Charlie Villanueva is turning into a bargain for the Pistons

Charlie Villanueva‘s first year in Detroit was not a smooth one. He didn’t exactly fit the profile of the surly, brawny power forwards Detroit fans are accustomed to with his easy-breazy personality, and many people mistook the fact that Villanueva is a laid back, nice guy for him being a ‘soft’ player.

As his offseason spent in Detroit working out and his first 11 games this season have proven, Villanueva is far from soft. In fact, his presence on the team might be the single most exciting thing in a season filled with in-fighting, up and down play and an inability to close out games that should’ve been wins. He’s been so impressive that I’m about to write something that even I, eternally a Villanueva fan and optimist, never thought I’d write.

Villanueva might be a franchise cornerstone right now.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t other ones in place — Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe, Ben Gordon and maybe even Rodney Stuckey (his free agency clouds things a bit) are all very important components to the future successes or failures of the Pistons.

The key has been Villanueva’s attitude as much as his improved game (and his game has improved, but more on that in a minute). He’s fun to watch. He has an odd style on the court and is very comfortable making unorthodox-looking moves with the ball, getting off shots from a variety of different angles and positions and, of course, firing that slingshot three-pointer, giving him the ability to go on personal scoring runs and pile up points in a relatively quick amount of time. He shows emotion, he annoys Kevin Garnett and he’s the only Piston who has really seamlessly fit into his role this season.

As for his actual performance, he’s on pace for the best season of his career. Here are some key stats through 11 games:

  • .580 true shooting percentage (previous high was .547)
  • .540 effective field goal percentage (previous high was .508)
  • 19.2 PER (previous high was 18.6 in his contract year in Milwaukee)
  • 115 offensive rating (previous high was 108)
  • 42 percent 3-point shooting (previous high was 35 percent)
  • 108 defensive rating is not great, but would be only the second time in his career he’s finished below a 110, so it does represent that he’s trying harder on that end of the floor.

Villanueva isn’t going to be a defensive stopper, he’s not going to be a traditional PF who is glued to the paint and he’s not going to be a great rebounder. But if he provides the offense he’s been giving through 11 games over the course of a season, he’s worth his contract. Villanueva, for that production, makes just over $7 million this year, $7.5 next year and then $8 million and $8.5 million the final two years of his deal. Compare him to some other stretch fours around the league:

Rashard Lewis

  • True Shooting Percentage: .447
  • Effective FG Percentage: .423
  • Offensive Rating: 95
  • 3-Point Percentage: .306
  • PER: 9.6
  • Average Salary: About $22 million a year over the next three years

Al Harrington

  • True Shooting Percentage: .503
  • Effective FG Percentage: .480
  • Offensive Rating: 104
  • 3-Point Percentage: .360
  • PER: 14.5
  • Average Salary: About $7 million a year over the next five years

Antawn Jamison

  • True Shooting Percentage: .517
  • Effective FG Percentage: .517
  • Offensive Rating: 104
  • 3-Point Percentage: .381
  • PER: 16.2
  • Average Salary: About $14 million a year over the next two years

Villanueva is out-producing all of those guys pretty significantly, he’s cheaper than all of them except for Harrington and he’s much younger than all of them. So although last season was disappointing because of his injuries and falling in and out of the rotation towards the end of the season, if Villanueva remains healthy and can come close to maintaining his levels of production, it’s pretty clear that his contract, while pricey, is pretty reasonable considering his skillset and age.

More importantly, he’s one of only a few Pistons who seems legitimately happy to be playing in Detroit right now.

From Vince Ellis of the Free Press:

Charlie Villanueva has been striking a pose after nailing a long-distance triple, or running to the bench to do a flying chest-bump with a teammate. He has let out howls of joy after a good play and has played with confidence and swagger.

“When you’re losing, people look to point the finger,” Villanueva said after scoring 11 points and grabbing three rebounds against the Kings. “But what’s important, and people sometimes forget, is having fun. You go back to when you was a little kid when you used to play basketball just for fun. … You can still have passion, and you can still have some fun.”

And Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News had this story:

The Pistons started 0-5, punctuated by a listless performance against the Celtics that featured his (Villanueva’s) tête-à-tête with Kevin Garnett and the drama that ensued from Kuester calling the team out.

Tayshaun Prince took exception, and it looked like the ship was sinking again — and the second-year guys, Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Austin Daye were center stage.

But the trio went out to dinner, cleared the air and vowed no matter what happened, they weren’t going to be the problem.

Who would you rather have your young players around right now: Villanueva or Tayshaun Prince? The answer is obviously Villanueva, and that statement would’ve sounded insane three months ago. Prince is the veteran, the champion, the consumate steady professional. Villanueva was the oddball signee who loved to Tweet. Villanueva’s transformation this season is remarkable.

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