It's no news to anyone who's watched the Cavs this season that Timofey Mozgov has been a problem. Mozgov has been in a season-long funk, watching his playing time slowly decrease from 20.1 minutes per game in November to 16.5 minutes per game in February as a cascade of turnovers, missed bunny layups, and defensive miscues have curbed any periodic effectiveness that he experiences. Mozgov doesn't look the part of an NBA starting center, and has barely been a passable rotation player at times. Since David Blatt was fired, Mozgov's seemed to have an even shorter leash, as well, and it appears that he's definitely a candidate to be included if the Cavs make any sort of large trade deadline splash.
Recently, Mozgov's decline has created an opportunity for Anderson Varejao to play more minutes, and on this three-game win streak, he's played very well. Varejao grabbed double-digit rebounds for the first time since December 8th, 2014 in last Saturday's win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had a strong performance in limited minutes during the blowout win over the Sacramento Kings, and he posted perhaps his best overall game of the season last night, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Varejao has looked to finally be back in playing shape recently, and it's been very nice to see him having an impact on the floor, especially defensively. Granted, the three most recent games have a lower degree of difficulty than most - the Pelicans, Kings, and Lakers represent three teams playing some of their worst overall basketball of the season right now. But still, it's encouraging to see Varejao get some regular rotation minutes, and he's used them well.
Varejao playing more as Mozgov continues to get less time has been a recent point of discussion because of Andy's play, and it's something the Cavs very well could and should be considering. Varejao has a great rapport with his teammates, he's a guy who rarely makes mistakes on either end, and the Cavs could use him simply for rebounding and perimeter defense, two areas Mozgov has been struggling in all season. Varejao's long been a very good defender when it comes to rotating to spot-up shooters, and while he has his issues in the pick-and-roll, Mozgov's been horrible at defending these as well, so it's not like there's really any drop-off there.
But of course, there are major worries to giving Varejao an increased workload. One of these is the offense, which has been worse with Varejao on the floor all season. The Cavs have been 7.1 points per 100 possessions worse offensively with Andy on the floor since Jan. 1, per NBA.com, and even during his recent stretch of regular rotation play, the Cavs' offense has been 13.9 points per 100 possessions worse with Varejao on the floor. Now, you can get away with that for stretches of 2-3 minutes at a time, especially if the defense gets a boost with Varejao out there. But the offense does tend to get a little bit cramped when Andy's on the floor, and teams don't respect his 18-footer the same way that they respect Tristan Thompson along the baseline or Mozgov in the pick-and-roll. Varejao's presence has bogged down the offense at times, and lineups with him and Thompson in particular have been relatively bad, scoring at a rate of 101.8 points per 100 possessions in 135 minutes this year, which is incredibly pedestrian for a team that scores as well as Cleveland.
There's also the giant elephant in the room, which is Varejao's health. It's a question any time Andy sees a strenuous workload, and this is an especially relevant concern when it comes to the potential for dealing Mozgov away. Trading Mozgov with the plan of using Varejao as his primary replacement seems inadvisable, as Varejao likely can't sustain 15 minutes per game at a high level anymore. And if he goes down, you're left with Sasha Kaun as Thompson's primary center backup, and he has played five minutes in 2016. Of course, Varejao could be totally fine, and even if the Cavs don't deal Mozgov, Varejao could play 10-15 minutes backing up the four and five. But like it or not, Varejao getting hurt will be a concern for the rest of his career, and it's really difficult to put faith in his body holding up to the rigors of being an important rotation piece.
Varejao's played really well of late, and he has a case to earn more minutes, especially with Mozgov fading into the background. The Cavs shouldn't overly rely on him because of his injury history and questions about his offensive fit, but there could be potential that playing him a few more minutes per game and Mozgov a few less could pay dividends. It's been really nice to see Varejao playing well, and while it's unlikely he's the total answer to the Cavs' concerns on the interior, playing him a little more could be part of the solution.