One big reason why the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled so much this season has been the absence of forward/center Anderson Varejao.
The 6-11 big man out of Brazil only played in 25 games this season, and will not play again until the 2013-2014 season. He looked great during his short time on the court, though, even while the rest of the team often played poorly.
In his 25 games this season, Varejao averaged 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. He was also dishing out an impressive 3.4 assists per game.
The big man with the big hair was playing like an NBA All-Star, and he looked like he was on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career. He was contesting shots on defense and seemed to be battling for nearly every rebound.
On the offensive end, the ball moved more smoothly when Varejao was in the game, and he was also the best low-post scoring threat for the Cavaliers.
On nights when the Cavaliers played poorly and much of the team did not show enough energy, Varejao was the one player who could always be counted on to play hard and strong.
While Varejao was on the court, though, the team as a whole was not playing well due to several reasons.
First of all, the Cavaliers are a young team and they were bound to start out the season slowly as some of the players learned the NBA game. Also, All-Star Kyrie Irving missed several games due to his own injuries while Varejao was playing.
The team’s roster was also not nearly as strong as it currently is. During the season, the Cavaliers brought in Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Shaun Livingston. Those three players made the bench much deeper and the whole team much better.
If Varejao had been healthy all season, the Cavaliers would not have been a playoff team, but they would have been a much more consistent and competitive team.
One problem that the Cavaliers have had throughout the year is coming out with enough energy in the third quarters, as well as sometimes in the first quarters. Varejao would not have solved this problem, but he would have helped to alleviate it by his constant hustling.
Also, with Varejao starting, Tyler Zeller likely would have stayed on the second unit, and his presence there would have made the bench much stronger. A stronger second unit would have helped the Cavaliers a great deal.
Without Varejao playing, the Cavaliers really have just three main post players in Zeller, Speights and Tristan Thompson. Those three have played very well, but the Cavaliers simply would have been better having a fourth post player, especially one as good as Varejao.
Obviously, there is no way to know how much better the Cavaliers would have been this season if Varejao had stayed healthy, but it’s clear that he would have made the team better in several ways.
If Varejao were playing with the current Cavaliers roster, and if Irving and Dion Waiters were both healthy, this would be a pretty good team. Again, the Cavaliers would not have made the playoffs, but I’d say they would have won at least 10 more games with Varejao in the lineup.