During the midst of G League training camp, the Raptors 905 lost a potentially huge piece to their rotation when forward Kyle Wiltjer signed with the Euroleague’s Olympiacos. Although he never played a second with the 905, he was expected to be a major part of the team due to his status as a solid and mobile 6’10 forward that was just automatic from beyond the arc. The loss of Wiltjer combined with the injuries to Malcolm Miller and Negus Webster-Chan pushed the 905 to start the season with a depleted roster.
That slim rotation got another hit on Tuesday afternoon when Euroleague’s Real Madrid announced that they’ve signed 7’3 big Edy Tavares to a deal that could last for up to three years. While this is a good opportunity for him to actually get paid decent money to play basketball, which he was unable to do with the 905, this is yet another blow for the reigning G League champions.
During his stint in the G League, Tavares stood as the most feared defensive player in the entire G League. Yes, his 7’3 and 265 pound frame had a lot to do with that fear, he has terrific defensive IQ which allows to be in the right place at the right time for most possessions. Even when he’s out of place, he can use his quick feet and huge frame to quickly get in position to block against any opposing player that might want to drive to the paint. Of course, his impact was evident from statistics as he blocked 4.6 shots per 40 minutes, which stood as the league-high for the G League. Also, opponents were four points per 40 minutes worse when Tavares was on the court (80.1 points per 40) compared to when he was on the sidelines (84.7 points per 40).
As they currently stand, the 905 should be fine when it comes to the offensive end. First off, Brown is a two-time G League All-Star that averaged 23.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.7 steals per game during his stint with the Drive. Meanwhile, Berry was actually the 905’s leading scorer during their debut season in 2015-16. While he currently isn’t healthy, Miller stood as a solid 3-and-D wing during his prior stint with the Maine Red Claws.
When it comes to the other end of the court, it’s impossible for them to find a replacement that can replicate the gigantic defensive impact that he had. Not only is that improbability due to Tavares’ huge size, its tough to find a big that had defensive IQ and mobility that he did. So, what do the 905 do to retain their status as an elite team in a competitive Atlantic Division that consists of an upgraded Maine Red Claws and Westchester Knicks? Well, someone’s gotta step up to the plate and shine.
As we currently stand, the most logical front-court replacement would be rookie big Kennedy Meeks. Although Tavares and Meeks technically both stand as centers, they couldn’t be different. While Tavares is this long and nimble defensive force, Meeks is a husky 6’10, 270 pound big that crashes the offensive glass, looks great in the low-post and has a solid mid-range jumper. As a senior, Meeks was a constant double-double threat as he averaged 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game on 55% from the field. However, he struggled mightily on defense during his time with the UNC Tar Heels as his bigger frame prevented him from really getting out and defending on the perimeter.
Although Tavares had those same issues, Meeks doesn’t have the privilege of being a 7’3 dude with a 7’9 wingspan, which helps a lot when you get beat in penetration. So while he definitely has the frame and offensive ability to stand as the team’s starting center, the 905 might need to look in another direction if they want to retain that defensive identity that pushed them to a G League title during the prior season.
If Meeks isn’t that option than the 905 may look to former East Carolina big Andre Washington to fill that role. In terms of just replacing Tavares defensive impact, he would be a solid fit as the 7’1, 235 big was pretty solid during his senior season. During his final season with the team, he averaged 11.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per 40 minutes. Those block numbers are identical to what we saw from Tavares during the 2016-17 season. Obviously, the comparison necessarily isn’t the best due to the difference in level of play and pace between G League and the AAC.
However, Washington should still be a decent replacement for Tavares as the East Carolina alum has really quick footwork for his size. That allows him to be a great pick-and-roll defender that can hold his own whether the big or guard is driving the paint. Even if there’s no penetration, Washington should be an imposing perimeter player as its tough to shoot over someone that’s 7’1. Another way that he can utilize his quick feet is as a help defender as he can quickly stop an on-ball driver. While I’m not necessarily expecting Washington to step in and become the defensive player of the year, he can be a solid presence within Jerry Stackhouse’s impressive defensive system.
Obviously, its going to suck to not able to watch Edy Tavares just break the hearts of opposing G Leaguerss during the course of a season. Alongside that, the 905 suddenly don’t have arguably the biggest piece from their title winning squad. Although nobody can truly be able to replace him, I think the duo of Andre Washington and Kennedy Meeks can still get the job done. Washington can be able to step in and be that defensive-oriented big that stands as the soul of Stackhouse’s defensive unit. Meanwhile, Meeks is a strong presence that can just bully on the offensive glass and low-post. While there may be some initial growing pains, I think the 905 will eventually retain their status as a force within the NBA G League.