This is the slow time in the NBA off-season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start looking ahead to the 2010-11 season and which players might surprise us. The Slept-on Files will feature some of the players you might have overlooked or written off — and give you reasons why you shouldn’t.
Chase Budinger’s File: 1 season, 74 games, 20.1 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.5 SPG, .441 FG%, .369 3P%
Why he’s being slept on: Chase Budinger was drafted 44th overall in the 2009 draft by the Pistons and then immediately traded to the Rockets for cash considerations and a future second round draft pick that is top 40 protected in 2012, top 35 protected in 2013 and 2014, and unprotected in the 2015. Clearly he wasn’t viewed as one of the top prospects in that draft class. Pre-draft scouting reports questioned his mid-range game, his ability to create his own shot and his ability to defend effectively at the NBA level.
Last season was a transition year for the Rockets as they were without Yao Ming for the entire season and they finished 42-40 — eight games back of the eighth seed in the West. While Aaron Brooks is a nice player, he was arguably the Rockets’ best player last season so they pretty much flew under the radar. Most fans outside of Houston didn’t pay a lot of attention to whether or not Budinger had turned out to be a non-factor as predicted by many people.
Why he shouldn’t be slept on: If there’s one thing we should have learned about Rockets GM Daryl Morey by now, it’s that he has a knack for getting extraordinary value out of late draft picks — Aaron Brooks was the 26th pick and Carl Landry was the 31st pick in the 2007 draft, and they’ve both far exceeded the typical expectations of players drafted in their positions. Morey was probably intrigued by Budinger’s impressive 38-inch vertical, above-average three-point shooting and good attitude and figured he was easily worth giving up a future second round pick. He was right.
In a season where they really didn’t have a realistic shot of cracking the top eight in the West, Budinger was a bright spot and one of the more entertaining Rockets in 2009-10. His surprising athleticism (for a white guy, of course) translated to a number of highlight reel dunks (as you’ll see in the mix at the end of this post) and his above-average basketball IQ have allowed him to prove that he has the skills and the smarts to be a valuable contributor in this league for many years.
It’s likely he’ll backup Shane Battier at small forward in 2010-11, so he may not get much more than the 20 minutes per game he averaged last season. But the fact that Morey felt comfortable with trading Trevor Ariza for backup two-guard Courtney Lee (and his expiring contract) indicates that he has confidence in Budinger’s ability to fill in if Battier gets hurt. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that Budinger is just 22 years old and in the four games he started last season, he averaged 17 points and six rebounds on 53 percent shooting. Considering that he’ll earn $780,000 next season, can you name a team that wouldn’t want him on their bench?