With the trade of Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira, a first round pick in 2013 who became a fan favorite at Summer League last season, the Atlanta Hawks opened up room in their long-term plans for another raw international center - Willie Tavares, a 7'3 giant from Cape Verde who plays for Gran Canaria in the Spanish ACB league and was drafted in the second round last week. To know why Tavares is such an intriguing prospect, you have to look at the rather unique way he was discovered.
Tavares was a 17-year old working in his family's store in Cape Verde when a German tourist on vacation saw him and was awed by his height. The tourist had some connections with the Canaria people and repeatedly urged them to go out to the islands and check him out for themselves. They didn't believe him at first, but they eventually saw Tavares for themselves and signed him, even though he had never played basketball before in his life.
Because he didn't grow up playing the game, his ceiling, especially on the offensive end, is rather limited. You are never going to see Tavares become a low post option or a guy you can run offense through in the half-court. However, when you are as big, tall and athletic as Tavares, you don't need to be all that skilled to be an effective basketball player. It's like Bronn's scouting report of The Mountain in Game of Thrones - the guy is freakish big, he is freakish strong and he moves much better than you would expect for a guy his size.
Tavares is 7'3 265 with a 7'9 wingspan and he's reasonably athletic - he dramatically impacts the geometry of the floor just by standing in front of the rim and waving his arms. On offense, all he has to do is hang out around the rim, keep his hands straight up, catch the ball and deposit it gently in the net. He operates at a higher plane than just about anyone in the world. As a result, he was tremendously effective in limited minutes for Canaria last season - per-40 minutes, he averaged 11 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks on 59% shooting.
At 22, he's a little older for a draft prospect, but he's so big he will continue getting better deep into his 20's. At the very least, he projects as a very interesting backup C who can match up with even the biggest low-post scorers, play interior defense, clean the boards and be a threat at the rim at the pick-and-roll. It's pretty much the same role that Noguiera would have, except Tavares is bigger, stronger and has an easier time finishing because of his superior length. When you are 7'3 and you aren't uncoordinated or unathletic, the game just isn't very hard.
That's what the German tourist in Cape Verde, Gran Canaria and the Atlanta Hawks all understood. In a game involving throwing a ball through a hoop 10 feet in the air, it pays to be as tall as humanly possible. There's nowhere in the world, no matter how remote, a guy with Tavares' size can hide from the basketball industry. There are 7 billion people in the world, but if you are 7'2+, basketball scouts will track to the ends of the Earth - being that tall is that super valuable. As a result, Tavares is a draft-and-stash guy worth tracking over the next few years.