Basketball Notes

Villanueva bucks up this year

He finally hits his stride - and stands to cash in

His stats dipped the last two years, but Charlie Villanueva is on the upswing. His stats dipped the last two years, but Charlie Villanueva is on the upswing. (Darren hauck/Associated Press)
By Marc J. Spears
March 15, 2009
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The seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft was traded after his rookie season. Critics said the ex-University of Connecticut star didn't play hard all the time. And he has often been the subject of trade rumors.

But now that he is living up to his potential on a nightly basis, the negative talk has stopped, and Charlie Villanueva has quietly put himself in position to get big bucks from the Milwaukee Bucks.

"I've been playing real good basketball," he said. "It's a new year. I'm just tapping into the potential of the player that I can be."

After averaging 13 points per game as a rookie with Toronto during the 2005-06 season, Villanueva regressed by averaging 11.8 and 11.7 in the next two seasons, with the Bucks. But this season, the versatile 6-foot-11-inch, 240-pounder is having a career year in several categories.

After Friday night's loss to New Orleans, Villanueva is averaging career highs of 16.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists, with a career-high 37.4 shooting percentage from 3-point range and 84.4 free throw percentage.

With injuries to starters Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, the play of Villanueva has been a major factor in keeping Milwaukee in the race for the eighth and final Eastern Conference spot.

"Charlie has always had the ability to score in this league and has continued to do so this season," Bucks first-year general manager John Hammond said. "He has made progress as a more consistent rebounder and defender.

"We could not be more proud of him for the effort he has put forth under difficult circumstances due to injuries involving both Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut."

Villanueva credits his improved play to the addition of intense first-year coach Scott Skiles and consistent playing time that should get him considered for the Most Improved Player award.

"For the past two months, I've been playing the best basketball of my whole career," Villanueva said. "The thing with me was getting consistent minutes. And now I've been getting consistent minutes and I'm showing what I can do."

Villanueva has been the subject of trade rumors every season since entering the NBA. But this time, the new Bucks brass knew better than to listen to the overtures for a young player who is just becoming ripe. While the trade rumors used to bother him before, the 24-year-old takes them as a sign of respect now.

"Every year it's the same thing," Villanueva said. "My name comes up in trades. The trading deadline is behind us now and I'm just trying to focus on the remainder of the season. I must be doing something right.

"I don't even listen to [trade rumors]. My first year I did. I didn't know too much. I didn't know any better.

"But I understand that it is a business and I just avoid it."

The Bucks already have $64 million in committed money for next season, with Redd ($17.4 million), Bogut ($11 million), and guard Richard Jefferson ($14.2 million) leading the way. But Villanueva, due to be a restricted free agent, will have to get paid, too. The Bucks may have to do some shuffling, but expect them to figure out a way to keep Villanueva.

And if the business is fair, Villanueva would love to stay, too.

"I'm just going to play the rest of the season the best that I can," he said. "And when that time comes when I'm free, I'll just let it take care of itself and see what happens.

"I'd like to stay here. That would be my No. 1 option. I understand it's a business, but my No. 1 option is Milwaukee."

Said Hammond, "Our goal will be to re-sign him as he enters into this offseason as a restricted free agent."

Class of the college scene

An Eastern Conference scout recently gave the Globe his top five NBA prospects to keep an eye on during NCAA Tournament time:

1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, sophomore, forward, 6-10, 251.

"He can affect a game from two dominating standpoints in rebounding and scoring. He's a poor man's Karl Malone."

2. Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, junior, center, 7-3, 265.

"He has a pure ability to block shots. He could get better skill-wise, but that's not going to impact him because he's so good at altering and blocking shots. He's a stud on the defensive end like Dikembe Mutombo."

3. James Harden, Arizona State, sophomore, guard, 6-5, 220.

"Tremendously gifted scorer. He's a combination of Michael Redd and Paul Pierce, but he's not as good as either of them. But he can score with little effort."

4. Jeff Teague, Wake Forest, sophomore, guard, 6-2, 180.

"He's the surprise. He wasn't a top-five or lottery guy entering the season. But he played into it with his ability to get double-doubles and by dominating games."

