Anderson Varejao Is the NBA's Most Valuable Role Player

Noah Poinar@@noah_poinarCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 21:  Marvin Williams #24 of the Atlanta Hawks battles for a loose ball against Omri Casspi #36 and Anderson Varejao #17 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at Philips Arena on January 21, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If the NBA ever added another end-of-the-season award to its repertoire, they would have to consider adding one that recognizes the most valuable role player in the league.  Or MVRP, if you will. 

Figuring the MVP (of any sports league) is always a subjective argument because it essentially boils down to what you value. 

I’ve always been of the belief that the best way to handicap an MVP race is to ask this one simple question:  If you were to trade MVP Candidate one with MVP Candidate two, which player would make that team better? 

In figuring out the MVP of role players, I guess the same principal question would apply.  If you did so, you may or may not come to the conclusion that Anderson Varejao is the most valuable role player in the entire NBA.

Okay, okay, Varejao is having an All-Star type of year so far this season, but I think it is safe to say that when all is said and done, Anderson Varejao will never be remembered as anything more than a role player.  A very, very valuable role player.  

Not too long ago, as a direct result of only playing 31 games last season due to injury, Anderson Varejao was deemed a liability.  On top of that (and something of more relevance) is that he was unanimously considered to be one of the many players who simply excelled and looked far better than they actually were as a result of playing next to LeBron. 

With consideration to the two aforementioned things, there’s no arguing that Varejao was a overlooked player coming into this season.  Actually, he was a forgotten player.  

This season, though, he has flipped the script on us, proving to be anything but the liability that we once assumed.  He’s proven to be the complete opposite, he is an asset.  Franchise player’s aside, Andy Varejao is the most valuable player in the game. 

The only player on the Cavs who can consistently create his own shot (as well as creating shots for teammates) is Kyrie Irving.   Not far behind Irving in that department is Varejao...sort of. 

Varejao creates shots simply by virtue of snagging offensive boards.  It turns out that that’s what can happen when defenses know you can’t/won’t shoot and play away from you, sometimes forgetting your existence.

We know Varejao hustles, gives it his all, and leaves it all on the court every night.  But it’s not just a matter of his will.  Rather, it is Varejao taking his weakness (offense), turning it into a strength, and making the most of it.  Something very few players ever do.   

He is currently fourth in the league in rebounds per game (11.5) and leads the league in offensive rebounds per game with 4.7.  Behind Varejao in offensive rebounds per game is DeMarcus Cousins with 4.4 and Kevin Love with 4.1.   

The other night against the Celtics, Varejao recorded a career-best 10 offensive rebounds on the way to a 20-point/20-rebound performance. 

Interestingly enough, in that game, Boston made a point of shutting down Kyrie Irving on account of what Irving did to them two nights prior, as well as the fact that Irving is the Cavs’ only legitimate scoring threat. 

To do this they had to sag off Varejao (the Cavs worst offensive threat, which teams usually do anyway).  Boston’s defensive strategy, coupled with Varejao’s offensively challenged game, enabled Varejao to have the kind of game he had. 

That’s what everyone forgot to recognize about Varejao when we were busy directly correlating LeBron James to his (presumed to be) inflated statistics and production.  

So what truly makes Varejao such a valuable role player is that...one, he can’t shoot (never a good thing), but two, he’s accepted that shortcoming of his (certainly not a bad thing), and three, he has used those two things to find and occupy his niche on the floor (an awesome thing).  

Nothing is worse than having a poor shooter on the floor who continually takes shot attempts away from other guys and wastes possessions (see Antawn Jamison). In a rotation in which Varejao is surrounded by the shot-happy duo of Omri Casspi and Jamison, Varejao’s propensity to avoid that indulgence is a sight for sore eyes. 

That’s not just because he’s one less player you have to worry about jacking up a terrible shot, but, well, let me explain.

What separates Varejao from other MVRP Candidates isn’t necessarily all the little dirty work he does.  It’s what he doesn’t do.  For instance, he doesn’t jack up poor percentage shots and he doesn’t turn the ball over (1.8 per TO per game). 

Why doesn’t he turn it over?  No it’s not because he has great hands, great shot selection, and prides himself on taking care of the ball...  It’s because he never has the ball in his hands for more than two seconds and he doesn’t bother trying to back his defender down and post up. 

Normally you’d want your center to engage more in the offense; however, when you have a lanky center who isn’t particularly coordinated, isn’t seven feet tall, lacks the ability to put the ball in the hoop anywhere outside of five feet, and isn’t really a true center...Well, you want him to play exactly like Anderson Varejao does. 

Varejao is every coach's dream.  It all goes back to what I said about Varejao occupying his niche.  That niche of his is the reason any team would benefit from having a guy like Varejao on their team.   Sadly, the same cannot be said about Semih Erden and three-fourths of the big men in the league.  

Anderson Varejao (along with Kyrie Irving) is the only reason the Cavs aren’t flirting with Charlotte and Washington for the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.  The Cavs are 1-8 against teams with a .500 record or better and it’s easy to see why... they aren’t a good team. 

Cleveland is 7-4 against teams under the .500 mark.  That 7-4 record is in thanks to Varejao (and of course Kyrie).  When playing a relatively evenly matched team, Varejao gives the Cavs the deciding edge, and he always has.

The icing on the cake is that Varejao is a mental grievance on other teams, and has been for quite some time.  It’s some sort of art he’s mastered, he’s been pissing off opponents his entire career, doing it better than any role player before him. 

That’s something you can’t statistically gauge in the box score the same way you can’t measure the impact that Kevin Garnett and his patented “goal-tend after the whistle” have on a game.  But it definitely has a positive effect on his team.  

Did I mention Varejao is outstanding on defense, too?

I’ve said it from day one and I’ll say it again... Anderson Varejao is the type of player where, as the saying goes... “You love everything about him if he’s on your team, but you absolutely despise him if he’s not.” 

However, in the particular case of Anderson Varejao, if you’re an opposing fan/player you don’t just despise him, you probably want to punch him in the face.  That’s really all you need to know about him and his value as a role player.     


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.