"You can't scout energy," Rajon Rondo used to say, back when he was playing for Doc Rivers' Boston Celtics.
Having a high energy player on an NBA roster is a must-need, and something that's never overlooked when building a championship team. When you think of the LeBron-led teams that have either made it to the NBA Finals or have won the championship, it's quite easy to recall who the other two key players were. For his 2012 and 2013 championship teams, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh come to mind, probably even Ray Allen because of his big shot. For 2016, the other two were Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. And for 2020, the bubble championship, they were Anthony Davis and probably Rajon Rondo. Even back in 2007, when LeBron didn't win the chip, I remember the two as Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes.
As talented as the two key players supporting LeBron were, and as essential they were to winning the championship, a common theme for his overall success was the presence of an Energy Guy. Every championship team needs players who will do the dirty work of running after loose balls, closing out to shooters, and fighting over screens. That's why in this article, we will take a stroll through memory lane and recall LeBron's forgotten teammates (except for Caruso) - the Energy Guys.
Following the Cavs-Warriors short-lived rivalry which spanned from 2015 to 2018, you will probably recall Anderson Varejao as the guy who switched teams, only to be a member of the runner-up on both occasions. I won't forget how the Warriors picked him up after 2015 when the Cavs lost, only to lose to the latter in the 2016 Finals. However, the first time I saw Varejao play was with the young LeBron's Cavs which eventually lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals.
Anderson Varejao turned out to be one of LeBron's most reliable teammates. I best remember him in those playoff games against Detroit when LeBron had to face off against a Pistons team that had the most formidable defensive frontcourt of its generation. LeBron's nemesis at the time had the bulked-up, multi-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace; the stretch-four tough bad boy Rasheed Wallace; and the human pogo-stick Tayshaun Prince.
LeBron may have carried the Cavaliers with his offensive talent during those playoff battles, but the energy that Varejao provided on the defensive end, especially with his rebounding and hustle plays, was exactly the support LeBron needed. Anderson Varejao played with a feistiness and peskiness that was much needed on all those playoff games that a young LeBron James had to go through. He may not have been as talented as any of the Wallaces, but his energy and toughness helped LeBron get through his first playoff rivals.
Some would say Udonis Haslem, or even Shane Battier, was the energy guy whom LeBron heavily relied on during his championship runs with the Miami Heat. But you could easily argue that it was Norris Cole. Norris Cole came in as a young unknown for the Miami Heat, who at the time could no longer afford to fill out the gaps on its roster because of the combined salary of James, Wade, and Bosh.
Norris Cole came off the bench and was a refreshing backup for either Chalmers or James, depending on who Spoelstra trusted to run the point. Norris Cole may not have been a great shooter (which wasn't required of point guards back then), but he provided a spark to the Miami Heat second unit which early on lacked depth. This was before Miami was able to sign proven vets like Rashard Lewis or Ray Allen.
Norris Cole was one of the high-energy defenders on that Miami Heat team, who 'soaked everything up' that LeBron and his other future Hall-of-Fame teammates had to impart. With veterans who paced themselves throughout a season and even throughout a game, it was vital for a player like Norris Cole to show up and infuse energy into an ageing lineup, especially on nights when the vets were either disinterested or unhealthy.
Who could forget the time when Matthew Dellavedova locked up Steph Curry?
Some might have, but I haven't forgotten how the Australian-born player just left it all on the floor when LeBron's fellow All-Star, Kyrie Irving, went down with injury. Australian NBA players seem to manifest so much toughness in their game. I remember how Andrew Bogut played in his prime and how tough he was for the non-small-ball Warriors team. Joe Ingles, who plays for the Utah Jazz, is also known for being a pest on the floor.
But it's Matthew Dellavedova who embodies the Aussie toughness and shows it very well in the NBA game. NBA teams put him in their rotation specifically for his energy and toughness. Like the first two players on this list, Delly isn't really known for his shooting and other basketball skills, but he is without a doubt one of the best high-energy teammates that LeBron has ever had.
It's a shame the Cavs didn't get to win that 2015 Finals against the Warriors. Who knows, maybe Matthew Dellavedova would have won Finals MVP? I mean, with the way they awarded Andre Iguodala because he minimized LeBron's impact, shouldn't someone like Delly be recognized for stopping Steph Curry?
'Forgotten' isn't a word that's synonymous with Alex Caruso, because he's easily the most memorable non-All-Star teammate LeBron James has ever had. But that could be recency bias playing a trick on our collective consciousness. Only time will tell how the Los Angeles Lakers will fare, now that fan favorite Alex Caruso is no longer a Laker.
As key as Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, KCP, and even Kyle Kuzma all were during the 2020 championship, Alex Caruso's impact is something that can't be understated. Defending the opposing team's best player seemed to have been Alex Caruso's main assignment every night. And this was a very tough assignment during that whole playoff run, if you can remember.
In the first round, they faced off against Damian Lillard and the Blazers. In the second round they had Russell Westbrook and the Rockets. And in the conference finals the Lakers faced Jamal Murray and the Nuggets. These were all very talented, All-Star point guards whom Alex Caruso had the tough task of defending; and he never disappointed.
I still hate the Lakers front office for not finding a way to re-sign Alex Caruso for at least one more year. But I'm happy to see that Caruso's value as an Energy Guy has been felt league-wide and he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.