Anderson Varejao Injury Provides Tyler Zeller with Major Opportunity

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIJanuary 9, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 07:  Joakim Noah #13of the Chicago Bulls dunks over Tyler Zeller #40 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center on January 7, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 118-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As reported by ESPN, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced Wednesday that center Anderson Varejao will be needing surgery to repair a leg muscle and could be missing multiple months.

And yet despite the bad news, this creates a huge opportunity for rookie Tyler Zeller.

Varejao was having a great season for the Cavs, enjoying career highs in both rebounds and points per game.

As a result, Zeller rode back seat to the Cavs veteran big man. He was averaging just 22 minutes a game before Varejao's injury. Of course he's started all 10 games for Cleveland since.

So far Zeller's stats are far from prolific, but they're pretty good for a rookie who saw limited playing time for the majority of the season to date. He's averaging a solid 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game.

The rookie has really begun to turn it on as a starter. He's scored double-digit points in five of his starts, as well as one double-double and five multi-block performances.

Like most rookie big men, Zeller has struggled at times with penalties. He's averaging 3.8 per game in his 10 starts, and has racked up more than five on three different occasions in January.

But he appears to be learning, as he only has 12 over his last four games.

The big thing for Zeller is to focus on his development. Yes, this is a trial by fire on Cleveland's part, but it may also be the best way to get its young nucleus to mold together for the future.

Despite his eight seasons with Cleveland, Anderson Varejao is no longer the long-term solution at center. He's a 30-year-old who has seen significant injury time over his last two seasons.

And 2012-13 appears to be no different.

Cleveland obviously likes Zeller, or they wouldn't have acquired him from Dallas after the 2012 NBA draft. He's a bit of a project player, but could pay off huge defensive dividends in the future.

If he's believed to be the center of the future, there's no better time than the present to start preening him for that role.

And if Zeller can make the best of this opportunity, he could be cementing his role as the starting center from here on.