Player Capsules, 2012 #7-9: Dante Cunningham, Paul George, Charlie Villanueva

Posted on Mon 09 July 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron's going to be writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today's first three players, in our 3rd installment:Dante Cunningham, Paul George, Charlie Villanueva. More this afternoon.

• • •

Follow Dante Cunningham on twitter at @DlamarC33.

Before I get into Cunningham, I want to note the riddle -- nobody got it. Which, I suppose, makes sense -- the only real relation Dante's Inferno has to Dante Cunningham is the fact that they're both named Dante. In fact, the entire scope of the riddle was essentially nonsense. The only real inferno Dante Cunningham's ever descended into was that of his legal woes in the 2011 offseason, wherein he was caught speeding with marijuana and a BB gun on a late May night in Pennsylvania. When that news broke, I wasn't sure what surprised me more -- the fact that anyone in the world still owned a BB Gun or the fact that being pulled over with a BB Gun is actually something that gets added to the charge. Either way. The point is, given that he's the most notable Dante currently breaking bread in the NBA, his fans should get on the whole "Dante's Inferno" kick and make the riddle retrospectively meaningful. Let's get it done, Memphis fans.

Regardless. I wasn't too up on Cunningham before this season -- thought he was dramatically undersized, somewhat poor defensively, a bit too reliant on his long range jumper for a big man. He allayed most of my concerns this last season, and now I'm rather bullish on him as an NBA prospect that at least manages to stick in the league a while. One of the main reasons is that he changed his game -- after two seasons where he took more long shots than shots at-the-rim, he redefined his role and started using his prowess underneath the basket more effectively. It resulted in Cunningham posting the best field goal percentage in the league in the immediate at-rim area, a huge value-add to his otherwise lukewarm offensive game. Defensively, he bulked up a touch and proved that he can be (at the least) an average defensive presence in the league despite his tweener size. Some good things.

All that said, his upside isn't tremendous, and his anemic rebounding remains an issue as a starting big man. But as a low-usage second or third big off the bench, you can't do all that much better on the sort of value contract he's got -- $2,000,000 a year for Dante's next two is a great deal for the production he gives, and given that, Memphis fans should be glad they were able to snag Cunningham at a bargain value from the Bobcats. (Really, all things considered, the Bobcats probably should've matched. I realize he's not a fantastic player, but $2 million isn't a huge contract at all. Cunningham would've been the 2nd or 3rd best big on the Bobcats roster. He's also young. This may be all too retrospective, as I certainly didn't care one way or the other back when it happened, but this does seem like a legitimate mistake on Cho's part. A small one, but a mistake all the same.)

• • •

Follow Paul George on twitter at @King24George.

So. Let's talk about Mr. George. Due to the name George only catching on to the lay public around the Crusades, the appellation itself only began to trickle up into the British nobility (and, by extension, spread prolifically into the royal family) in the 17th century with the ascent of the House of Hanover -- on account of this, there are only six British monarchs by the name of George. On the other hand, while Georgia was a regency, they (perhaps somewhat predictably) had twelve monarchs who adopted the name George -- I suppose it'd be too much to ask the monarchs of Georgia to resist the "George, King of Georgia" title. There were also two reigning Georges in Greece, as well as two in Bulgaria. Finally, there was George V, the last King of Hanover alone, and a strange idiosyncracy in the reign of the Hanover House in Britain. That effectively wraps up all the important King Georges the world has ever witnessed.

You may be wondering why I'm starting this capsule with a bunch of seemingly irrelevant babbling about monarchs that took the name George. If so, I ask that you note this rather amazing fact: if you count up every previously reigning monarch that called himself King George (which I have conveniently laid out in the previous paragraph), there have been twenty-three monarchs by that name. Again -- Paul George chose the jersey number 24, then took as his twitter handle (again, "@King24George") a direct reference to thinly veiled monarchical roots. I don't really know if Paul George was aware that he had cleverly declared himself the 24th King George the world has ever seen when he chose that jersey number. I'm not sure if that's a reasonable expectation. It probably isn't. But whether it is or not, the mere idea that Paul George could be aware of it makes me smile, quite a lot.

You know what else makes me smile? Watching Paul George play basketball, most of the time. True, there's a high variance to his game. I can't think of many players in the league who have quite the distance between their top games and their bottom games -- when George has a bad game, he doesn't cut corners. He has AWFUL games -- games where he seems to shoot blanks every time he gets the ball, stand around on offense with no attempt to make himself open, and gets extremely lazy on defense -- where he essentially shuts down as a valuable contributor. And yes, that kind of sucks -- for Indiana fans and for anybody who tunes in to Pacers games to see interesting, engaging basketball. But when George is on? Lord have mercy, Paul George is something else. His blitzkrieg assaults on the rim with his driving ability are among the best in the league, and his on-ball defense is something to behold. The recently developed mechanics behind his previously busted three point shot are among the smoothest of anyone over 6'7" in the league, and his stat-stuffing makes him a boon to fantasy players everywhere.

