How Anderson Varejao Quietly Lit Up The Nets Last Night

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Anderson Varejao scored 35 points and grabbed 18 rebounds last night in a loss to the Nets. It feels crazy to write that, because Varejao isn't the kind of center you expect to put up such fat numbers. He's the "energy guy," the big man who never stops moving, fighting for rebounds, tipping balls to teammates. He's the sort of player who puts up cockeyed stat lines—an 8-and-13 guy. So how the hell does a guy with no real offensive game to speak of pour in 35 points? By proving that "energy guy" and "extremely talented" are not mutually exclusive, that's how.

It's easy to see the players who made up the LeBron James-era Cavs teams as scrubs—forgettable supernumeraries who were briefly elevated by LeBron's brilliance. Until this season, Varejao wasn't given much of a chance to escape such a label. He missed huge chunks of the previous two seasons with injuries, and the last memorable thing he did on a basketball court was get annihilated by Dwyane Wade. But Varejao was a valuable part of those Cavs teams, in large part because he was incredibly adept at one simple thing: making shots around the basket.


The 2009 and 2010 seasons were Varejao's most productive with the Cavs, and in them he converted 70 percent and 69.5 percent of his shots at the rim, respectively. Both marks made him one of the best in the league at scoring at close range. That's even more impressive considering that Varejao isn't anyone's idea of a dunker; instead, he relies on clever layups and ugly little flip shots. (Varejao had 46 dunks in 2009-10, his last full season; by contrast, Dwight Howard had 137 last year, and Andrew Bynum had 157.)

Finishing at the rim is a skill—one that not all big men possess.. Just ask Omer Asik, Shelden Williams, or any other brick-handed frontcourt guy who spends his minutes fumbling passes and pump-faking himself into blocked shots. Being tall helps. Being strong helps. Being able to jump certainly helps, too. But at some point you have to figure out how to get the ball over or around or through the arms of all the tall, muscular leapers on the other team, and that requires skill.

I don't expect we'll see a lot of nights from Varejao like last night (it helped that the Cavs were going up against the Nets, who seem to play with a 10-second shot clock). But he's a full-time starter now, and he is finally being asked to do more than be a part-time nuisance to the other team. That's how we end up with Anderson Varejao going 35 and 18, and that's how we end up with shot charts like this:


That might be the simplest shot chart you'll see nowadays for a 35-point performance, but that doesn't mean that the feat was easily done.