2 Players, 1 Spot?
Villanueva, Daye come to Orlando to stake early claim as stretch 4
ORLANDO – For much of last season, Charlie Villanueva was sidelined with a lingering ankle injury that cropped up in training camp. For virtually all of it, he was on the outside looking in at Lawrence Frank’s playing rotation. Most of that time, he had company in Austin Daye, who never really recovered from a paralyzing shooting slump that took away the one basketball skill that had never betrayed him.
The Pistons, for the most part, learned to play without Villanueva and Daye last season – and to win. After their traumatizing 4-20 start, the Pistons closed Frank’s maiden season on a 21-21 rush to ride a wave of momentum into the off-season.
And it’s an off-season that so far has further clouded the futures of Villanueva and Daye, which perhaps helps to explain their participation as the Pistons prepare for Monday’s start of the Orlando Pro Summer League schedule. Villanueva, along with teammates Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell, is here only to take part in the four days of practice leading to Monday’s opener; Daye is along for the whole ride, and it’s telling that he’s been working at power forward almost exclusively so far.
Small forward, the spot Daye feels is his natural position, is suddenly crowded. Tayshaun Prince remains the incumbent, but three new faces are added to the mix: 2011 second-round pick Kyle Singler, coming off an eye-opening rookie season in the tough Spanish ACB league, where he played a key role as Real Madrid came within a game of winning the title; 2012 second-rounder Khris Middleton, a player the Pistons rated a first-round talent a year ago and whose sweet stroke has been on display in Orlando; and veteran scorer Corey Maggette, whose attacking style is likely to win favor with Frank.
“Everything is crowded with us right now,” Daye said. “We’ve got a lot of guys at a lot of positions. It’s just about carving your niche and I think I’m trying to do that at the four a little bit now and when we get there, play some three, some two. Whatever positions Lawrence wants me to play, I’m willing to play just to get out on the floor.”
The competition isn’t much thinner at power forward, where Maxiell’s insertion into the starting lineup coincided with the dramatic turnaround last season, making it unlikely he’ll be easily unseated. Jonas Jerebko appears entrenched as the backup for the value the Pistons place on the infectious energy he provides.
If there’s room for another power forward in the rotation, it appears that only one of Villanueva and Daye will find a place as the “stretch four” – the range-shooting power forward that has become a staple of most NBA offenses.
“That’s what I bring to this team – that versatility to stretch the floor, put the ball on the floor,” Villanueva said. “That’s why I’m here. That’s the reason they brought me here is to be that stretch four. We don’t have a guy on this team that can do the things I can do.”
Unless it’s Daye. There has been some sentiment within the organization that Daye’s best shot at a significant NBA future lies at that spot, where he can use his unusual gifts – not just deep shooting range but an assortment of mid-range shots within his arsenal – to vex traditional power forwards.
Playing that position permanently, or more frequently, will require more of Daye physically, however. His weight slid under 200 pounds again upon his return from Russia when the lockout ended, but a pushup regimen Arnie Kander devised for him during the season had dramatic effects on Daye’s ability to add strength. He’s kept at it over the summer and hopes to be the first to complete a circuit that requires 124 pushups, staggered in number of consecutive repetitions, interspersed with 124 seconds of holding the position since Dennis Rodman did it years ago.
First and foremost, though, Daye understands he has no shot at putting his career back on track unless he can make open jump shots consistently.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of. I just need to be able to get some quality minutes and be comfortable out there. I just need to be comfortable again. This is a starting point for me – just to play in Summer League, get right, get my confidence up. That’s the main thing for me, to get my confidence up and play basketball.”
Villanueva might be the best pure shot-maker on the team, a player who can shoot from any spot around the arc and also is a clever scorer around the basket.
“I’m healthy and I think they know that,” he said. “They can see the way I’m moving. The ankle’s not bothering me any more, but at the end of the day, when training camp starts, may the best man win. That’s always been my thing. I don’t want anything given to me. Things have to be earned.”
The reality is there might be only one spot available for Daye and Villanueva to fight over. And NBA minutes are a zero-sum game. When one player gets more of them, somebody else has to get less. Neither Austin Daye nor Charlie Villanueva wanted to wait until training camp to stake their claim.
“I’m at home relaxing and people are hitting me up like, ‘You got cut from the Dominican Republic team?’ I didn’t know anything about it. The crazy thing is I spoke to coach Cal like two weeks before I supposedly got cut. Everything was fine. Everything was cool, then this article came out that I got cut. I had never worked out for them. Besides one conversation I had with coach Cal, they never saw me.
“I still don’t know what was the reason. I read I was overweight? I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s not the case at all. I’m feeling great. I don’t know, but whatever. It is what it is.”
Kander said Villanueva weighed less and had a lower body-fat percentage as last season wound down than he’d had since becoming an NBA player and Villanueva said his weight has been maintained since the season ended.