As the last of three second round picks the Rockets acquired in the 2009 Draft, little was expected of Chase Budinger. He was deemed to have mediocre ball skills, a lack of passion for the game, and suspect defense, three factors that contributed to his fall from the 7th highest rated college recruit in the loaded 2006 class to the 44th spot in the draft.
Still, in his rookie year he wowed Rockets fans as a spark plug off the bench, scoring in bunches and specializing in spot up opportunities, earning a spot in the rotation. After a horrible start to the 2010-11 season as his shot failed him, he managed to rally down the stretch with an impressive run as a starter, averaging 14 points and 4 rebounds in 32 minutes per game.
Some fans are still ready to move on from the Chase Budinger era. It's easy to label an awkward looking white guy who likes to shoot jumpers a one-dimensional player and deem him unworthy of a shot as a long-term starter, but the numbers simply tell another tale. Chase Budinger isn't a throw-in piece into any trade like some would hope, he's a player that the Rockets ought to hold onto because he can be a tremendous role-player on any team.
The biggest criticism of Budinger is his defense. To be perfectly fair, he is likely still a below average defensive player. Despite exceptional leaping ability, Budinger lacks top-notch lateral quickness and can be beat off fakes from time to time. However, he at least appears to be improving. Here's what John Hollinger had to say in his annual player profile:
Defensively, Budinger doesn't look like much but his statistics last season were dramatically improved over his rookie campaign -- both his Synergy stats and his on-court vs. off-court differential were very solid, and according to 82games.com opposing small forwards had a 12.7 PER against him. I think those numbers overrate him, but sometimes long defenders are better than they look, and Budinger tends to lay off opponents and let his length and leaping ability do the work. He lacks strength and nobody will confuse him with Bruce Bowen, but if he maintains last season's numbers he's a very solid two-way player.
To echo what Hollinger said, Budinger is no longer the defensive liability that he was his rookie year and clearly has room to improve because of his length and huge vertical. The Rockets don't need him to become a Shane Battier-type, but even if he improves marginally over what he did last year he can be a positive influence for this defense.
The other major critique of him was that he was a one-dimensional player on offense, only spotting up and slashing instead of helping improve the offense as a whole. The stats tell a different tale. Coming out of college, Budinger was hailed as a jack of all trades and that profile did not necessarily come through during his rookie year. Last year, on the other hand, he fulfilled this potential by affecting the game all across the board.
Among qualified small forwards (playing 60 or more games), Budinger found himself in the top 12 in points, rebounds, and assists per 40 minutes while also rating in the top 10 in assist/TO ratio. Efficiency-wise, Budinger was almost exactly average, but that should improve assuming he doesn't suffer another monster slump next year.
Add on the fact that the has among the best contracts in the league (about $1.9 million over the next two years), and you have a tremendously valuable piece. When I say piece, I mean as a player, not as a trade chip. I'm not going to say that he should be untouchable because clearly no players on this squad are, but he needs to be more appreciated than he has been.
In my eyes, he's a solid starting forward at the age of 23 with two more years at an extreme discount. To call him a throw away part of any trade would be a disservice to him.
Sure, Terrence Williams and his enticing athleticism and passing package are appealing, but he has never been able to overcome his extreme propensity for turnovers and his horrible shooting. I'm all for giving T-Will a shot in the rotation, but those who laud him as the next starter at that spot are seriously overrating him.
The Rockets are in a bit of a holding pattern right now but they appear to be headed towards a rebuilding effort. To fully rebuild, they need to assess which young players are good enough to keep around. Unless they can land a star with Budinger, he looks to be a keeper.