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Big Week Ahead for Walter Tavares

Second-round pick Walter Tavares helped Gran Canaria to an 84-76 win in the eightfinals of the Eurocup this week which sets up two huge challenges in the week ahead.

The emergence of Walter "Edy" Tavares and his Gran Canaria teammates on the global stage continues. The 7'3 center had 8 points on 4/6 shooting and added 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in 27 minutes of play in a big 84-76 road win over Cedevita Zagreb. Gran Canaria will host Cedevita on Wednesday, March 11 in the closing game of the eightfinal of the Eurocup. Similar to European soccer, Gran Canaria will have to protect an eight point lead at home to advance out of the equivalent of the Eurocup's round of 16. Here is a nearly 4-minute clip of highlights from the opening game of the Eurocup eightfinal:

A few observations from the highlights:

  1. This is high-quality play of mostly players in the prime of their careers. For those who easily dismiss Euro basketball, the overall play is well-ahead of what prospects find in college and the D-League even if the athleticism is slightly behind.
  2. The size of Cedevita-as mentioned in detail below-allows for a better showing of how Tavares is advancing in his skill development. The offensive rebound and hook shot at the 1:20 mark was not in his toolbox a year ago.
  3. Tavares is improving his lower body as seen in his solid screen at 1:58 and creating shot opportunity at 2:30. Lower body strength has been a weakness for the second-round pick, but he is making progress.
  4. While Tavares has run the floor well for his size throughout his career, it is a good sign that he is able to run the floor late in a game where he played big minutes.

Looking deeper into his results and what lies ahead, the Eurocup is the second-highest quality of tournament in Europe behind the Euroleague. Cedevita is a traditionally strong international squad who were placed into the Eurocup along with 8 other teams after being eliminated in Euroleague play. Cedevita features borderline NBA talent in centers Stanko Barac (2nd round NBA pick in 2007), Tomislav Zubcic (2nd round NBA pick in 2011), and Miro Bilan (2014 Summer League with Houston Rockets). The 7'1, 245-pound Barac could be a future rival of Tavares in Atlanta as there are rumors he could sign with the Pacers this offseason after turning down previous offers. Joined with the 6'11, 245-pound Bilan, the Cedevita front line is not one that Tavares can easily dominate with a larger body. Looking deeper into the numbers, Tavares defending such a large and experienced front line for 27 minutes without committing a foul is as strong a sign of progress as his traditional numbers.

Facing the Cedevita front line this Wednesday with a chance to advance to the Final Eight of the Eurocup is only the second biggest challenge on tap for the Big Canary* this weekend. On Sunday, Gran Canaria faces FC Barcelona in Spanish ACB League play. Barcelona is currently third in the Spanish League at 16-6 while Gran Canaria is ninth at 11-11 following a loss to Unicaja earlier in the week. Barcelona is currently most recognized as the team of future first-round phenom Mario Hezonja (currently #14 on PTH draft rankings and higher on other boards), but Tavares will be more concerned with 7'1, 225-pound center Ante Tomic. The former Jazz draft choice would likely be in the NBA if he had shown interest in crossing overseas, but the 28-year-old has seemed content as the anchor of one of the best teams in Europe.

This week is not only important for immediate evaluation of Edy's progress in Europe, but it also provides an opportunity for Tavares to secure more meaningful games this season. With 10 games remaining in league play in the Spanish ACB, Gran Canaria must get into the top 8 to make the playoffs. That level of advancement would be huge in what is widely viewed as the best league in the world beyond the NBA. Likewise, if Gran Canaria can hold on to an 8-point advantage at home against Cedevita, they will advance to the Final 8 of the Eurocup.

Gran Canaria has turned into a perfect fit for Tavares and the Hawks. The team is the best three-point shooting team in the Eurocup at 44.4% and no one on the team averages more than 13 points per game. With Tavares as the only center, he has had a great opportunity to play on a team with similar principles as his potential future NBA team. It is a big week for Atlanta's biggest stashed asset. You can probably best follow the day-to-day progress on RealGM here and we will try to provide updates via Twitter as soon as they are known.

*No one really uses Big Canary in reference to Tavares, but with him running the floor in a giant yellow jersey for a team called Gran Canaria it should become a thing. I would claim licensing rights if it was not so lame.