Anderson Varejao may be the most important player on the Cavaliers roster not named Kyrie Irving. Arguments could be made for Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee, but in my opinion this distinction goes to Varejao. Without Varejao, the frontcourt would have neither a consistent rebounding presence nor a consistent scorer. And even more importantly, young players like Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller would be learning the adjustment to the NBA on the fly. Veteran mentorship is just as important playing regular minutes, and that is what Varejao provides to Zeller, Thompson and Samardo Samuels.
It is really quite remarkable that Varejao has become such a good NBA player. Early in his career, he was seen as nothing but a bench energy guy. He would play a little bit each game, but would be on the bench in crunch time. In the LeBron era, Varejao was seen as a complementary piece to a superstar – nothing more. There was never any talk that he could blossom into a starter in the league, and Varejao was always brought up in deals that would bring the Cavaliers a big name piece to compliment LeBron. He was a guy the fans loved to watch play, but Cleveland management never seemed to view him as long term piece in their quest to bring LeBron a championship.
Now, it is hard to imagine the Cavaliers without Varejao. He is their longest tenured player, and sorry Luke Walton, as well as their one legitimate veteran leader. He is part of an emerging core consisting of himself, Irving and Waiters. And at 29, he is hitting his prime as an NBA player. He became, in my opinion, one the best centers in the league. He can rebound on both ends of the floor, score, and stills plays like he is a rookie on Brazil trying to earn his spot on an NBA team.
Now more than ever Varejao is a hot topic amongst Cavalier fans. There are two ways his future could play out in Cleveland: he will either be traded for picks and young talent, or he will remain a Cavalier. Before we dive into that topic, let’s take a look at Varejao’s statistics, season by season, with commentary on each season.
Season One – (2004-2005)
Stat Line: 54 games played, 0 games started, 4.9 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, 51.3 percent shooting, 16.0 minutes per game
Varejao’s first experience in the NBA came in the second season of the LeBron James era. He quickly became a fan favorite, and actually led the NBA in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes with 6.1. He earned the nickname “Wild Thing” for his energetic play, and also became known for “flopping” – the simulation of violent contact in order to draw a foul.
Season Two (2005-2006)
Stat Line: 48 games played, 4 games started, 4.6 points per game 4.9 rebounds per game, 52.7 percent shooting, 15.8 minutes per game
This was the first time Varejao missed a large chunk of time due to injury, missing the first 32 games with a dislocated shoulder that he got playing for Team Brazil over the summer. In the playoffs, he was a major contributor – shooting over 80 percent from the free throw line and drawing a key charge on Chauncey Billups in Game Four of the Detroit series.
Season Three (2006 – 2007)
Stat Line: 81 games played, 6 games started, 6.8 points per game, 6.8 points per game, 47.6 percent shooting, 23.9 minutes per game
Varejao took an incredible 99 charges in the 2006-2007 season, and also received an increase in minutes from head coach Mike Brown. He also was eighth in the NBA with 269 fouls committed, and was eighth in defensive efficiency. For me, I thought this was as good as Varejao could be, and that was okay. Every team needs an energy role player, and he played that role better than anyone in the NBA.
Season Four (2007-2008)
Stat Line: 48 games played, 13 games started, 6.7 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, 59.8 percent shooting, 27.5 minutes per game
Varejao sat out the start of the season in a contract holdout with the Cavaliers. In December, the contract struggle came to an end when the Cavaliers matched an offer sheet from the Charlotte Bobcats. In extended minutes, Varejao set career highs in rebounding and assists, taking another step forward.
Season Five (2008-2009)
Stat Line: 81 games played, 42 games started, 8.6 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, 53.6 percent shooting, 28.5 minutes per game
After putting up his third consecutive productive season, Varejao earned a six-year, $42.5 million dollar deal at the conclusion of the season. By this time, he was seen as real piece in LeBron’s pursuit of a championship. And after he started 42 games, there was talk that he would start henceforth.
Season Six (2009-2010)
Stat Line: 76 games played, 7 games started, 8.6 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, 57.2 percent shooting, 28.5 minutes per game
LeBron’s last season in Cleveland was a stagnant one for Varejao. His stats did not increase at all across the board, and he only started seven games. When LeBron left after the season, there was talk he would be traded for draft picks.
Season Seven (2010-2011)
Stat Line: 31 games played, 31 games started, 9.1 points per game, 9.7 points per game, 52.8 percent shooting, 32.1 minutes per game
Varejao started the season strong, but in a game on January 6th, he tore an ankle tendon. The injury took him out for the rest of the season, and left the Cavaliers without their best player for 51 games. At the time of his injury, Varejao seemed to be turning a corner. The Cavaliers ended up finishing as the third-worst team in the NBA, and winning the right to select Irving.
Season Eight (2011-2012) – Lockout season
Stat Line: 25 games played, 25 games started, 10.8 points per game, 11.5 rebounds per game, 51.4 percent shooting, 31.4 minutes per game
For the third time in his NBA career, Varejao went down with a serious injury. This injury, a broken wrist, only added to Cleveland’s woes. There were positives though – Varejao averaged a double-double in the games he did play, and was playing the best basketball of his career. When he went down, it was clear how important he was – without Varejao, the Cavaliers were left without a legitimate NBA center.
Season Nine – Current Season
Stat Line: 9 games played, 9 games started, 14.3 points per game, 13.1 rebounds per game, 53.9 percent shooting, 35.7 minutes per game
I have been blown away by Varejao’s play thus far this season. He was the sole reason the game against Brooklyn stayed competitive, and for a time, he was averaging 15 points and 15 rebounds per game. His chemistry with Irving is growing, and that is key moving forward.
I am of the belief that the Cavaliers should not trade Varejao unless they get an offer they cannot refuse. Varejao is too valuable as a player and mentor for the Cavaliers to trade. In fact, according to 82games.com, Varejao is part of three of the four of the Cavaliers most productive lineups. Take away Varejao from this team right now and look at what is left. Zeller would be forced to start at center, and Jon Leuer and/or Samuels would be pressed to play major minutes on a nightly basis. I like Zeller a lot, but he is not ready to start and neither Samuels nor Leuer are ready to play major minutes in any capacity.
Plus, the Cavaliers would simply become a much worse team then they already are. Varejao is their second best player, and in games like the Brooklyn Nets game, he has been the only player capable of keeping them competitive when Irving and/or Waiters have an off night. Gee isn’t capable of carrying the bulk of the Cavalier scoring load, nor is Daniel Gibson, and the Cavaliers are not exactly loaded with scorers. From time to time, Varejao is going to have to carry the offense. Without Varejao, this season becomes even bleaker than it is. The Cavaliers sit at 2-8 right now, and that is with Varejao playing 35 minute a night and putting up career highs across the board. They need him almost as much as they need Irving, and if they are ever going to become a contender in the Eastern Conference, Varejao is a player they have to keep on the roster.