Chase Budinger Is An Exceptional Bargain

The 2006 McDonald’s High School All-American Game might boast the best combined roster in the history of high school basketball. Of the 24 selected to participate, 17 are in the NBA (16 coming by way of a first round draft selection with10 being lottery picks) and 13 played in a Final Four. The rosters were loaded with top tier talent like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Ty Lawson, Thaddeus Young, the Lopez twins, so on and so forth. The game was so loaded with awesomeness, not one, but two players were named MVP. The first, naturally, was Kevin Durant—a scorer so transcendent, at times his superior skill level feels like it belongs inside even more accomplished competition than the NBA can offer. With heavyweight endorsement deals already locked up with the likes of Nike and Gatorade, Durant is the future face of professional basketball. He stands to make approximately $88 million from his direct employer, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in the next five years, and 50 years from now he could be remembered as one of the 10 best players who ever lived. That’s a decent resume for someone born in 1988.

On the other side of the tracks, sharing this award with one of the most prodigious players in recent memory, is Chase Budinger, the one out of 17 from 2006 who wasn’t a first round selection. Budinger isn’t Kevin Durant, nor is his name and stature in the same class with almost every player who competed in that classic game. No, Budinger is something else: The best bargain in basketball. The Rockets smartly signed the former Arizona Wildcat, now a worthy contributor, to what in effect is a four year deal for $3.3 million (two years guaranteed and two subsequent team options after that) after acquiring him from Detroit in a draft day trade.

Through his first two years he’s averaged just over 21 minutes per game, and saw improvements in almost every statistical category in his sophomore season. He looks more than comfortable at this level, and is all but a lock to see a handsome raise when this current contract runs its course. Until then, it’s almost as if the Rockets found a loophole in the old CBA. The contract is a no risk, high reward situation for them, mirroring when a baseball team has rights over their prospect for the first six years of service time. Players like Chase Budinger—more specifically, contacts like the one he’s signed to—are $1 scratch tickets with $50 payouts for savvy/lucky general managers.

It shouldn’t happen, but it does. Only because we’re human. Grading players not by their production related to their peers, but by the size of the paycheck and how much monetary value they’re worth to the team. Rarely does the consensus agree on a player receiving the perfect amount of money; they’re either given too much, debilitating their team’s chances of constructing a winning product by hogging more than their fair share of the roster’s salary, or given too little, grossly underpaid, looking like unappreciated mules being whipped by profitable owners (the most highly paid unappreciated mules to have ever existed, by the way). If a player manages to perform well enough through a slightly unjust contract and into his free agency, they run the risk of over compensation (see Barea, JJ) catapulting themselves into the category of overpaid fat cat. To be fairly compensated is to walk along a tight rope tied between two skyscrapers. When we’re discussing players who actually contribute, only a sparse few get what makes sense.

If all goes well, Budinger is expected to make $884,293 next year and $942,293 in 2012-13. According to HoopsHype, here’s a list of all the players within the Southwest Conference scheduled to make the same or less next season: Ian Mahinmi, Ishmael Smith, Danny Green, Gary Neal, Da’Sean Butler. Stretching it out to the rest of the Western Conference, we have Portland’s Armond Johnson, OKC’s Robert Vaden, Utah’s Jeremy Evans, Golden State’s Jeremy Lin, Los Angeles Clippers’ Willie Warren, Los Angeles Lakers’ Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, Phoenix’s Gani Lawal, Garret Siler, and Zabian Dowdell. and Sacramento’s Hassan Whiteside.

All those players (apart from Whiteside, who like Budinger has a team option over his head next season) are in contract years, and will either be weeded out as unsuitable for the NBA, or have the opportunity to play for a larger contract. Budinger will have to wait two years.

So, now that we’ve established Budinger as someone who doesn’t make a lot of money in relation to a majority of his co-workers, let us figure out why. First, let’s analyze his physical abilities: at 6’7″, Budinger is a versatile player who can survive either at the two or three. He’s a player clearly motivated by his second round draft selection—he runs hard through screens, both to get open on curls that showcase his picture perfect shot, and shadow opponents looking to do the same.

Then there’s the glittering vertical leap, hovering safely above the spectacular 40 inch benchmark. Budinger can jump higher than almost everyone in the league (including Blake Griffin) and he isn’t shy to show it, attacking the rim on 26% of his shots last year, according to Hoopdata. He’s capable of turning the corner with a surprisingly quick first step and finish with what’s quickly become a patented two handed jam in traffic.

He’s more than just an energy guy off the bench. Budinger can score, but he does so both within the offenses structure while still managing to freelance on his own via put backs and an uncanny nose for the action. He slithers his way around the court, pogo-sticking high above the trees looking for ways to help. Chase Budinger belongs in the NBA more than any player in his contract situation. Barring an unfortunate injury, two years from now he’ll be a rightfully paid player. Hopefully, Houston’s writing the check.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

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