5. Jordan Hill, Arizona, junior, forward, 6-10, 235.

"He once had like 10 or 11 straight double-doubles. He's more of a skilled than power big. He will be a solid big in the NBA, but he needs to get stronger."

Honorable mention: Georgetown freshman forward Greg Monroe, Duke junior guard Gerald Henderson, Wake Forest freshman forward Al-Farouq Aminu.


Four-way battle
While Atlanta, Detroit, and Philadelphia are offering stiff challenges, Miami's Dwyane Wade likes his team's chances of landing the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by way of staying focused. Entering yesterday's action, only 4 1/2 games separated the teams. Miami has six home games remaining (three against winning teams) and 11 road games (five against winning teams). Current fourth-seed Atlanta plays 10 of its final 16 games against teams with winning records. Detroit has 10 road games left, and Philadelphia 11, but both have favorable home schedules. "You have to stay afloat and win the games you're supposed to win, and that's the games at home," Wade said. "You have to go out on the road and try to do something. It's tough. We have games left and I was talking to [rookies Michael Beasley] and [Mario] Chalmers and I told them we have to play all of them like they're playoff games. We need every one."

Curry is still in favor
Davidson junior guard Stephen Curry will likely be playing in the NIT, not the NCAAs, but an Eastern Conference scout said it will have no bearing on his draft prospects. The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry averaged 28.6 points per game this season. "I don't think it affects him," the scout said. "He's a guy who went back to school instead of the NBA last year, and if you didn't know him now, you weren't doing your job. People know what he can do. He's a first-round talent and an excellent shooter. At his position, there aren't a lot of bona fide shooters. He'll give himself a chance because he can make shots. People say he's not quick and athletic, but he has a skill."

Unfit for the Kings?
According to an NBA executive, there is growing concern inside the Kings organization that if their arena issue isn't resolved, they could end up moving to Anaheim. Anaheim has been hoping to get an NBA team for years, has filled its arena for Lakers exhibition games and Clippers regular-season games, and could attract fans from as far south as San Diego. The Lakers and Clippers, however, could challenge for territorial rights fees, and it could be hard for the Kings to find a spot on television in LA, too. The financially strapped Pacers, who reportedly have lost $200 million since 1983, also could be on the move eventually. San Jose, Kansas City, Seattle, and Las Vegas are potential future NBA homes.

A little thin without Wafer
With forward Marvin Williams out indefinitely with a back injury, the Hawks have to be kicking themselves over not signing guard Von Wafer in the offseason. Wafer more than held his own during workouts with the Hawks. Atlanta, however, signed free agent guard Thomas Gardner and rookie forward Othello Hunter, who have barely seen the floor this season. Entering last night's game, Wafer was averaging 9.7 points and shooting 39 percent from the 3-point line for the Rockets and has played well in place of the injured Tracy McGrady.

A Philadelphia finale
The Sixers hosted the Bulls Friday in the final pro basketball game at the Spectrum, where the Sixers played from 1967-96. The Spectrum will be torn down this year to make room for a retail and entertainment complex. Larry Bird recently told ESPN Radio: "We had some great games, great battles in there. Playing against some of their best teams they had in Philly, it was awesome. I loved the Spectrum. I enjoyed playing there in front of their fans." On his famous fight with Julius Erving, Bird said, "There was a lot of things going on, but I don't want to get into it. I really never discussed it. It was unfortunate that it happened. It was very unfortunate for me when Moses [ Malone] grabbed me from behind and Doctor got a couple of shots on me."

Larger than life
Nike celebrated Knicks guard Nate Robinson's recent slam-dunk championship by putting up a billboard of him on 34th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan. It replaces another Nike billboard showcasing LeBron James. The green Spalding ball Robinson used was recently auctioned for $8,650. The phone booth Dwight Howard used will be auctioned tomorrow on Bidding starts at $1,500 for the phone booth and an autographed Howard jersey.

Green around the gills
The NBA put out a St. Patrick's Day clothing line at the beginning of the year for all 30 teams that included green jerseys, T-shirts, hoodies, and hats. An NBA source said the Lakers were quietly not in favor of it, since the green and the shamrocks are associated with their heated rivals, the Celtics. But the green Lakers gear actually sold well when it first went on the market.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at

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