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2020-21 Position Recap: Bigs

by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

2020-21 Position Recap: Bigs

From Point A to Point B to Point C

To understand just how much changed for the Cavaliers over the course of the 2020-21 season – one that saw Coach J.B. Bickerstaff use 31 different starting lineups – look no further than the center spot.

Cleveland began the year with Andre Drummond starting the middle, with JaVale McGee as his backup. They ended the year with Jarrett Allen starting in the middle, with Isaiah Hartenstein as his backup. (And Anderson Varejao as his backup.)

Raise your hand if you saw all that coming back in November.

In our final positional breakdown from last season – focusing today on middle management, the Wine & Gold’s stable of big men – wraps up its look back at the previous campaign, with the 2021 Lottery, the Draft to follow and a busy offseason up ahead on the horizon.

After being acquired in a Deadline deal last year, Drummond appeared in 25 games with Cleveland this season and doubled-up in his first 12 appearances, including a 26-point, 24-rebound effort against Milwaukee and a 33-point, 23-rebound outburst in a home win over the Knicks.

But the January acquisition of Jarrett Allen put both Drummond and the team in an awkward spot – and the two-time All-Star played his final game as a Cavalier in a February 12 loss to the Blazers. Both parties agreed to part ways in late March, and he signed with the Lakers for the remainder of the campaign after a buyout.

Anderson Varejao provided an unexpected late-season lift, playing the final five games of the season for the Wine & Gold.

David Liam Kyle via NBAE/Getty Images

As for McGee, the 13th-year man was traded to Cleveland from the Lakers not long after winning his third NBA Championship, leaving the Lakers to bring some valuable veteran experience to the young Cavaliers.

He did exactly that, averaging 8.0 points and 5.2 boards in 33 games off the bench before being dealt to Denver at this year’s Deadline. McGee, who rolled into the arena before his last home game wearing Carhartt coveralls dropped 18 points on the Kings; he led the squad in blocks on 16 occasions during his short but efficient tenure.

Things changed for all aforementioned parties when the Cavaliers jumped headfirst into a three-team deal that helped Brooklyn acquire James Harden in mid-January – sending guard Dante Exum and an unprotected 2022 first rounder (via Milwaukee) to Houston and a 2024 second rounder to Brooklyn in exchange for 22-year-old big man Jarrett Allen and forward Taurean Prince from the Nets.

Allen wasted no time making his mark in Cleveland – finishing with 12 points, 14 boards and four blocks in his Cavs debut, a double-overtime win over his former squad and going for 19 points in a home victory over Brooklyn the following night.

The former Longhorn continued his stellar play for the remainder of the season – slowed down only by a concussion suffered in a loss to the Lakers that sidelined him for eight games. Aside from that stoppage, Allen averaged 13.3 points on .615 shooting, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 50 games with the Wine & Gold.

On the season overall, Allen’s .623 field goal percentage ranked 5th in the NBA. Averaging 1.44 blocks per put him in the league’s top 10, and his rebounding mark – 10.0rpg – placed him 13th in the Association and marked his first season averaging a double-double.

And Allen had some monster nights with Cleveland this season, including in his first game as a starter against Minnesota on February 1 – finishing with 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting, adding 18 boards and five blocks.

In a meeting against Denver later that month, Allen became the first Cavalier since Tristan Thompson in 2014 to finish with at least 20 points and 10 boards while shooting over 89 percent from the floor.

The following game, he was somehow even more efficient, drilling all 11 field goals attempts to net a then-career-high 26 points (while also leading both teams with 17 rebounds) in a loss to the Thunder. With his perfect night, Allen became just the third player in the last 30 years – joining Dikembe Mutombo and Dwight Howard – to finish with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 100 percent from the floor.

After a 5-for-11 night in his next game, Allen went 10-for-11 – tying his career-high with 26 points to go with 18 boards in a home win over Houston.

The affable Allen rang up 17 double-doubles during outstanding run with Cleveland, including a career-best six straight in mid-February, and became the first Cavalier since Zydrunas Ilgauskas to record at least four blocks in back-to-back games.

Allen’s backup down the stretch was Isaiah Hartenstein, who was rock-solid in his brief stint after being acquired from the Nuggets in late March – including his Wine & Gold debut, leading the squad with 14 rebounds in a road loss to Utah despite joining the team just one day earlier.

In his 16 games with Cleveland, Hartenstein acquitted himself very well – posting seven games of double-figure scoring, a pair of double-doubles and three games of at least three blocks.

Mfiondu Kabengele also suited up in 16 games for the Wine & Gold after inking a late-season deal. The 27th overall pick of the Nets in 2019, Kabengele spent the first part of this year with the Clippers before joining Cleveland. He was decent off the bench, with a 14-point night on 5-of-7 shooting and a 10-rebound effort in the season finale as a bright spot.

That leaves us to close out with an old friend – Anderson Varejao.

Beloved by fans during his eventful 12-year tenure with the Wine & Gold, Varejao departed the team under unfortunate circumstances back in 2016. But the Cavaliers made things right as this year came to a close – inking the Brazilian big man to a 10-day deal to complete the campaign.

Varejao – who’d suited up for 591 regular season games and 71 postseason contests for the Cavs – rejoined the team ranking 7th all-time in games played, 4th in offensive rebounds, 5th in defensive rebounds, 6th in overall rebounds, 7th in blocked shots and 8th in steals.

In his five games back, Varejao scored 13 points and grabbed 20 boards. But more importantly, he finished his career as a Cavalier – the way it should be. And in a season that was sometimes light on levity, watching the Wild Thing check in at the scorer’s table on May 5 gave everyone a good reason to smile.

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