Tag Archives: Charlie Villanueva

Bucks frontcourt steals OK City’s thunder

Dez Mason dunks over Tyrone Lue Wednesday - AP photo Sue OgrockiLooking at the schedule, if the Bucks are 9-10 at the end of November, Bucks fans will have reason to rejoice. If they're 8-11, that's a big step in the right direction, too.

Last night's win ON THE ROAD (remember what road wins are like?) against the Oklahoma City Thunder  was the kind of game the Bucks need to have in order to win 8 or 9 of these first 19 games in November  Are the Bucks going to beat San Antonio, Cleveland or Boston? Not much of a chance. The Thunder? This is a team you jump out on early, keep 'em down and close them out, no matter that the Thunder were playing their first home game in team history.

(I still think the Seattle swindlers should have named this team the Rawhides, but the OK City Thunder "group" are not the sort of ownership folks who take advice well. Just ask the good people of Seattle.)

How did the Bucks, who looked no different from last season's Bucks in the opener against Chicago, get it done in Oklahoma? They went early to the big advantage they have against most teams — Andrew Bogut — and played inside-out in building a decisive lead.

OK City, with Kevin Durant, big forwards like Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison and rookie point guard Russell Westbrook, is an interesting team, but they have no center to handle Bogut. Bucks coach Skiles, who's never had much of a big man in his previous jobs at Phoenix and Chicago, did what he could not do against the Bulls — he took advantage of the Bogut advantage. Bogut scored 8 in the first quarter, finished with 11 at half and the Bucks were on their way. Suddenly three-pointers fell for the Bucks, Charlie Villanueva got loose 20 points and 12 boards, and the Bucks built a 20-point 3rd quarter lead. 

There were a few more highlights:

The benching of Michael Redd in the first quarter. When Redd plays selfish and starts chucking (0-3 to start the game, bad shots all), sit him down. Simple stuff. Don't worry Bucks fans, Redd won't be here that much longer, but at least we now have a coach who will park Redd's butt on the bench. Redd recovered to have a solid, 20-point game, but was caught selfishly trying to pad his scoring in the 4th quarter with a hold-the-ball, dribble-right, dribble-left, chuck-the-ball-up play that also should have landed him on the bench. The shot he flung up there, with a defender in his face, nearly injured the OK City player under the basket when it shanked the rim and rocketed toward the baseline. Coach Skiles, let's once and for all put an end to this sort of bush league basketball in Milwaukee. Bucks fans have had more than our fill.

Richard Jefferson: 20 points on ten shots. That sort of efficiency will win some games for the Bucks. Jefferson at small forward was another big advantage the Bucks held last night against the Thunder, who play former Time Warner Cable pitchman Dez Mason and Jeff Green at small forward.

Charlie Villanueva: Can he get 20 pts, 12 rebs every night?  Maybe, if he gets the opportunities and can find some consistency playing near the basket. After logging only 6 minutes of PT against the Bulls opening night, Charlie showed Skiles that he ought to be out on the floor. For all of OK City's size at forward and Wilcox's athleticism and dedication to the boards, Charlie V has a much more dynamic offensive game than any of the OK City bigs (Bogut does too) and piled on to the frontcourt advantage that the Bucks exploited last night.

The other Charlie: Charlie Bell played backup point in the 3rd and 4th quarters, and was in control of the game, if not the officials who seemed dead set on helping OK City make it something of a game. It looks as though there will be plenty of minutes for Bell this season, backing up Redd and Jefferson. That's a good thing.

Two days off before the home opener Saturday: They'll need the rest to jump Toronto at home Saturday. The Raptors will be a good test, and let's hope another debacle like the Chicago opener doesn't occur. It's another game the Bucks need to win if they have any hope of posting a respectable record this month (and next month too — the Bucks are staring down a December gunbarrel of a second trip west and a back-to-back in Texas).

Saturday will also give Bucks fans a first look at the new Raptors, with TJ Ford gone and Jermaine O'Neal manning the post (check that – I don't recall that O'Neal was ever much of a post threat; good midrange shooter, though). Another advantage for Bogut? Not certain with Chris Bosh also in the paint; also Toronto has a big edge at point with Jose Calderon, making this matchup a tough test for the Bucks guards. Nonetheless, it's still a good idea for the Bucks to test O'Neal with Bogut just as they did last night against the Thunder and try to gain a frontcourt advantage with Bogut, Villanueva and Jefferson. The Bucks do not have an edge over the Raptors in the backcourt.

The Bucks and Charlie Villanueva will have their hands full with Bosh, not to mention Calderon and some of the best shooters in the league, 3-point champ Jason Kapano, a reserve forward, and starting shooting guard Anthony Parker. Kapano's career three-point percentage is .466 – tops in NBA history. Parker's career 3-point percentage is .426, 7th all-time and 3rd among active players, behind only Kapano and Suns MVP Steve Nash. Kapano and Parker hit 6 of 9 threes against the Sixers Wednesday night, spoiling Elton Brand's Philadelphia debut.

Here's the active career 3-point shooting list at basketball-reference.com. As you can see, Michael Redd is down to 18th after a poor shooting season last year; Ray Allen is 12th among active players, though he's second only to Reggie Miller in career 3-pointers made. Charlie Bell makes the active rankings at 44th, with a .361 percentage.

