It looks like Charlie Villanueva might get his chance tonight.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is always reluctant to reveal any specific strategy-related items to the media, especially on the day of games, but we do know that Dirk Nowitzki will sit out tonight’s preseason opener against the Houston Rockets. That means there are a couple dozen minutes available at the four spot, and Villanueva, who signed with Dallas within the last couple weeks, is prime to get his chance to shine.

Villanueva is a protoypical power forward in today’s NBA. He’s a moderately big body who can shoot the three-ball — 34.3 percent for his career. Schematically, he’s a logical backup for Nowitzki, as he can slide in to that role alongside Brandan Wright with the second unit. In fact, Villanueva’s three-point tendencies almost mirror Nowitzki’s — less than 14 percent of the former Piston’s 315 three-point attempts across the last two seasons combined came from either corner. And while Carlisle wouldn’t openly admit it, Villanueva is probably the best fit in the starting lineup in the team’s opener, where he’d be taking the floor with former Rocket Chandler Parsons. Parsons said the pair worked out together in Los Angeles this summer and he was impressed with the big man’s ability.

“He can really shoot it,” Parsons said about Villanueva at today’s shootaround. “He’s an ideal stretch pick-and-pop four man who can space the floor. He’s got a really good IQ. He’s athletic still. He’s got a lot left. I look forward to seeing him help our team big this year.”

Villanueva is among the group of players who received camp invites as part of their contracts signed with the Mavericks this summer. Therefore, every day for players with those deals is a battle. They’ve got to prove to their coaching staffs and fellow teammates that they belong on the roster long-term, and they need to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

During Saturday’s Fan Jam scrimmage, Villanueva obviously made an impression with Carlisle. Down four with less than 10 seconds left, Villanueva stole an inbound pass and buried a three-pointer in the corner to cut the lead to one. Corner threes are typically considered easy shots, but there was nothing simple about that play. His coach took notice.

“He’s a weapon. You saw the play he made at the end, that three in the corner,” Carlisle said after the game. “There aren’t many guys in the league that can do that, a handful. He’s of of them. He’s got a unique skill, and he’s got himself to a point now where he’s in good shape, he’s worked through his injury issues. Right now, he’s feeling good. It’s early in camp, but he’s done a good job. We’re looking for everybody to play to their strengths, and he does that.”

Added Nowitzki about his teammate: “He’s got one of the quickest triggers we have in this league, and the first couple of days he’s been shooting it really, really well.”

But what does it mean exactly to say a player must prove himself? Villanueva clearly has the skill set the Mavs crave. He’s 6′ 11″ and can bomb treys from anywhere in the gym. However, he must show throughout training camp and the preseason that he can do it consistently. Last season he shot a career-worst 25 percent on three-pointers, but he also played a career-low 180 minutes total during the season.

“You know, the challenge obviously for him is to do some other stuff,” Nowitzki said about Villanueva last week. “We all know that he can shoot, but he looks fired up and he looks in great shape. He’s actually sneaky athletic. You know, he’s actually faster than you think, and he jumps higher than you think. So I like him as a player, but it’s going to be tough. There’s only 15 spots and we’ve got a lot of men.”

As Carlisle mentioned after Fan Jam, Villanueva has battled injuries throughout the past several seasons. He appeared in just 20 contests last season and 13 during the 2011-12 campaign.

Limited playing time for any reason can make any player rusty. Mavs shooting guard Ricky Ledo said the same thing during last season, as he moved back and forth from the D-League to the NBA and back again. That’s a natural thing that happens to players of all skill levels in those situations. But now that he’s probably going to be getting some minutes — tonight, especially — Villanueva will have the chance to play himself back into a rhythm that can carry him through the next few weeks. He’s got the opportunity, and he’s playing for a head coach whose catch phrase is “be ready.” Villanueva will have to do just that tonight.

Share and comment

More Mavs News