Minnesota Timberwolves: Replacing Chase Budinger


The Minnesota Timberwolves lost Chase Budinger Friday, three days before the start of training camp. Budinger underwent an MRI Friday that revealed swelling in his left knee; he’ll visit Dr. James Andrews next week.

Andrews has performed operations on a number of world-class athletes, including Roger Clemens, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods — he’s certainly one of the best in the business.

It’s hard for me to miss Budinger, he’s only played five games of relevant basketball for the Wolves. Budinger went down Nov. 10 of last year, six games into the season, and didn’t return until March 21 — the team’s record the night of his return, 23-42. Budinger failed to average more than 10 points per game in 23 appearances, the lowest since his rookie year in addition to his career-low 3-point shooting percentage of 32 percent.

Flip Saunders held a press conference shortly after the announcement, speculating it will be six to eight weeks until Budinger’s able to return. Saunders was clear he doesn’t want to place a timetable on the recovery. Because of the plethora of wing players in Minnesota, the Wolves will hardly notice Budinger’s absence.

I mentioned in an article last week that Robbie Hummel will likely make the Wolves roster, he’s played well enough to deserve the spot. Hummel started 30 games playing for Blusens (Spain) last season, he averaged 19 minutes per game in which he scored 10 points per game shooting 49 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line. Playing that many games is a good sign for Hummel, who has battled injuries his entire career. With the injury to Budinger, it’s all but certain Hummel makes the team.

The addition of Hummel only secures depth.

The Wolves drafted Shabazz Muhammad with the 14th overall selection in the draft; pending his performance at camp, he’ll have an opportunity to play due to Budinger’s knee issues. Muhammad averaged 18 points per game playing at UCLA last season. He’s already caused somewhat of a ruckus after being excused from NBA Rookie Transition Program last month. Muhammed was hosting an unpermitted guest in his hotel room — not the first impression any rookie wants to make. However, the one they call Shabazz seems to be trying to get back into Minnesota’s good graces, he was seen courtside during Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference Finals, cheering on the Minnesota Lynx. Muhammad is a slasher; a good one, too. He knifes through the defense, creating space to catch and shoot — Muhammad shot 40 percent in catch-and-shoot situations last year. I believe Muhammad will have the opportunity to play up to 10 minutes per game, but he must play to his strengths in camp to warrant the opportunity from coach Rick Adelman.

The player that will be counted on the most in Budinger’s absence is Corey Brewer; he should be, Brewer signed a three-year $15-million dollar contract before joining the Wolves in the offseason. Last season, he made the Denver Nuggets stronger on the defensive side of the ball — Denver was 1.1 points better defensively with Brewer in the game. It’s essential to hit the corner-3 playing in Adelman’s Princeton offense; Brewer can do that.

If you don’t see where he’s at his best, it’s in the left corner when facing the basket. Brewer is a little better than 41 percent on 49-of-119 shooting from that spot, he’s 42-of-176 from everywhere else. The Princeton offense is dependent on players who can stretch the floor and shoot from the outside — Brewer can be successful playing within the system and I expect he’ll be the starting 3 on opening night.

The wild card in this Budinger debacle? Derrick Williams.

Williams’ identity crisis begins with his stature, he’s 6’8″ and 241 pounds; a tweener stuck between the small and power forward positions. He’s too bulky and doesn’t have the handles to play the 3 yet. However, Williams has the potential to spread the floor if he shoots like he did in college, where he shot 57 percent from 3 during his final season. We can measure Williams’ progression as a rookie and into his second season by assessing how he responded to increased minutes. During his second season, Williams appeared in 12 more games while playing 498 more minutes than in his rookie year. Now, this is largely a result of the high frequency of injuries that the Wolves’ roster was hit by last year, especially in the frontcourt. Nonetheless, he improved in every offensive statistical category, as depicted by the graphic:

If it wasn’t for Brewer, Williams would be the starter in Budinger’s absence. Therefore we’ll likely see Adelman looking for 20 to 25 minutes per game out of the former second-overall selection. The injury can be seen as bitter-sweet in the eyes of Williams, bitter because no one prefers to lose a teammate, sweet because it’s now almost guaranteed the Wolves pick up his fourth-year option worth $6.3-million — the team has until Oct. 31 to decide.

The Wolves will miss Budinger, but fans should remain optimistic — this roster is talented and deep enough to manage without him. Minnesota dealt with the injury bug all season last year, hopefully, this isn’t the start of another outbreak.

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