The Cavs are 5-5 in 2014, a .500 record signifying the improvement one might expect after the Cavs traded their biggest on and off court head case and brought in a two-time All-Star. The Cavs have improved in a number of areas over the past 10 games. They’re getting to the line a bit more, turning the ball over less, and their offense has improved slightly as a whole. However, the biggest impact this trade has made for the team has been with rebounding. The Cavs have grabbed 47.3 rebounds per game in the last 10 games, compared to 43.4 in the previous 10. That’s going from an average rebounding team to better than the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. They have a +6.4 rebounding differential over this stretch, which is very good as well. While the team as a whole has greatly improved, Anderson Varejao, in particular, is grabbing boards like a demon in 2014.
Andy’s averaging 15.4 rebounds per game in 2014. That’s an impressive number by any calculation. He opened the year with a Cavs team record-tying 25 boards in the OT win against the Magic, and since has posted over 15 rebounds in three more games: 18 against the Lakers, 16 against Denver, and 21 Monday afternoon against Dallas. Just those numbers by themselves are staggering. Even though we’ve seen him have stretches like this before (like his entire 2012-2013 campaign), it’s still been a bit of a shock to see Varejao completely take over the rebounding duties for the Cavs without Bynum around. But it’s not just the totals that are impressive. The rate at which Andy is grabbing these missed shots is also excellent.
Varejao has been a pretty terrific rebounder throughout this season by the advanced metrics. Currently sitting at seventh in the league at defensive rebounding rate (28.3 percent), and eighth in total rebounding rate (19.4 percent). He’s a little less excellent at grabbing offensive rebounds, ranking 20th at 11 percent, but that’s still top 20 in every advanced rebounding category. Now, let’s look at his rebounding rates over the last 10 games.
The January splits: 12.5 percent of available offensive boards, 41 percent of all defensive boards, and 26.3 percent of total rebounds. The OREB% would rank 11th in the league. The TREB% would lead the league by a large margin. Those are impressive enough. However, the DREB% number is the special one. Currently the league leader is Kevin Garnett at 31 percent. The all-time mark is Reggie Evans’ 12-13 number, which was 37.98 percent. Varejao is at 41 percent since January 2nd. It’s hard to put into context what Varejao’s been doing over the last stretch of games, but the fact that his rebounding rate on defense is at an all-time great level right now does a pretty good job.
Predictably, this has made the Cavs a much more threatening team on the glass when Varejao on the court. This has been the case throughout the season, as the Cavs have grabbed 77.1 percent of rebounds when Varejao is on the floor, and compared to 73.4 percent when Varejao is off. Over the last 10 games, though, this has turned from a slight improvement to a comical advantage. In January, the Cavs are grabbing 83.4 percent of available defensive rebounds with Varejao on the floor, and 71.1 percent when Varejao sits. That’s a dominant percentage, and plays to the Cavs advantage, because the first shot is the opponent’s only shot an overwhelming portion of the time.
Part of the reason for this jump in production is, of course, the amount of room Varejao now has to operate under the basket without Bynum in the middle. Varejao has always been someone who has succeeded on the boards by being active and using his quickness and acuity for reading shots coming off the rim to gain position, rather than size, which he really doesn’t have at 6’10”, 230 lbs. When Varejao was paired with Bynum, who liked to park himself in the paint when trying for rebounds, he was cut off from being able to get where he wanted to go and as a result, wasn’t allowed to use his abilities to their full extent. Now, Varejao spends a lot more time with Tristan Thompson and Earl Clark, and these two are also far more mobile, allowing the Cavs to attack the glass by being quicker than the other team, night in and night out. This was particularly on display during the Magic game, when Varejao and Thompson ate the Glen Davis/Jason Maxiell frontcourt duo alive by simply getting to the correct spots quickly, particularly in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Granted, Varejao’s rebounding numbers will probably not stay this good over the course of the season. A 41 percent defensive rebounding rate probably isn’t sustainable, and teams will likely figure out a way to scheme against the new Bynum-less front court on the boards. However, moving forward, Varejao’s rebounding abilities have turned the Cavs from a top-half rebounding team to one of the league’s best since January 1st. If Varejao can even stay close to his numbers he’s put up of late, and Luol Deng can start rebounding again (A guy averaging 6.4 rebounds per 36 over his career is averaging 4.2 per 36 as a Cavalier), the Cavs should continue to contend as one of the league’s best rebounding teams, which will help the team on both ends of the ball.