The 6-23 Cleveland Cavaliers posses a talented core of young players led by 2012 ROY PG Kyrie Irving. However, as is proven year in and year out, it takes time- and battle-tested veterans to win consistently in the NBA.
Ninth-year center Anderson Varejao is that type of veteran. He’s having a monster season so far, leading the league in rebounding to go along with 14.1 ppg. There’s been a smattering of chatter in the hoops world that several premiere squads are interested in acquiring the fiery Brazilian to bolster their rosters. And with the Cavs in deep rebuilding mode, they may decide to trade away their most productive player for a few younger guys and/or draft picks.
Whether this particular scenario plays out or not, Cleveland has a solid big man in 7’ rookie Tyler Zeller. For the past three games, Zeller has filled in at the starting 5-spot for Varejao, who’s nursing a knee injury. During this stint, Zeller has averaged 35 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 7 rpg, .66 bpg and .66 spg.
Zeller, who was taken 17th in last spring’s draft, is a fleet-footed workhorse who spent four seasons at UNC and competed in 117 pressure-packed contests for Roy Williams. Zeller was named 2012 ACC Player of the Year.
Zeller is tough as nails. In Cleveland’s fourth game he suffered a concussion and fractured his orbital bone. Instead of missing several weeks, Zeller sat out only four games. This injury set back Zeller’s early development. But in recent weeks coach Byron Scott’s confidence in his young center has grown, along with Zeller’s minutes and FG attempts.
So far in his freshman year, Zeller is averaging 23.7 mpg, 7.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg. He has season highs of 20 points, 10 boards (2X) and 3 blocks. Zeller’s role on the Cavs should continue to increase this season, regardless of Varejao’s status.