Frustrated Budinger still finding his legs

Minnesota's Chase Budinger is shooting 33.8 percent from the floor and has made 12 of 34 3-pointers this season, due in large part to legs that are still recovering from a knee surgery.

Brace Hemmelgarn/Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

MINNEAPOLIS — Chase Budinger’s head and heart are more than willing.

But his legs, still, are weak.

It’s been a month since the Timberwolves small forward returned from his second left-knee meniscus surgery in a year’s time. During those 15 games, his conditioning has improved. His hesitancy to drive and cut hard has dissipated.

But Budinger’s shots aren’t falling anywhere but off the front of the rim.

"Everything’s short," Budinger told FOXSportsNorth.com "That’s been the most frustrating thing for me right now, is just not having my legs in games."

Often clanging attempts off the iron, Budinger is shooting 33.8 percent from the floor and has made 12 of 34 3-pointers this season. Coach Rick Adelman continues to give him minutes — about 16 per game — but hasn’t been able to get much production from the 2013 free-agent re-signee.

Budinger’s gone over double figures just once so far this year.

"It’s kind of like you’re trying to get him through it, but at the same time, you’re trying to win games," said Adelman, whose team is 24-25 and 11th in the Western Conference entering Friday night’s game at New Orleans. "Sometimes, it’s not easy. But I think knowing him, he’ll keep working at it. He’ll get through it."

The angst audible in his voice, Budinger explained the knee that cost him 59 games last season and flared up again before training camp isn’t specifically hampering him.

But a few trips up and down the court cause his entire lower body to ache, starkly enough that he has a hard time getting enough leg strength under his textbook-form shots.

It’s a fundamental sticking point preached by youth basketball coaches for generations — "use your legs." Budinger tries. But often, he can’t.

"I’m a good-percentage shooter," said Budinger, who shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range during his last fully healthy season, in Houston, "so I’m just trying to shoot the normal way I normally shoot, but right now, I feel the legs just aren’t jumping or giving me what I normally have."

Other than continue to allow his body to recover following his Oct. 1 surgery to remove part of the meniscus in his left knee, there are a few tactics Budinger is trying. One practice emphasis has been readying himself in his shooting stance before the ball gets to him, his legs bent and ready to let one fly.

He’s also insistently sticking with his right-handed form and follow-through. Trying to shoot much harder could throw off his mechanics, he said.

Another coping mechanism for Budinger is continued patience. He needed plenty after going down Nov. 10, 2012 at Chicago and spending the next five months of last season rehabbing.

He finished out the year and continued to re-strengthen his knee during the summer.

But then came another bout of knee pain while getting ready for training camp, prompting another operation and more than a month of rehabilitation in Florida. Budinger was cleared for full-contact practice Dec. 18 and made his season debut Jan. 8 against Phoenix.

His best outing came in a win at Chicago on Jan. 27, when he scored 12 points and hit both of his 3-point attempts.

More outings like that would help a Timberwolves bench that’s been up and down all season, but Adelman cautioned it’s still going to take time.

"It’s just been taking longer than we thought," the coach said following a recent practice. "He’s getting good looks, but he was out a long time. Sometimes, it just takes longer to get it. You watch him shoot out here, and he shoots it fine. But it just hasn’t clicked for him in a game. We’re hoping that’s gonna happen as we go on."

Said Budinger: "I want to help this team so badly. Things aren’t going the way that I want them to be going. But it is still progress I’ve got to keep improving on. It’s only been three, four weeks since I’ve been back. It’s not gonna come back right away."

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