Few players in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague history had changed more games on defense than center Walter Tavares, who has done nothing but improve since he joined Real Madrid and made his EuroLeague debut on November 14, 2017. If you look at the numbers, there is no competition: Tavares has been the most intimidating player in European basketball during the last three seasons. In that span, Tavares has blocked 161 shots, 55 more than anyone else. Only Bryant Dunston, with 106, has blocked more than 75 shots in those three seasons to date. No other player has a better blocks average (1.8 bpg.) or per-minute rate (3.6 per 40 minutes). Tavares has polished his game on offense, too, but his shot-blocking and the way he forces opponents to change their games make him unique.
Tavares received the nickname "Sergeant Swat" from former Real legend Joe Arlauckas, who usually announces his home games on EuroLeague TV. Physically speaking, Tavares has everything any basketball player needs to block shots. He is one of the tallest players in the competition at2.21 meters, possesses a wingspan even longer (2.40 meters) and uses his big hands to reach out anywhere on defense. It is his defensive skills, however, what makes Tavares such a great shot-blocker. His timing is just excellent, and he has worked hard on foot speed in order to reach outside shots, get back on defense in transition and help teammates from the weak side. Tavares has also the rare ability to block shots and retain possession or swat the ball into a teammate's hands. It is safe to say that a lot of Real's fastbreaks start with Tavares blocking, changing or deflecting shots on defense.
It comes as no surprise that Tavares was chosen as the 2018-19 EuroLeague Best Defender. A perfect example of his impact came last season. In Round 7, his future teammate Jordan Mickey, then with Khimki Moscow Region, tried 11 three-point shots against him, although he had never taken more than 5 shots from beyond the arc in any other game. It is not a surprise that Real forced opponents into a EuroLeague-low 49.1% two-point shooting last season, and is doing even better (48.5%) this season. Also unsurprisingly, Real has led the EuroLeague in defensive rebounds (25.9 per game) over the last three seasons combined. Getting in transition is critical for Coach Pablo Laso's run-and-gun system, but it all starts by getting the ball back with defense. This is how Tavares, with his blocks and intimidation, made a great team even better, helping Real win its 10th EuroLeague title in 2018.