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Walter Tavares progressing well in Spain

With the trade of Adreian Payne, the progress of Atlanta's 2014 second-round selection Walter "Edy" Taveras comes in greater focus.

Without speculating on how much the development of Walter Tavares impacted the trade of Adreian Payne, the move opens up an additional roster spot over the next three years which could impact Atlanta's 2014 second-round pick. Tavares is both the biggest candidate physically and philosophically to be considered for a spot on the roster in 2015-16. He remains a raw prospect, but one who has made developmental strides this season in the Spanish ACB League (widely considered the second-best league in the world).

Tavares leads the ACB League in rebounding at 8.1 rebounds per game. Mike Muscala led the league in rebounding last season prior to signing with the Hawks. Additionally, Tavares is second in blocked shots at 1.7 per game. Tavares and former Louisville guard Kyle Kuric have Gran Canaria impressively placed in the middle of the league at 10-9. Here are highlights of the Big Canary against Real Madrid--one of the best teams in the world:

Gran Canaria also plays in the Eurocup where they blitzed through qualification with a 10-0 record and currently lead their division of the "Last 32" with a 4-1 record. Gran Canaria is likely to advance to the next round which will allow Atlanta to see him playing against strong international competition both in the Spanish League and Eurocup play. Additionally, he has a likely chance to play against many former and current NBA draftees to aid in assessing his level of development.

What most stands out about Edy to this point is that he is learning to play smaller in important ways. If you watch film against Real Madrid from a year ago, Tavares has a Frankenstein-like approach to the game where his arms are mostly out while stiffly roaming the court. He remains awkwardly big, but he is using his lower body much better this season. His physicality is becoming more than just a vertical strength. While film of his play is limited, he appears to be using his height to keep balls alive for teammates. His greatest limitation defensively is committing 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes which is an unsustainable rate at the NBA level. His foul rate is higher against higher-level competition.

I confess to not being the biggest fan of Tavares as a prospect on draft day, but he has shown considerable improvement as a basketball player this season. Based on his play last season, his numbers show a player slightly ahead of schedule from most projections for him at draft time. Through 23 Spanish League games, here are Tavares' numbers as compared to Mike Muscala and Gustavo Ayon (who has now returned to the Spanish ACB) in their similar-age seasons in the ACB:

Player (Age) Min Pts FG% FT% FTA Rebs Blks
Tavares (24) 23 7.8 62 64 2.3 8.1 1.7
Muscala (22) 27 14.6 54 87 3.5 7.8 0.8
Ayon (25) 23 10.8 66 60 2.4 6.5 1.4

The numbers show Tavares to be close on being an NBA player on the defensive end while still being a liability on offense. In simplest form, he is a bizarro Muscala. Both players are good rebounders, but Muscala's skills translate better on the offensive end. Gustavo Ayon has gotten a cup of coffee in the NBA and had good moments with Atlanta when healthy. At this time, Ayon would appear to be a reasonable floor to project for Tavares at the NBA level. While that is not something to get overly excited about, it means Tavares is capable of playing in the NBA at some point in the future despite this being only his fifth year of playing basketball.

Tavares is growing on the offensive end. He is becoming better in pick-and-roll, growing as a passer, and is a weapon on the offensive glass. His mid-range jumper is still bad, but it looks like a basketball shot now. At this point, there still remains a tier of players between Tavares and the back end of the Atlanta roster, but he is closing that gap as his skills improve. With opportunities to play more former NBA players and future NBA draft picks, Tavares could establish himself as a strong candidate to earn a spot on the Hawks in 2015-16. If he makes the Atlanta roster, he will still likely be in a developmental role and spend a lot of time in the D-League.

Fans should not be disappointed if Tavares is not ready to help Atlanta next season. He was drafted as a raw player and his progress is ahead of schedule. His development this season projects to him wearing an ATL jersey at some point in the future meaning the streak of second-round draft production will continue. Thankfully upon arrival there will be no doubt on whether or not Tavares is a center. (And if there is... please go cheer for the Knicks.)