The future of the frontcourt

March 22nd, 2011 by John Krolik

The Cavaliers’ immediate future is uncertain, to say the least. The one thing we do know is that Anderson Varejao will almost certainly be a part of it. Given the upcoming CBA battle, it seems unlikely that any teams are going to be making the type of trade that would lead to Varejao’s departure this season. Varejao has also shown that he is almost as effective defending the center position as he is defending the four spot, and that his high-movement, high-energy style of offense can work even without LeBron running the pick-and-roll with him. Those are both good things.

However, there is somewhat of a paradox: Anderson Varejao is a true center on offense and a true power forward on defense. Varejao is a slightly better outside shooter and high-post player than he gets credit for, but he’s infinitely more comfortable when he can make cuts without the ball, roll to the basket, and crash the offensive glass. And while he can guard the post pretty darn well for such a skinny guy, he’s at his best when he can show hard on pick-and-rolls, recover back, and disrupt offenses 25 feet away from the hoop.

So the ideal frontcourt partner for Anderson Varejao is a center who can guard the post, defend the rim, and keep the floor spaced by stepping out and hitting jumpers. That player does not actually exist, which is something of an issue. The 08-09 version of Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a perfect fit with Varejao, but he was overmatched by Dwight Howard, has aged, and plays in Miami. Marcus Camby comes close, but he’s much better at taking 20-footers than he is at making them. Chad Ford’s version of Darko Milicic would be perfect, and reports are that he plans to put in serious work on his game this off-season with Sidd Finch. We’ll keep you updated on that as it develops.

With that in mind, let’s look at the pros and cons of some potential froncourts for the Cavs next season:

Varejao/Hickson:

The most likely starting unit. If this is going to work, Hickson will have to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers and make good defensive rotations on the perimeter. I have doubts about the former and grave doubts about the latter. I think the chances are that Hickson’s rightful place in this league will be as a first big off the bench, but a Varejao/Hickson backcourt could potentially be serviceable.

Varejao/Sullinger:

I can’t shake the feeling that if the Cavs don’t get Irving, they’re going with Sullinger. Barnes is the only other guy that can really be sold as a huge potential piece, and Sullinger is more consistent and playing for the good basketball team in Ohio. (Note: if the Cavs pass on Irving willingly and the subsequent five blog entries are pictures of puppies attempting to solve mysteries, it is because I have lost my mind.)

Sullinger can score and rebound, but perimeter defense and outside shooting are his two biggest weaknesses, which means he’d be an iffy fit with Varejao on offense and questionable on defense. I’m going to say this one more time: I’m all about building a defensive frontcourt first. That’s why I’m not really sold on Sullinger.

Varejao/Valanciunas:

I know nothing about Valanciunas other than what I’ve read in scouting reports. Apparently he’s tall, has an insane wingspan, doesn’t shoot mid-range jump shots, loves to roll to the basket and finish, is a good shot-blocker, but isn’t the most cerebral defensive player. I like him on paper, but he’s European and was born in 1992. That makes him a huge question mark. Still, he sounds like a legit NBA center if all goes as planned, and I’m willing to sacrifice some offensive hiccups for a real live defensive backcourt. The caveat here is that I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he turns out to be a poor man’s Mosgov. It’s really hard to predict these Euro big mens, especially really young ones.

Perry Jones:

Seems like Mike Beasley without the college production. He will tantalize you with jump shots, he will miss defensive rotations, he will get your hopes up, and he will break your heart. Or he could be a cross between Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Garnett. A pretty good “fit” on paper, but these versatile forwards will make you tear your hair out.

Those are a few of my thoughts — there’s always the chance that the Cavs could try and develop a center on their own (does anyone know what’s up with Sasha Kaun right now? He was doing well in international play, right?), or try to find another option through free agency or trades. Let me know your ideas.

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