Edy Tavares Is Taking Big Steps Toward an NBA Future with the Hawks


The Atlanta Hawks may have found someone special in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Case in point from last week: With 20 seconds left in the game, a shot clock in the single digits, and a 70-68 lead over Herbalife Gran Canaria, Spanish team CB Sevilla, a member of Spain’s Liga ACB, threw the ball in the low post. Guillermo Hernangómez caught the ball, spun, and rose to put up a turnaround shot with the hopes of padding Sevilla’s lead.

Edy Tavares, whom the Hawks drafted with the #43 overall pick, made two plays for Gran Canaria: a good one and a great one.

First, the 7’3″ center blocked the shot cleanly without fouling, keeping his team within striking distance.

But more importantly, as the ball fell back down — headed directly for Hernangómez — Tavares used his extensive 7’9″ wingspan to reach out and poked the ball to a teammate, a stunning play of basketball instinct for a 22-year-old who only first started playing basketball five years ago. Gran Canaria still needed a score.

Gran Canaria deftly maneuvered the ball to Kyle Kuric on the ensuing possession, and Kuric hit an open three-pointer to give his team a one-point lead.

For the game, Tavares, whose real name is Walter, finished with 12 points (3/5 FG, 6/7 FT), six rebounds and three blocks.

"“It was very special because in ACB, we need the wins. It was a very important win,” Tavares noted this week via phone interview. “I was also very happy for the three-pointer that Kyle Kuric scored on the previous play, but I loved the two blocked shots and it was a very important play to finish the game.”"

Liga ACB

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Liga ACB is not a rinky-dink league. Many pro basketball experts consider it to be the second-best pro league in the world behind the NBA.

Kristaps Porzingas scored 11 points in the game for Sevilla, and Draft Express projects the 19-year-old to be a top-5 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Another player with Liga ACB experience is Hawks’ forward/center Mike Muscala. Last season, Muscala averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 20 games while playing for Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro. If he had played enough games to qualify for the league’s leaderboard before signing with the Hawks in February 2014, his 7.8 rebounds per game would have been the top mark

This season, Tavares is averaging 7.6 rebounds per game, which currently ranks him 3rd in the league, and he holds the top spot of the blocks leaderboard with 1.9 per game.

In terms of scoring, Tavares averages 8.0 points per game and is shooting 63.8% from the field and 66.7% from the free throw line for the 2014-15 season.

More importantly, Edy has played well for a team that is winning. His defense has been a key component of a four-game winning streak that has vaulted Gran Canaria to 7th place in the 18-team league.

Tavares celebrates a win with teammates (Photo credit: Herbalife Gran Canaria)

Eurocup and a weekly MVP award

Like most European teams, Gran Canaria participates in both a national league and a competition with teams from multiple countries. For this season, Tavares and Gran Canaria are taking part in Eurocup.

Based upon the results to date, Gran Canaria has to be an early favorite, not only to win the 36-team Eurocup competition, but also to earn the resulting berth for next year in the higher-ranked Eurobasket tourney.

Tavares’ team was one of only two to make it through the 10-game regular season without a loss.

Then Edy took it one step further when the playoffs began last week, earning the MVP award for Week 1 of the Round of 32.

Tavares scored 26 points in 26 minutes of play against Banco di Sardegna Sassari (11/14 FG, 4/4 FT). Edy also recorded 12 rebounds, an assist and a block for a total index rating of 40, which was not only the highest valuation in Round 1, but as high as any mark in the Eurocup this season and the highest ever for a player from Gran Canaria in Eurocup.

For Tavares, the 26 points marked a career high.

“It was my best scoring game, but it is not the important thing,” Tavares noted. “The important thing is that I continue to improve my game — in skills, on the court and in practice.”

Starting a professional hoops career from the Canary Islands

Walter “Edy” Tavares was born and raised in Cape Verde, a nation of small islands dotting the western coast of Africa. He started playing for Gran Canaria in 2012.

“It’s a great place, similar to the weather in my country in Cape Verde,” Tavares said of the Canary Islands, which like Cape Verde lie just off Africa’s western shores.

In his spare time, Tavares counts reading, long walks, movies, and following soccer among his hobbies. His favorite player is superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who hails from a Portuguese-speaking country yet toils professionally in Spain just as Tavares does.

(Tavares speaks four languages: Portuguese, Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, and some English. He was partially assisted in the interview with Soaring Down South by a translator.)

Despite the distance between them, Wes Wilcox, assistant general manager of the Hawks, says that the team gets video of most of Tavares’ games and that the Hawks communicate with Tavares electronically on a regular basis, a fact reiterated by Tavares.

