Anderson Varejao is a saint. He's a beautiful, floppy-haired saint. He is without a doubt the second best player on the Cleveland Cavaliers, right behind Kyrie Irving. Despite all of that, there are large groups of Cavs fans who think The Wild Thing simply must be traded.
He's too old. The Cavs aren't competing now anyway. He's too injury prone. He doesn't fit with the rest of the frontcourt players. Blah blah blah. You'll hear any combination of those arguments as to why the Cavs should get rid of Varejao. And while some of those are valid arguments, it's still not worth it. And I'm about to tell you why.
The most obvious argument against Varejao is his health and age. He recently turned 30 years old and has missed the majority of the past two seasons with relatively serious, albeit unrelated, injuries (fractured wrist, torn achilles). The health argument is one that I just can't buy in to. It doesn't seem like either of his major injuries have been a direct result of the way that he plays. He's all hustle, all the time. But he didn't get hurt by banging his face into the base of the basket, diving after a loose ball. He get whacked on the wrist on a normal play. That could happen to anybody. Similarly, why does an injured wrist mean he's more likely to hurt something else? It might be more likely that he injures his wrist, but that's pretty much it. The way I look at it is that he's not the victim of a Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, or Andrew Bynum type of injury. It's not a nagging, constant concern about one particular body part. NBA players all have the risk of getting hurt. Given that we don't have a history of one specific problem, I don't see any reason to think Varejao is significantly more likely to be injured than any other player. (If you consult a doctor and we find out that Varejao has really weak bones, or something -- then I'll reconsider this stance. Drink more milk, damnit.)
As far as his age is concerned, the injuries may actually help him in some backwards sense. Due to the fact that he has missed so much time recently and didn't play a major role in his first few seasons, he's actually logged very few (regular season) minutes. Since coming into the league, he's played only 400 minutes more than Russell Westbrook. And only 600 minutes more than Al Horford. And about 1200 minutes more than Marc Gasol. (Consider the fact that a full season for Varejao is probably about 2200 minutes.) For big men, the minutes that they have logged on their back and knees is probably more important than their actual age. So while he's 30 years old, he has roughly as many minutes on his knees, feet, and back as a 27 year old. I know that's not going to stop the aging process, but it should at least extend his productiveness a bit further than we might expect. And at age 30, he's playing the best basketball of his life -- why do we assume it's all downhill from here?
Furthermore, we've already see Andy shift his game throughout his career. He doesn't rely on crazy flops, but rather has a great understanding of angles and incredibly quick feet. He isn't a guy who's rebounding ability is dependent on explosive hops, but rather effort and determination. Hustle is largely mental and will probably decline a lot slower than if Varejao were simply using elite athleticism.
Up until now I've kind of excluded the Cavaliers from the situation, but a huge part of the argument is about how valuable Andy is to this team. As I said before, he's the second best player on the team and anybody who disagrees with that can fight me (not actually, though. don't hit me). In addition, he's by far Kyrie's best option on pick and rolls. While Tristan Thompson (and Tyler Zeller too) has the ability to develop into a valuable weapon, Andy's by far the best option at this point. He accounts for 24 of Kyrie's 44 assists this season. On the defensive side of the ball (Cleveland's weakest area so far), Varejao is one of the few guys who seems to know what he's doing and willing to give the consistent effort to actually do it. He's an elite pick and roll defender, even if he isn't a prototypical "rim protector." In 2011-12, the Cavs' defense went down the tubes when Andy got hurt. And I would be remiss if I didn't point out the value of Anderson Varejao's rebounding ability. Coming into the season, many people (including coach Byron Scott) were concerned about the Cavs' ability to rebound on the defensive end of the floor. Through November 19th, the Cavs have the second best defensive rebounding rate in the NBA (after only Milwaukee). Though a lot of that is thanks to the improvement from Thompson on that end of the floor, the return of Andy is another enormous factor. Last year, Cleveland's defensive rebound rate dropped 3.2% when Andy left the court and this year it drops 2.6%. As of today, Varejao has the 4th highest total rebound rate in the NBA.
As far as offensive rebounding is concerned, Varejao is a total monster. This season, the Cavaliers' offensive rebounding rate drops by 17% when Andy comes off the floor. Why do I keep stressing the importance of offensive rebounding (this is part of the reason I think Tristan is valuable)? Simply because it provides more opportunities to score. Through the first 10 games of the Cavs' season, they have averaged 7.1 more shot attempts than their opponents. For a team that currently lacks sufficient scoring options, that's a nice advantage that they need in order to win games. The Cavs are currently eight in offensive rebounding rate, but if you only look at the times when Varejao is on the floor, they are easily the best in the NBA. When you take him off the floor -- second to last. Offensive rebounds create more possessions for the team and that means more chances for Kyrie Irving to do magical things. So far in 2012-13, Varejao has missed 47 shots. He has grabbed 44 offensive rebounds, giving his team another possession. If we crudely assume that an offensive rebound cancels out a missed shot, he's shooting 94.8% (55 of 58). And all of this leads me to my next point.
The argument that Varejao and Tristan can't play together? Hogwash. According to NBA.com/stats, the Cavaliers' best two-man combination this year is -- you guessed it -- Varejao and Thompson. When those two share the court, the Cavs outscore their opponent 8.7 points per 100 possessions. Is that just because that's the best defensive pairing the Cavs have? No (although it is: 99.1 points per 100 possessions) -- it's also one of the best offensive pairings that Cleveland can use. It may not be pretty, but bludgeoning the opposing team on the boards and getting 10 more shot attempts than the opponent per 48 minutes turns out to be an effective way to run an offense.
By pairing Varejao and Thompson together, you have the foundation for a pretty solid defense AND one of the best rebounding front courts in the entire NBA. Once Kyrie and Dion Waiters progress in a year or two, that's a damn good unit with plenty of scoring ability. And it isn't that far off. As you'll see, according to 82games.com, the starting lineup is already solid. They aren't the reason that the Cavs are losing. It's easy to look at the 2-8 record and assume that the Cavs are miles away from a playoff spot, but considering how good the starters have been, I just don't think that's true. If you spend the cap space and fill out an above average bench, this team is solidly in the Eastern Conference playoffs. As David pointed out in that last linked article, it shouldn't be that hard to do. By spending the money that is necessary to get to the salary floor, the Cavs should be a playoff team next season -- if they hold onto Anderson Varejao.
What the heck would the Cavaliers get in return?
So those are the reasons that Varejao shouldn't be taken away from the Cavaliers. And I think all those points are convincing enough to keep The Wild Thing. But if they aren't, I ask this: what are the trade offers? What are the Cavaliers realistically getting in return for their second best player? To answer that question you have to consider the types of teams that want Andy. Typically, these are teams that are close to contending and want another solid big man to push them over the top. San Antonio Spurs fans are constantly offering me crappy hypothetical offers on Twitter. I don't want Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, or DeJuan Blair. Trading Andy for Perry Jones III or Jeremy Lamb is not helping this team. I'm just not seeing any deal that could actually happen that would be enough to make losing Anderson Varejao worth it.
The Bottom Line
Because when people look at Andy, they see a 30-year old center/power forward who has averaged a double-double just once in his career. But when the Cavs look at Andy, because of all those reasons I just explained, he's so much more valuable than that.