Andrew Bynum. He’s a name synonymous for making Jim Buss look good in the draft. He was the last lottery pick for the Lakers. While he’s not on the team, no one can deny his tremendous strides as a player during his first several years in the league.
He was raw clay when he was first drafted. He had the hands, the wingspan, and the height, but couldn’t put it all together on the basketball court. Once he got into shape, took some lessons from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and implemented footwork in his game, he was an overnight sensation. That raw clay turned into a sculpted, explosive athlete at the rim.
The lottery picks projected from #5 through #10 are fairly predictable. Names like Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, and Dario Saric come up. Rodney Hood may sneak into the lottery too. But for some, there’s the hope of finding a project player, one that can be sculpted into the big, explosive athlete that Bynum was, when he was healthy.
In the draft, there is one guy who stands out. His name is Walter Tavares.
His full measurements aren’t official, but he’s listed at 7’2″, 265lbs. He has a massive wingspan and massive hands. If I were to take a guess at a standing reach, it’s more than Joel Embiid’s at 9’5.5″. It looks more like 9’8″. The size is there, but like Bynum, he’s athletic clay. He first touched a basketball in 2010.
Offensively, he plays around the rim. He has a soft touch around the rim, but likes to finish with a dunk. He has no game outside of 5′ from the hoop, but is a surprisingly solid free throw shooter at 71%. He doesn’t have solidified post moves. He’s simply too big for his competition, and gets away with a soft touch and great wingspan to take soft shots around the rim.
Athletically, he’s an interesting prospect. He doesn’t have tremendous vertical leaping ability. He has huge feet, and when he runs the floor, it looks like is running with flippers. While it’s not aesthetically pleasing to see him run, he looks great making up ground in transition. The best part of his athleticism include his motor, timing, and activity in the painted area. Usually, players of that size do not have a great motor at all, and rely on their strength and wingspan on both ends of the floor. He uses those tools, plus an unnatural level of hustle and activity in the paint. Due to those great physical tools, he seems explosive around the paint, especially on the offensive end when he finishes with authority, quickly around the hoop.
Defensively is where he stands out. His size is too great for his competition. He does a solid job keeping his hands up in the low post to defend shots, but gets caught reaching in, or biting on headfakes. His base is strong enough to handle opposing players without using an arm in the lower back. At the NBA level, that may not be the case. While he does get caught up in foul trouble, the basic principles of defending the shot, blocking the shot, or rotating on defense are all there. His basketball IQ is solid, considering he has played a limited amount of minutes on the floor compared to his age.
Rebounding, is his best strength. He walks in opposing players under the basket, and uses his reach on the offensive backboard for multiple tips. More importantly, on the defensive end, he finds an assignment to box out, seals him well, and extends up for the rebound.
There are concerns for him at the NBA level. Will his health keep up? Does he have the heart to put up the work? Does a team need to monitor his minutes? While these are major questions to be asked, they are also similar questions to what Andrew Bynum faced when he was drafted. No, Bynum’s health didn’t keep up. No, Bynum’s heart ran out. Yes, a team did need to monitor his minutes. But like any star that flames out quickly, he did shine the brightest, and gave the Lakers a chance for two more championship runs.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Maybe, Walter Tavares can do it.