There has been a wide range of feelings and emotions revolving Chase Budinger and his experience on the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There was the confusion about the trade, wondering how he’d fit into the team and whether or not he was worth a first round pick back in 2012. There was the excitement of bringing a real shooter to the team — especially one that had the athleticism to turn hard closeouts into great finishes at the rim. And then there was the pain and frustration that encompassed two serious knee injuries within a year. The knee surgeries seemingly robbed him of his comfort on the court and without the comfort he was showing to be a very mediocre player in recovery.
Fans seemed annoyed whenever he played because he wasn’t able to provide the shooting we were promised by his acquisition. His first two seasons yielded just 64 total games played and he made just 40.2% of his shots and 33.8% of his 3-pointers (2.0% lower than league average). Budinger could barely play and when he did, his legs were never with him. When you don’t have your legs and you’re not confident they’ll ever return to proper strength, you can’t feel very confident in your jumper. And it can lead to embarrassing moments like what we saw earlier this season against Milwaukee:
Things looked bleak for Chase and he (more importantly his contract) started to look more like an albatross (a small one though) than an asset. He was undoubtedly going to exercise his player option for 2015-16 because the injuries had stripped him of his ability to command an equal or better contract in the near future. And at a certain point, Wolves fans were simply hoping his expiring $5 million contract next season would bring about some type of trade value.
Through the first four months of the season, things were not good for Budinger, once again. He played in 46 games (MOTHER OF PEK the Wolves were 6-40 in those games) and averaged 14.6 minutes, 4.3 points, and 2.4 rebounds. He shot 37.2% from the field and 33.8% from 3-point range. His presence equaled annoyance to a lot of fans and it was hard to see him out there. I don’t know that a lot of fans disliked Chase, but from my interaction it seemed like a lot of fans were sick of watching him try to play.
But then something cool happened. Shortly after the All-Star break, things started falling into place for Budinger. The strength in Budinger’s knee seemed to finally comeback after he wondered at the end of the 2013-14 season if it ever would. Remember that his meniscectomy procedure in October of 2013 came after surgery in November of 2012 to repair a lateral meniscus tear. The odds of returning to form after the lateral tear haven’t been historically great and added the removal of his meniscus a year later really made those odds of returning to form plummet.
In his final 21 games of this season, Budinger started to have his bounce once again. His legs looked like they were returning and so did his jumper. During March and April, he averaged 12.3 points, and 4.5 rebounds in 29.3 minutes. He also made 49.7% of his shots and hit 39.1% of his 3-pointers. This was the Budinger the Wolves acquired back in the summer of 2012. This was the guy they re-signed in the summer of 2013.
Was it an aberration or can you actually feel like he’s back to being himself?
Back in the 2010-11 season, Budinger was a high quality wing player for the Houston Rockets and his athleticism helped him quite a bit. He dunked 36 times in 78 games that season. He dunked 19 times in 54 games during the lockout-truncated 2011-12 season. He wasn’t exactly Russell Westbrook out there, but he was able to put down dunks either off cuts to the hoop or in transition.
Over the final 14 games of this past season, Budinger dunked six times. This doesn’t sound like a lot of dunks, but it’s a significant number for trying to evaluate how much of Budinger’s success at the end of the season was randomness or how much of it was him finally looking healthy on the court. He even had this ridiculous finish against the Lakers on March 25th when he scored 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 40 minutes.
With the knee operations Chase has had, I’m not sure how much you can rely on his health being there for an entire campaign in 2015-16. And that cloud will certainly limit how reliable his production will be for the Wolves or what his value could be for another team.
This is a team building a stable of athletic young wings that need to develop. Andrew Wiggins will have his spot locked up. He’s the franchise. Zach LaVine will presumably spend more time at the 2-guard in 2015-16, assuming health for Ricky Rubio and the rest of the backcourt. Shabazz Muhammad will be there as a scoring machine at both wing positions. For the time being, they still have Kevin Martin and his veteran presence on the roster and in the lineup.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room for Budinger in the rotation. The Wolves would probably look to move his expiring contract as part of a deal involving a second round pick or Nikola Pekovic’s contract or maybe being the third team in a deal around the trade deadline. I don’t feel like you can predict a future with Chase on this team past next season.
Regardless of whether he’s on this team or another, I think you can feel good about the idea that he’s maybe getting his legs back under him and he’s going to be able to contribute to some roster and rotation. He’s worked his ass off to get back onto the court and to be successful on some level at the end of last season. Sure, his situation frustrated fans, but his recovery and finish to the season has to leave you with one feeling about his place in the NBA.
Hope… for some team…
Other 2014-15 Roster Review posts: