This is the seventh in a 14-part series evaluating each Timberwolves player’s performance during the 2013-14 season. Find the entire series here.
When the Timberwolves re-signed Chase Budinger last season, optimism abounded that he’d help Minnesota significantly increase its offensive output, leaving behind the frustration of an injury-derailed 2012-13 campaign.
Then pre-training camp workouts began.
Instead of getting off to a torrid start as the Timberwolves’ starting small forward, Budinger spent the first month of the season in Pensacola, Fla., rehabbing the same knee that cost him 59 games last season. When he finally returned, the 6-foot-7, 218-pound sharpshooter rarely showed signs of a full recovery.
His knee was fine. The rest of his body wasn’t.
And by the time Budinger, acquired from Houston in a 2012 pre-draft trade, began showing signs of his former self, another, unrelated ailment ended his season early.
Weaving his way through the lane and showing off that picture-perfect jump-shooting form of his from distance, Budinger missed two shots all night April 4 in South Beach. It was the kind of game coach Rick Adelman had in mind when he was reunited with his former Houston protege, and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders held similar aspirations when he re-inked Budinger last summer for three years and $16 million. But Budinger’s 24-point outburst — his most points in a Timberwolves uniform — in their double-overtime victory at Miami were an anomaly, not the norm this season. Much more common was a weary, fragile Budinger who couldn’t get much going offensively. In 41 games, he shot 39.4 percent from the floor and averaged 6.7 points, both lows for his five-year NBA career. Only six times, including that night against the Heat, did he surpass double digits while shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
3-point shooting: C+
A 40.2 percent 3-point shooter in 2011-12, his last fully healthy season, Budinger was expected to help dig Minnesota out of the long-distance depths into which it sunk while he sat out most of 2012-13. That season the Timberwolves ranked dead last in the NBA with a 30.5 percent long-range clip on 1,475 attempts — one of the worst 3-point efficiency outputs in league history. But due to his injuries, Budinger provided only a minimal boost this time around. Though he finished the year shooting a respectable 35 percent from 3, a lack of leg power underneath many of his triple attempts caused him to miss a helping of open looks. His team, meanwhile, didn’t make the desired gains, either, moving up four spots to 26th in the league with a 34.1 3-point percentage.
If there was one thing Minnesota asked of Budinger coming into this season, it was that he stays healthy. Playing only half the season and missing the first 36 contests weren’t exactly what the Timberwolves — or Budinger, for that matter — had in mind. After playing in only 23 contests last season due to a torn meniscus in his left knee, he reinjured the same meniscus while preparing for last fall’s training camp. That required a second operation and kept him at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Florida for about a month. During an excruciatingly slow recovery process, Budinger didn’t rejoin the team until Nov. 18 and didn’t play in a game until Jan. 8. To make matters even worse, he suffered a sprained right ankle April 5 at Orlando — the day after his big game against Miami — and missed the season’s final six contests.
Much like the Timberwolves’ 40-42, playoff-bereft season, Budinger’s second year in the Twin Cities didn’t go at all according to plan. It should be noted that factors beyond his control kept the Arizona product out of the lineup. But Budinger’s health and ability to recover from injury is quickly becoming a concern. If he can use this summer to get his conditioning and strength back — all while preventing further injury — next season sets up as a long-awaited opportunity to prove he can be an above-average offensive threat in the NBA.