Dallas Mavericks

Villanueva pounces on new-found opportunities with Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks' Charlie Villanueva came off the bench to score 18 points against Phoenix Tuesday night.
The Dallas Mavericks' Charlie Villanueva came off the bench to score 18 points against Phoenix Tuesday night. AP

Charlie Villanueva is one of the players who has benefited handsomely from last week’s trade with the Boston Celtics.

When the Dallas Mavericks shipped Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, a 2015 first-round draft pick, a 2016 second-round draft pick and a $12.9 million trade exception to the Celtics for Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell, Villanueva suddenly saw some additional playing time flowing his direction.

And the 6-foot-11, nine-year veteran has stepped up and filled in admirably along the front line.

The trade has become sort of an early Christmas present for Villanueva, because he was able to go into the holiday season knowing that he will be playing some meaningful minutes instead of mop-up duty.

“I was just being ready and staying sharp the whole time,” Villanueva said. “It’s a long season and in the NBA anything could happen. So I was just waiting for my opportunity and [I am] trying to make the most out of it.”

Not only has Villanueva made the most of his opportunity. He’s pounced on it.

On Monday against the Atlanta Hawks, Villanueva had season highs in points (14), rebounds (six) and minutes (13) as he made 4 of 8 shots. He topped that performance the next night in Phoenix with season highs in points (18) and minutes (20), and also made 7 of 13 baskets.

Those two games are in contrast to the previous 10 when Villanueva played a total of 10 minutes and scored six points. Now, some of the minutes that went to Wright and Crowder are going to Villanueva, who admitted some anxious moments sitting and watching others perform.

“It’s very hard [to not play much], but at the same time you’ve got to be professional at all times and stay sharp,” Villanueva said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The Mavericks are mainly using Villanueva as a power forward. But there are emergency situations where the former UConn standout could move in and play center.

“Charlie is a little taller than you think,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He rebounds his area pretty well. He was up above the rim on that one goaltending play [against Atlanta]. And we all know he can put the ball in the basket.”

Villanueva was 4-of-6 from 3-point range against Atlanta and 4-of-9 from distance against Phoenix.

The Mavericks, though, want more than offense from Villanueva.

“We need him to be active and solid on defense,” Carlisle said. “Play hard within the system and play to your system. That’s really what we preach to all of our guys.”

The last time Villanueva scored more than 18 points in a game was Feb. 8, 2013 when he had 21 on 7-of-15 shots and helped the Detroit Pistons defeat the San Antonio Spurs 119-109. Now, Villanueva has a chance to show the Mavericks that his one-year, $1.3 million veteran’s minimum free-agent contract signed last summer was worth it.

“Just other guys have to step up,” Villanueva said, referencing the trade. “B-Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer were good players that other guys now are responsible to fill their void.

“We said we are a deep team. The trade has created opportunities for other players to step up and play.”

The trade also brought in a quality player in Rondo. Although the Mavericks are only 1-2 since Rondo’s arrival, as they ready for Friday’s home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Villanueva said no one is ready to panic.

“Rondo is a tremendous player,” Villanueva said. “I think we are a better team, but it’s going to take some time. We’re optimistic that things will change, for sure. We’ve just got to be ready and answer the challenge, but we’re getting there.”

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @dwainprice