The frontcourt of the Cleveland Cavaliers suffered an enormous blow early in the season when they lost Anderson Varejao to an injury. It was then discovered that Varejao had a blood clot in his lung, a scary ailment that put him out for the remainder of the season. The Cavs had to make-do the best they could without him.
Before the injury, though, Varejao was submitting his best season as an NBA player. Through his first 25 games of the season, he was averaging 14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. If he had been healthy and sustained those numbers over the entire season, he would have finished with a higher Player Efficiency Rating than Kyrie Irving.
With Varejao sidelined, though, that forced the Cavs to play rookie Tyler Zeller in a much larger role than they likely planned or wanted to. Zeller finished the year playing in 77 games, starting in 55 of them, and playing 26.4 minutes per game. He averaged 7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting a poor 43.8 percent from the field.
Zeller showed promise at times and showed the valuable ability to get up and down the floor well, but he lacked in many areas. Like most of this Cleveland team, he didn’t do much to prove himself defensively and was often pushed around on the block, rarely was there for help-side rotations, and got thrown around on the defensive boards. Zeller also got pushed around often on the offensive end of the floor which forced him to take difficult shots and not be able to get to his spots.
This off-season, Zeller needs to do a number of things to work on his skills around the rim and improving his awareness on both ends of the floor. However, he also needs to simply hit the weight room and add some bulk. He has great height as a seven-footer, but he weighs just 250 pounds, which shows when he’s banging around in the post. It won’t solve all of his issues, but getting stronger and bulking up will make life at least a little easier for Zeller going forward.