly developed into an All-star caliber player relatively late into his career? This is a guy who, 7 years ago, had no real NBA game other than “flopping”. I remember when we signed him to an extension in 2009, most thought we were grossly overpaying him. To see him steadily improve year by year and put up these kind of numbers today is amazing to watch.

  • Lyon25

    Haha. In what universe did ZBo ever play like Andy?

  • BisonDeleSightings

    By that reasoning, we should still have JJ Hickson.