Season-in-Review: ANDERSON VAREJAO

June 8, 2013
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Anderson Varejao
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/GettyImages

Season Overview: Put simply, before being sidelined for the season on December 19, Anderson Varejao was the NBA’s best rebounder and possibly the Eastern Conference’s best big man.

It was another frustrating end of the season for the Cavaliers’ longest-tenured player – who hasn’t played more than 31 games in either of the previous two seasons (after averaging 71 in the previous four). In that trio of truncated seasons, Varejao had improved each year. His scoring average from 2010-11 to last year has gone from 9.1 to 10.8 to 14.1 ppg. We haven’t seen an entire season’s sampling, but statistically-speaking, the Wild Thing seems like he’s only getting better.

Andy wasted no time illustrating his improvement – turning in an opener for the ages. In that 94-84 win over Washington, Varejao notched nine points, 23 rebounds and nine assists – becoming the first Cavalier in team history (and the first NBA player since Charles Barkley in 1987) to post those numbers in a single game. His 23 rebounds were the fourth-most by a Cavalier ever, tied a Quicken Loans Arena record and were the most in a season opener since Sidney Wicks did so in 1980.

Andy didn’t stop there. He had the biggest offensive output of his career (a 35-point effort) in a loss to Brooklyn in mid-November and, later that month, proceeded to notch double-doubles in 10 straight games – just the third player in franchise history to do so.

In that stretch, he scored at least 10 points and grabbed 15 or more rebounds (including at least five offensive boards) in each of those games – the first player since Moses Malone did it in a dozen straight back in 1978-79. He was the first player in franchise history to have 10 straight games of 15 boards and the first player to do so since Kevin Love in 2010.

Indeed, Varejao was having an All-Star-caliber season – averaging a career-high 14.1 points, an NBA-leading 14.4 boards along with 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals per contest – when he suffered a right quadriceps muscle tear on Dec. 17 against Toronto. The injury was supposed to sideline him six to eight weeks, but after the surgery, a CT scan revealed a blood clot in his left lung, sending him back to the operating room and ending the most successful season of his nine-year career.

The formula for Anderson Varejao is simple: When he plays, he plays well. And at 30 years old, the Brazilian big man is only getting better. His reckless style is what made him a fan favorite and an irreplaceable commodity. But it’s also been part of the reason he’s completed the last three seasons in street clothes.

Andy is one of the league’s best all-around guys, someone everybody roots for. He might be the best rebounder in the league and his offensive game is beginning to catch up with his defensive skill-set. Now he just needs an entire season to put it all together.

Highlight: Although he was having the best offensive season of his career, Andy’s not known for his ability to fill it up. But on Nov. 13 in Brooklyn – with his teammates road-weary in the final contest a six-game trip – Varejao exploded for 35 points, going 16-for-21 from the floor with 18 boards and three assists. The Wild Thing scored 17 of Cleveland’s 30 second-quarter points and went into the halftime locker room with 21 points and 11 boards. He was the first Cavalier to have at least 35 points and 18 boards since his good friend Zydrunas Ilgauskas did so back in 2004.

Lowlight: Just to prove how good Andy was in his 25-game stint – he had three games in which he only scored four points. The worst rebounding game he had among those three was a seven-rebound performance. He grabbed 14 and 12 boards, respectively, in the other two.

Odds and Ends: Anderson is a fan of quality TV programming. He’s an avid watcher of the shows Homeland, The Killing and Breaking Bad. But his favorite might be Sons of Anarchy. When he met with the media on getaway day when the season wrapped up, he hid his iconic locks behind an “S.O.A.” baseball cap.

By the Numbers: 10, 9, 8 … Anderson Varejao’s career rankings in Cavaliers team history in games played (10th – tied with Phil Hubbard at 469), blocked shots (9th – passing Mark West with his 337 swats) and total rebounds (8th – at 3,544 boards).

Looking Forward: There are no remaining questions about any aspects of Andy’s game. He’s as valuable a big man as there is on any team when he plays. His only challenge now is staying on the floor for an entire season. Cleveland can go from a Lottery team to a Playoff team if he can.

Quotable: Former head coach Byron Scott on Varejao before a Nov. 27 matchup with the Suns …

“To me, right now, he’s the best center in the NBA. By far the best center in the Eastern Conference.”