In basketball, not everybody can be an elite player garnering accolades, fortune and fan adoration. No, some guys… actually most guys are role players largely going under the radar. Some are even more so cleverly defined as specialists.
For the better part of his career, Anderson Varejao has been known as a specialist in the rebounding category, and a pretty good one at that. If there was a rebound to be had, he is on the short list of guys I would trust to get it. However, his offense never really caught up to the talent he displayed crashing the boards. But at age 30 and in his ninth campaign, the Brazilian center is having his finest showing, averaging a career-best 15.1 points and a robust 15.3 rebounds after the first month of the season.
As a result, the Quicken Loans Arena favorite is now turning heads around the league with his overall play, and getting early consideration for his first All-Star Game.
In response to such an outcome, Varejao told the Cleveland Plain Dealer after a game in Miami, “You play hard every night, and if it happens, it happens. Of course, if it does, it would be a great thing for me and for my career. But I really only think about winning and helping this team to try to get better every day.”
Getting better is something the big man has done pretty much every year in the league, but his career year a season ago was cut short by a wrist injury. In just 25 games, Varejao averaged his first career double-double with 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds. Now he is back this year topping last season’s efforts and averaging career-highs in just about every other category, including assists, steals and free throw percentage.
Many think the game of basketball is like an artistic dance form and if that is true, then Varejao could probably be closest compared to Krumping, which is at times awkwardly violent in its movements but extremely energetic. He has been somewhat appropriately nicknamed the “Wild Thing,” which is also a tribute to the movie character Ricky Vaughn of the Major League movies that featured Cleveland’s baseball team, the Indians.
His jumper is not a thing of beauty, but it has become reliable out to about 18 feet. That in turn is causing defenders to jump out at him in pick-n-roll/pick-n-pop situations where he then drives and kicks to open teammates. Watching Varejao drive isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, but the results have been beautiful. His lofty assist totals (3.3 per game) for a center will attest to that.
He currently leads the league in rebounding (at least until Kevin Love qualifies) and has been particularly tenacious with an undisputed, league-leading six offensive rebounds per game. That in turn has allowed the Cavaliers to rank second in second chance points, which has kept them in many games this year.
Varejao isn’t much of a shotblocker but still plays solid defense, moving his feet adeptly to draw charges and so far this year, he isn’t flopping quite as much as he used to. He also has surprisingly quick hands and is adept at making deflections in the passing lanes and defending the post.
Look at his nightly stat line, and it appears Varejao is doing it all for Cleveland.
“All I’m doing is the same thing — screens and rolling to the basket and going after every rebound,” he told The Plain Dealer a week ago.
“I expect to play hard every night, and if I get rebounds and score, this is just a consequence,” he said. “I can’t control that. The only thing I can control is how hard I play. That’s what I do, is play hard every day.”
Quite frankly he is a pain in the ass to opponents with his unorthodox and aggressive play but a joy as a teammate. His motor, sheer tenacity and team-first mentality is refreshing amidst the stench of the many self-entitled players in the league who do a lot less than he does.
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott says he’s the best center in the league right now. He may be right. But changes to the All-Star Game voting, which don’t require a center to be chosen, may prevent Varejao from going to Houston in February. However, if his play continues at this torrid pace and if there is justice in the world, he should still be chosen regardless of the voting changes, even if only as a reserve.
While he isn’t a marquee player, Varejao is much more than a rebounding specialist now and he just might be developing into an All-Star in front of our eyes. But to him none of that matters… he just wants to play hard and help his team win. To that I would say to Varejao: mission accomplished.
Does Varejao deserve to make the All-Star Game this year?
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