SleepersDecember 15, 2006

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Sleeper Watch

By Mike Antoine

Sometimes a brief injury to a teammate opens the door for a young player to obtain additional minutes and display their potential. When Cleveland Cavaliers Power Forward, Drew Gooden sat out with a groin injury, teammate Anderson Varejao made the most of the opportunity.

Varejao appears to be in a crowded situation in Cleveland. Not only is starter Drew Gooden in the mix, but former first round pick (the number four pick overall in 1994), Donyell Marshall is also in the mix. Despite that, the Cavaliers likely know what the future may bring if they give Varejao quality minutes. With Gooden out, the twenty-four year-old Varejao got his first two starts of the season. In those two starts, he averaged 34 mpg, 15 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, and shot 63% from the field on 9.5 fga and 75% from the line on 4.0 fta.

At the time Drew Gooden signed his hefty 3 year, $23 million deal this past offseason, it was rumored that Cleveland may have taken such action solely because of concerns over Varejao’s health. He complained of leg fatigue in the World Championships, followed by a foot injury in a game against France. Combine that to the fact that he had missed some games in the 2004-2005 NBA season with knee patella tendonitis, and some games in the 2005-2006 NBA season due to a dislocated shoulder, and the cause for concern seems legitimate.

Featured as one of Sean Deveney’s (The Sporting News) five main breakout performers for this season, he had this to say of Varejao, “This might sound weird, but a scout I know said the player he compares Varejao to is Ben Wallace. In part, that’s because Varejao is lacking offensive polish. But it’s also because Varejao plays with heart, intensity and defensive abandon, much like Wallace. I don’t know if Varejao can dominate a game from the defensive end and on the glass the way Wallace can, but as he started getting increased minutes late last season, he began to show that he can be a rebounding machine, an ideal complement to LeBron James.”

Likewise, has this to say of Varejao, “A little Bo Outlaw and a lot Dennis Rodman. Anderson Varejao… doesn’t mind coming in and doing the dirty work and cleaning up the garbage. Love his work ethic and energy. There aren’t a lot of players like Varejao, which means there will be a lot of teams that will covet his hustle and passion. Especially after Varejao’s impressive 2005-06 NBA playoff series, going from bit bench player to game-changer. It didn’t show up in the boxscores most nights, but Anderson’s energy and defense forced Mike Brown to sit Zydrunas Ilgauaskas in favor or the wild-hair Brazilian. Though the Cleveland Cavs were ousted, Varejao ran the pick and roll to perfection with LeBron James and took two crucial charges in two Cavs wins against the heavily-favorite Detroit Pistons.”

As Cleveland sits atop the Eastern conference, look for them to make sure they’re winning, keeping their players healthy, and maintaining an effective player rotation. Which is good news for a hustler like Varejao in maintaining respectable minutes, and good news for fantasy owners.

Mike Antoine is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Mike in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of The Thrill.
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