The checking up works both ways though. Tavares keeps an eye on the Hawks too. “I’m watching the Atlanta Hawks on TV this year. They’re having a great season and I’m confident that they are going to play great in the playoffs.”

Wilcox added, “We’ve also been there a number of times to see Walter play in person and we have one of our staff members in Spain — a consultant who stays very close to the program and keeps us abreast of how he is doing.”

Developing a skillset

Edy battling on the boards (Photo credit: Herbalife Gran Canaria)

With only five years of experience playing basketball, Tavares still has much to learn.

But Wilcox is quick to add that Tavares has the drive to get better. “Beyond the technical traits, I think we are as encouraged by the substantive makeup of Walter. He very much wants to be good. He works incredibly hard. His desire to be a player is very unique.”

Edy did not hesitate when asked to self-critique his game.

“My strength is defense and rebounds and how I am able to run the court on fast breaks and defense. My weakest points are patience in the low post, to read the game, to read each play and attack the defense. I want to add some experience and to work in the gym to be stronger.”

One asset Tavares can bring with him to the NBA, if he comes, is the ability to play above the rim — not only on putbacks, but also on rolls to the rim in pick-and-roll situations.

As Wilcox put it, “On the offensive side, there are some other benefits. I think he’s a 70% free throw shooter, he is certainly a presence above the rim, but I’m not sure we really know who he is fully yet on that side of the ball.”

Will Tavares someday join the Hawks?

Even though Tavares is enjoying his time with Gran Canaria — he is now in his third season with the team — he is quick to point out his ultimate career goal.

“I want to play in the NBA. I don’t know if it is this year, or the next year or two years from now. My focus is to improve my game this season and keep working.”

Wilcox also sees Tavares as a future Hawk but recognizes that Gran Canaria may be the best place for Edy for the time being.

“We have a mutual interest in coming together. We have shared this with Edy and all parties, but the timing? We’re not certain how that plays out. There’s too much unknown. It would be great to have him.

“But the other thing that we feel very good about is that he is playing in one of the best clubs in Spain with one of the best coaches for young players in Coach (Reneses) Aíto (García), who coached players like Ricky Rubio and Pau Gasol. I’m not mentioning these names to set some sort of bar or expectation, but Coach Aíto is known to develop young players. And the fact that Walter is playing like somewhere 26 minutes per game in a 40 minutes game, and has an important role on a very good team, we understand that there’s a great deal of value in him playing 60 games per year in the ACB and the Euro Cup against some of the best players in the world outside of the NBA. So there’s certainly not any urgency, because we know the strength of the program that he’s in, but yes, there’s a mutual interest in all the parties to eventually find a way to have Edy as a part of us.”

On Tavares’ potential fit with the Hawks

The Hawks are rolling, having won 22 of their last 24 games. Through their first 37 games, they have averaged 106.4 points per 100 possessions, an efficient mark that ranks them 6th in the NBA in offense.

One of the strengths of their team is that Atlanta puts shooters all over the court, with the rarest commodity among those marksmen being centers who stretch the floor, most notably Al Horford and Pero Antic. The resulting space vacated by the big men — not to mention any pick they might set — leaves the middle the floor open for Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder to drive to the rim, which in turn results in kick-out passes to three-point shooters.

Can Tavares fit what the Hawks do?

“One of the strengths of our team is that we have a bunch of what we would call ‘middle-prime players’, squarely in the prime of their careers,” Wilcox said. “One of the great things about having young players on a good team is that naturally they are able to take the time to develop and improve, and they are not needed to play immediately.”

Tavares thinks he can develop to fit what the Hawks do. “Right now I am working a lot and shooting to improve my midrange shot,” he said. “If I have to play outside the zone, I will adapt to playing that way. I have a good work ethic. I am capable of adapting to the system. But right now — I am very tall — so normally I play under the basket in the zone.”

Wilcox says that the Hawks can afford to be patient.

“When Walter decides to play in the NBA and when we decide to bring him to the NBA — when we agree on that time —  it’s likely that he’s not going to be needed on the floor immediately, which then gives him the appropriate time to continue to improve and develop.”

At the end of Gran Canaria’s game with Sevilla, after Kuric hit the three-pointer to give Gran Canaria a 71-70 lead, there was still time for Sevilla to score and regain the lead.

With 3.5 seconds left, Sevilla tried driving the lane before realizing Tavares had it covered. They passed back out for a jump shot that missed. The rebound caromed out of bounds off Gran Canaria with 0.3 seconds left.

Sevilla then inbounded the ball to the paint for one last gasp.

The game ended with Tavares swatting away that shot too.

Next: Pero Antic isn't your typical second-year player

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