There are some issues. For one, he tends to get lost on help defense. This is a relatively common problem among young defenders who are excellent at shutting down their man -- he's a great ball-watcher and a great man defender, but he almost emphasizes those tendencies too much for his own good. Sometimes he overcommits, and sometimes he gets caught wildly going for the ball -- teammates don't always know what they're getting when George's man gets by him, or if George is in a position to help. So that leads to a bit of hesitance, and occasional defensive breakdowns. As previously mentioned, he's also streaky -- he has good games where he goes absolutely nuts, and bad games where you wonder what the hell he's doing. But in a lot of ways, that's how it is for any young player. He's without question one of the best members of the class of 2010, and if it wasn't for one Greg Monroe and the fact that Blake Griffin is inexplicably considered a member of that class, he'd probably be the consensus best out of that group. He isn't exactly a guaranteed future all-star -- he has some kinks to work out in his game, and he absolutely needs to work on his consistency. But he's really good, and incredibly fun to watch. Give King George XXIV a try, gents.

• • •

Follow Charlie Villanueva on twitter at @CV31.

I don't say this lightly -- Charlie Villanueva needs to work on his anger management. It didn't get all that much play due to how bad both team's were at the time, but Villanueva is responsible for what I believe to be by far the most aggressively violent confrontation the league has seen since the 2005 brawl. Above the Artest/Harden elbow, the 2011 Bynum hit on Barea, the Arenas gun trouble -- this was simply insane. I'll recap, for those who weren't aware of it. It was late in the 2011 season, with the Cavaliers up by 11 over the Pistons and only about 6 minutes left in the (ahem, completely meaningless) game. Villanueva sets a screen, Hollins runs into it, they get tangled up. All normal, all average... right? Sure. Except that Villanueva takes a completely unnecessary swing at Hollins' crotch on the screen, presumably in response to Hollins being a bit too active with his elbows on the other end of the floor on the previous possession.

Hollins gets annoyed, says something nobody's ever been able to make out from the footage, and Villanueva responds by grabbing Hollins' face and trying to rake his eyes (prompting the always-classy Hollins to do the same), then elbows the Pistons players around him trying to pull him off of Hollins. That would've been any old "suspend the player, forget about it" confrontation if it had ended there. But it didn't. After they'd been torn apart by teammates and ejected from the game, Villanueva charges the length of the court with Pistons assistant coaches and Rodney Stuckey trying in vain to restrain him, screaming "I'm going to kill that dude, I don't give a [expletive]!" as the guards escort him off the court. To make matters worse, it didn't end there -- after the game, Villanueva stalked past the Cavs locker room and waited outside for Hollins, only leaving after the Detroit police came to escort him to his car and out of the building. Seriously.

This isn't the first time Villanueva's behavior has been indicative of a temper problem -- he's faced multiple civil lawsuits related to alleged assault (both domestic and otherwise), and has had several large and public fights in his NBA career (including the famous confrontation with Kevin Garnett over Garnett's "cancer" comments). This isn't to say that he's a bad person, necessarily. He's one of the NBA's leading advocates against bullies and child abuse, and donates more money to charity than many players who make even more than he does. As someone who was bullied as a child for his non-fatal case of alopecia universalis (hence his lack of hair -- he can't grow it), he understands more than anyone the psychological impact that teasing and constant bullying can have on a child. Instead, Villanueva's actions seem more to me like a constant reminder that otherwise good people can struggle mightily with their temper and it's not always right to indict a man on his faults before you consider his merits.

Despite this? Nobody can really deny that Villanueva really, really needs some help for his temper -- it's getting a little ridiculous. As for his on-court play, disappointment is about all you can describe him with. This isn't to say that Villanueva lacks talent. On the contrary -- were he to fix up his shot selection, he probably would be a reasonably valuable piece on a contending team. He didn't score 48 his rookie year in a fluke, you know. He has a decent three point shot, and an underrated post game. Of course, he doesn't really use either effectively -- his shot selection is ridiculously spotty, he regularly refuses to pass the ball when he receives it, and he rebounds poorly enough that it's untenable to play him as a starting power forward in the NBA. His defense is incredibly poor -- the Pistons, an abysmal defensive team over the last two seasons, have been consistently 7-8 points per 100 possessions worse with Villanueva on the floor than without. He's essentially been completely and utterly useless to the Pistons, and that's not very good for a player on a small market team eating through a 5-year, $35 million dollar contract. Really not one of the NBA's brightest stories.

• • •

For the uninitiated, I'll continually restate this -- at the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next batch of players. Whoever gets the most riddles right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. If several people tie, I'll post everyone who tied. No overtime in this riddle-guessing competition, guys. For the last post, the winner of our respect goes to (again!) _@krishnanwarrior_, who got 3/5 of these players correct. The next post will go up late this afternoon or early this evening -- here are three riddles, including new ones for players #10 and #11.

  • Bullish post defender, Player #10 is one of the most interestingly sized players in the entire league.
  • You know, maybe I was being too harsh. He's still a good defender, that Player #11.
  • Speaking of which, Player #12 was very recently a great defender in college. Emphatically didn't translate, tho.

Later today, folks. See you on the other side of the workday.