Wolves hope Chase Budinger can stretch the floor, hit 3-pointers

BY foxsports • September 25, 2013

This is the 13th in a 17-part series profiling each player on the Timberwolves' roster leading up to training camp.

By going after Chase Budinger early on this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves granted him a sizable vote of confidence. Now, it's up to the incumbent free-agent re-signee to prove he's worth the investment.

An untimely knee injury cut short what was shaping up to be the best season of Budinger's young and promising career. But that didn't stop the Timberwolves front office from knocking on his door in San Diego as soon as free agency negotiations began, and the sides agreed to terms not long after.

The 6-foot-7, 218-pound swing man even turned down more money to come back to the Twin Cities.

He and the team that puts so much trust in him are about to find out if their cordial accord can pay dividends.

2012-13 stats: 9.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 41.4 FG PCT, 32.1 3-pt PCT, 23 GP

2013 salary: $5 million (approximate)

Last year: When his fourth year in the NBA and first full season in Minnesota began, expectations were high for Budinger. He'd shot an outstanding 40.2 percent from beyond the 3-point line the previous campaign and was hoped to provide a game-changing, offensive spark off the bench.

Budinger flashed that potential almost immediately, scoring in double figures three straight games in early November -- all Timberwolves wins, actually.

Through five contests, he averaged 12.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Then came game six.

Nov. 10 at Chicago, Budinger took a tumble and tore the meniscus in his left knee. The injury required surgery, and he didn't return until March 21.

By then, several of his teammates had suffered a similar fate, and Minnesota was well on its way to finishing last in the Western Conference's Northwest Division. Even then, he wasn't 100 percent and put up numbers similar to his first three years in the league.

But Budinger was able to return and grow even more comfortable with coach Rick Adelman's philosophies, something he became privy to during his rookie year with the Houston Rockets, who took him in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft. A good mover without the basketball who can heat up from outside at any time, he got plenty of open looks.

It made re-signing him a high priority, especially after the Timberwolves shot a league-worst 30.5 percent from 3-point range. At Adelman's urging, new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders went and got him for a reported three years and $16 million.

That's about a $4.1 million annual raise from the final year of Budinger's rookie contract.

This year: Unless Adelman decides on a given night to load up defensively right off the bat, Budinger is expected to get the starting nod at small forward this season. The position could be deep behind him, with free-agent addition Corey Brewer, fellow Arizona graduate Derrick Williams and rookie Shabazz Muhammad all potentially vying for time.

But the job is Budinger's to lose.

To keep it, he'll need to fulfill his role as a floor-stretching 3-point threat. With Kevin Martin -- whom Budinger played with in Houston for 1 ½ seasons --manning the other wing, point guard Ricky Rubio has two viable drive-and-dish options that are good at creating their own shots.

When Minnesota's in need of a stop or two, it'll likely turn to Brewer at the three. But that doesn't mean he and Budinger will be split-shifting; someone has to back up Martin at the two, and wings in Adelman's offense can be used mostly interchangeably.

As has been exhaustively reiterated throughout the offseason, the most important goal for Budinger and his fellow starters -- all of whom missed significant time last season -- is to remain healthy. He continues to rehab his knee while preparing for training camp, which begins in Mankato next Tuesday.

It's still sore after workouts, he allows, but doesn't limit him therein. If that remains the case, Budinger could be in for the breakout season that was robbed from him a year ago.

From the front office: "We thought we were really close, and then another team jumped in there, and so we had to do a little more to get it done. But he was important. The way we looked at it, I know people always look at how guys are overpaid or underpaid, well, everybody in our league is overpaid." -- Saunders after team re-signed Budinger

Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter

share story