The non-controvers-Yi of Yi’s rookie year

Yi with Commissioner David Stern on draft day.It all seemed so controversial last summer. Bucks management trapsing all over the world to track down their 1st round draft pick, Yi Jianlian, whose handlers would have prefered he play on the West Coast, or anywhere but here.

Yi was promised a starting position, ESPN reported. No he wasn’t Bucks GM Larry Harris lied – I mean replied. Bucks fans worried that the team had wasted the #6 pick on a guy that didn’t want to play.

The season started with Yi in the starting lineup, playing 30 minutes a game. Charlie Villanueva was relegated to reserve role and did a spectacularly bad job of it. By the end of December, Seattle’s Kevin Durant, the rookie of the year and #2 pick, was the only rookie scoring more than Yi, and only #3 pick, Atlanta center Al Horford, was rebounding more. Yi was leading them all with a .503 shooting percentage. Yi was named T-Mobile Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference for December, and had filled it up for 29 against Charlotte (a win) on the 22nd.

But there was a problem: The Bucks were 18-30 with Yi as a starter. On Feb. 9 — Game 49 — Larry Krystkowiak moved Yi to the bench and started Charlie V.

But there was a problem: The Bucks lost at an even faster rate, going 8-25 in games that Yi did not start or did not play (he missed half of them) the rest of the way. (Yi did start one more game in February, a loss).

This week, the NBA coaches left Yi off the 1st and 2nd team All-NBA rookie teams, though Yi did receive 13 votes in the process. (A first team selection gets 2 points; a second team selection gets one point). That means that nearly half of the 29 voting coaches (coaches can’t vote for their own players) thought Yi was good enough for second team, assuming no one voted Yi on the first team. That’s nearly not half bad.

Watching a 6’11” guy run the floor better than Tracy McGrady and shoot jumpers with Ray-Allen-perfect form wasn’t half bad either. Watching Yi get pushed around as he tried to box out for rebounds was not so good. Even worse was Yi flashing to open spots and being routinely ignored by Michael Redd and Mo Williams. There was a mean chill on this Bucks team; you had to be at the games to see it.

I was impressed with Yi — and I admit, I was hoping to be impressed. He wanted to run the floor. Yet no one on the Bucks was ready to run except Mo Williams. (Dez Mason was out the first few games I attended; Yi was out the last couple). On offense, the ball didn’t move — Redd held it, waited, palmed it, waited for everyone to stop, then drove into traffic. As a team, they couldn’t get uncontested shots. Mo could, easily enough, but only for himself. In a game against New Jersey, at halftime Yi and Bogut had six points combined.

After a few trips to the BC, it stopped mattering to me whether the Bucks should have drafted Jeff Green or one of the Florida players, Noah or Brewer, instead of Yi. After Greg Oden, Durant and Al Horford, it didn’t matter. The way the Bucks were playing, it didn’t matter. So the kid from China didn’t want to play in Milwaukee. Who in their right mind would want to suffer on the 2007-08 Bucks? Scola? No. Carl Landry, who grew up here and went to Vincent? Alright, Landry would probably love to play for the Bucks, no matter the circumstances.

I did come to the conclusion that Yi should have been coming off the bench. If the Bucks couldn’t do anything else well, at least Krystkowiak should have commited the team to rebounding. Charlie V last season was better help for Bogut under the boards, and should have been the starter at power forward. Both big forwards could have played 30 minutes, with Yi playing about ten minutes at small forward, posting up his defender.

But it didn’t matter. The Bucks lost more when Charlie was starting. Sometimes Charlie felt like rebounding, sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he played as though all he cared about was proving that he could score just as much, if not more, than “Michael” and look better doing it. Call it the Mo Williams syndrome. By April, Yi, Mo and Charlie all seemed perfectly happy sitting in their tailor-made suits, riding out the bad vibes of the season on the end of the bench.

GM John Hammond has enthusiastically called Yi “a keeper” an “asset” and in a lengthy interview in the Racine Journal Times Sunday, said Bogut and Yi are: “two, very good young pieces … that you can build around. Bigs are so hard to find. The Boguts and the Yis … it would be awfully hard to move guys like that.”

Bogut said this about Yi in his most recent interview with Journal Sentinel:

“To have him at the 4 (power forward) and shoot the ball the way he does, that’s his main role, and I think he’s done a great job with it,” Bogut said. “I think he can spread the defense. But once he gets more aggressive, I think he needs to work on putting the ball on the floor and trying to get to the basket.

“He’s as athletic as anybody I’ve seen. Ballhandling will be a key factor for him, working in the off-season. If he gets that down, he’ll be a much more productive guy. Guys are scouting him and trying to make him put the ball on the floor.

“It’s kind of tough, adjusting to NBA guys who are much quicker than you’re used to. It’s just getting strong hands, and I think he’ll be fine. His work ethic is unbelievable, and he’ll be in the gym every day this summer.”

Sounds good to me. The NBA season is sometimes just a snapshot of basketball in time that doesn’t carry over into the playoffs or the next season. The All-Rookie team presents one of these snapshots for the league; it’s camera failed to capture the ups and downs of Yi’s first season, just as it failed to capture how well Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey played in Game 5 against Orlando last night (Stuckey missed the All-Rookie 1st team but made the 2nd).

There’s no real controvers-Yi to find here. And no reason to doubt the hope that Yi will be much-improved next season.