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Varejao taking his game to the next level
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A lot can change in two years. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In 2010, the top-seeded Cavs looked poised for a run at the championship. They made quick work of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, setting the stage for a second-round battle against an aging Boston Celtics team.

But that was as close the Cavs would ever get to holding the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy. Instead of capturing the city's first NBA title, the Cavaliers endured a stunning defeat, falling to the veteran Celtics in six games. The team has faced an uphill climb ever since.

Only two players remain from that Cavaliers team that won 61 games during the 2009-10 regular season.

One is Daniel Gibson, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard with a a deadly three-point stroke.

The other is quickly becoming one of the most valuable players in all of fantasy basketball.

The player I am referring to is Anderson Varejao. Mostly known for his wild hair-do (which I would describe as equal parts Kramer, Troy Polamalu and Sideshow Bob from "The Simpsons") and frequent flopping, Varejao has never garnered much attention in fantasy circles ... until now.

During his first several years in Cleveland, Varejao was overshadowed by Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a colossal 7-foot-3 center from Lithuania and also a Cavaliers fan favorite. Playing alongside Ilgauskas (a two-time All-Star) from 2004 to 2010, Varejao was only able to average seven ppg and 6.7 rpg.

Luckily for Varejao, Ilgauskas left to join LeBron James in Miami after the 2009-10 season, allowing Varejao to take over as the team's starting center. Since the Ilgauskas departure, Varejao has bumped his scoring average up to 10.5 ppg while improving his rebounding rate by over four rpg (10.9 rpg).

If you've ever seen the 30-year-old Brazilian center compete you'll know that he plays every game like he's just had ten Red Bulls to drink. Tuesday night against Brooklyn, Varejao was all over the floor, producing a stellar 35 points in 37 minutes of play.

He was equally effective on the boards, hauling in 18 rebounds including 11 on the offensive glass. The 18-rebound effort marked Varejao's fourth game of 15- plus rebounds in seven starts. Varejao only had five games of 15 or more rebounds all of last season.

Clearly, Varejao has found chemistry with second-year point guard Kyrie Irving. Six of Irving's eight assists on the night went to Varejao. Irving's ability to create high-percentage shots for his teammates could be the reason why Varejao is shooting a career-best 60.8 percent from the field this season (sixth-best in the NBA).

Nearly every element of Varejao's game has improved this season. His ppg has already risen by over five ppg (career-high 15.9 ppg in 2012-13 compared to 10.8 ppg last season) and his productivity as a rebounder has never been higher (13.7 rpg, second in the NBA). Even his free-throw shooting, always an area of concern with Varejao, has gotten better (71.4 percent versus 61.1 percent for his career).

It's still early in the year but if Varejao can maintain these averages, he'll become just the fourth player to average at least 15 ppg and 13 rpg in a season since 2002. The others are Dwight Howard (he's done this five times), Kevin Garnett (three times) and Kevin Love (twice).

With Varejao playing a career-high 35 minutes per contest in 2012-13, fantasy owners should have plenty of reason for optimism. However, owners should also be mindful that Varejao's all-out style of play, though admirable, can be a double-edged sword.

Varejao has been among the most injury-prone players in the league, having missed 93 games due to injury since the beginning of 2010-11. That means he has only been healthy for 40.4 percent of Cleveland's games over that span, an absolutely horrendous ratio.

Varejao has already missed one game this season due to a right knee injury and it might not be long before the check engine light comes on again for the nine-year veteran.

Varejao has been a fantasy steal up to this point but his injury history suggests this wave of success may not last very long. There's no reason why Varejao shouldn't be in your starting lineup every time he plays. Just make sure you have a backup ready for when Varejao inevitably gets hurt.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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