By Chris Sheridan
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Cavs outscored the Nets by 14 points Saturday when Anderson Varejao was on the court in their 94-86 victory over New Jersey, which moved the Brazilian into first place overall in the NBA’s plus-minus category.
Plus-minus measures how much a team outscores or is outscored by an opponent when any given player is on the court, and Cleveland has outscored opponents by 309 points when Varejao has been on the court in his 33 games.
With the Lakers off Saturday night, that means Varejao held the overnight plus-minus lead over the plus-306 of the Lakers’ Ron Artest, who has been sidelined since sustaining a concussion in a fall at his home on Christmas night.
(Tangential note: LeBron James was a league-leading plus-871 last season, and during training camp Pat Riley pointed out to Dwyane Wade that Michael Jordan registered plus-700 in nine consecutive seasons.)
Since the Cavs are so much better when Varejao plays than when he sits, it begs the question: Why isn’t he a starter?
The common perception is that coach Mike Brown likes to bring the Brazilian off the bench to play the bulk of his minutes alongside Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has a better outside shot than Varejao and thus can play away from the basket and leave the dirty work down low to Varejao, who had 12 rebounds vs. the Nets. What’s more, the Varejao-Ilgauskas pairing off the bench provides some continuity for the Cavs after they open with Shaquille O’Neal (no outside game) at center and J.J. Hickson (who has somewhat of a steady outside shot) at power forward.
But Brown says that's a misperception.
“I play Hickson with Shaq because I want to play Andy the whole game, but I can’t play him the whole game. So I decided to start J.J. because in the first eight minutes of the game, we’re not going to win or lose it,” Brown said. “So if I play him 8 minutes in the first half and 8 in the second, that’s 16 minutes I don’t have to play Andy and it’s really not going to affect the game. A lot of times now, if you watch our games lately, when Andy goes in he ain’t coming out. I don’t care if Z is in or Shaq’s coming back in.
“It’s just at the start of the game it makes more sense for me and for the team to have someone else, and not play Andy 38-39 minutes a game. But his value to us with whoever’s on the floor is off the charts.”
And the plus-minus numbers prove it.