Uphill battle for Villanueva

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Charlie Villanueva certainly is proving the critics wrong, but the Raptors forward will need a lot of help to win the rookie of the year award.

The 6-foot-11 Villanueva, who has elevated his game since becoming a starter at the unnatural small forward position last month, appears to be running a distant second to New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets guard Chris Paul in the rookie race.

Villanueva entered yesterday's play third among rookies with 12.9 points a game, but Paul leads the way with 16.4 points and also has been a big part of the Hornets' turnaround as that team has a good shot at the playoffs.

"I just think it's going to be tough because Chris Paul's team is in the playoffs," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "He obviously has a significant impact on taking New Orleans (up the standings). You look at their record last year and you look at not the scoring but the leadership and direction and managing the game and the way he runs the team.

(But) Charlie has proven, without a doubt, he's an NBA basketball player. Those are the only things we're concerned of."

If the Raptors had a better record, it might be a different story.

"The individual awards, they come as you start winning more," Mitchell said. "As we start winning more down the line, Chris (Bosh), Charlie and other guys will get their chance, too. Right now, we're not really concerned about those things."

The Raptors were heavily criticized by many observers for taking Villanueva seventh overall, in part because he plays the same position as Bosh.

But the Connecticut product has good chemistry with Bosh and has developed into a solid offensive threat.

SIXTH MAN OFFENCE

The Raptors finally got a little bit of offence from a bench player yesterday as Matt Bonner scored 12 points, all in the second half. His total was the most by a bench player since Villanueva was inserted into the starting lineup Feb. 3.

Bonner also reached double figures for the first time since Jan. 27.


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