This is the third in a thirteen-part series that will examine all players currently on the Wolves’ roster that played for the team last season. We’ll be omitting Kevin Love, because…well, you know why.
Acquiring Chase Budinger prior to the 2012 NBA Draft cost the Timberwolves the #18 overall pick, which the Houston Rockets used to select Terrence Jones, who started 71 games at power forward for a playoff team in 2013-14.
It was absolutely a defensible trade, as the Wolves were in win-now mode and loading up after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. They added Andrei Kirilenko that summer as well, and with Rick Adelman entering his first full season with the Wolves and Ricky Rubio poised to return from knee surgery, Minnesota seemed ready to make a move.
We all know the Kevin Love knuckle push-up story that led to an eighteen-games-played season, and Rubio was far from himself until late in the year.
One of the less-talked-about blows was Chase Budinger’s torn meniscus in the sixth game of the season. He returned to ultimately play in 23 games on the year, but was far from himself down the stretch in March and April. And without Love on the court and the team out of playoff contention, it was far from a true gauge of the value that Budinger could provide the squad.
Budinger was hurt again in September of 2013 while preparing for the next season, re-injuring the same knee. He played in 41 games, and was pretty uneven in his time on the court.
After shooting 36.3% from three-point range over the course of three seasons in Houston, Budinger has shot just 33.8% in 64 games over two years in Minnesota. He’s struggled with lateral quickness on both ends of the floor, which is clearly a product of the multiple knee surgeries that he’s undergone.
Budinger is a solid rotation wing in the NBA, and could even be a serviceable starter on a playoff team. The issue is two-fold. First, the Wolves overpaid to keep Budinger in Minneapolis before the 2013-14 season, handing him a three-year, $15 million contract. The Milwaukee Bucks allegedly offered more money, but the opportunity to win and play for Rick Adelman was enough to bring him back to the Wolves.
The second issue is health. Obviously, Budinger has been nowhere near himself since being in Minnesota, and he’ll need to stay on the court for the remaining two years of his deal if the re-signing is going to be worth it from the Wolves’ perspective.
I’ll spare you from Budinger’s shot chart from the 2013-14 season, but the snapshot is that he shot just 43.3% from the field. One of the attractive reasons for adding Budinger to the squad two years ago was his ability to knock down corner threes.
Take a look at Budinger’s heat map over the course of his career, courtesy of the fantastic NBAsavant.com:
You can tell he played for the Houston Rockets, right? Chase has taken a ton of shots from outside the arc and right underneath the basket. If you watched the Wolves much last year while Budinger was healthy, you saw that Adelman liked to run a number of plays that brought Bud around screens at the top of the key for a jumper just beyond the free throw line. That explains the spatter of shot attempts at the top of the key.
But look at the corners. Budinger makes corner threes. His last year in Houston saw him knock down 48.4% of three-point attempts from the corners.
If Budinger can provide average defense (possible, if his knees are healthy) with a 45-50% rate from the corners and good activity on the fast break and off cuts in the half court, he’ll be a starting-caliber player for the 2014-15 Wolves squad.
Pre-knee injuries, Budinger’s skills perfectly fit today’s expectations for a role player on a contender. He’s the type of player that a Cleveland, San Antonio, or Chicago would absolutely love to have. Now that his athleticism has likely been affected by knee issues, he’ll need to make sure that he’s dependable from long range to be a plus-player in an NBA rotation.
Budinger should be valuable for the 2014-15 version of the Wolves, both on the court and in the locker room as a mentor for young wings like Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Shabazz Muhammad.
We’ll all be rooting for Bud to make a healthy comeback this year, and it’s likely that he’ll be a positive contributor to a young, exciting Wolves squad. If he is able to do that, he can still live up to the contract he received just over a year ago.