When Toronto selected Charlie Villanueva with the seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA draft, a groan could be heard from the Raptors faithful. Bad attitude, they said. Not tough enough. And above all, blocked by the presence of young gun Chris Bosh, who happens to be a key component of every conceivable plan the team has for its future. The Raptors, it was felt, had dropped the ball again.
Not so fast.
Apparently, all that criticism didn’t play very well with the man who matters most in this equation: Charlie Villanueva himself. The Connecticut product worked hard during the off-season, and hasn’t looked at all soft in preseason contests. Far from it – the big man looks as if he’s ready to play.
In seven preseason games, Villanueva has averaged an impressive 16.9 points per game on 49.5% shooting, adding 5.3 boards, 1.4 assists, and 0.86 blocks per outing. He has also shown three-point proficiency when given an open shot, connecting on 55.6% of his attempts from beyond the arc (10-for-18). Somewhat surprisingly, considering his 0.57 mark during his final NCAA season, he has managed to post an even assists-to-turnovers ratio. His foul-shooting remains a concern, however, with just 52.9% of his shots finding their mark (compared with 68.8% with the Huskies in 2004-05).
Perhaps most importantly, Villanueva has been on the floor for more than 30 minutes per game, giving the coaching staff a chance to see what their first-round pick is capable of. And so far, he hasn’t disappointed. His playing time is bound to go down once the season begins, but if he keeps playing at his current level, expect head coach Sam Mitchell to find a way to work him into the mix.
If you have a spot left on the end of the bench, consider taking a chance on the Raptors rookie. From what we’ve seen up to this point, the Raptors may not have missed the boat in this year’s draft, after all.