Gazing at Chase Budinger the other night, and two questions popped into my head: 1) Why is he so much fun to watch? 2) How does he stay on the court long enough for me to enjoy it? Neither sounds complimentary, but both questions are meant in the most positive possible way.
Budinger is a joy to watch because of his puzzling ability to be productive in the never ending days and nights of NBA action. He has the look, skill, and demeanor of an All-Universe volleyball player, yet something about him belongs in the most competitive basketball league known to man. (Two nights ago he wasn’t shy in letting Metta World Peace know where he might find L.A.’s tastiest cheeseburger).
In terms of monetary value he’s one of Daryl Morey’s greatest achievements, which is to say he might be the one signing that gives Morey’s boss the widest smile. What makes him so attractive is his inexplicable ability to stay on the court. He’s a basketball player’s basketball player. A gift for the most acute NBA watcher.
Chase Budinger does things that even the most tireless gym rats aren’t particularly fond of. He rarely has plays called for him, instead directing the action his way by lingering on the weak side and making timely, attention grabbing back cuts. When he does have possession and chooses to pass, he’s always moving, doing his best to directly create something for a teammate.
Budinger is a leaping 6-foot, 7-inch “guy every team would love to have” cliché, but in the truest case. Russell Westbrook is a dynamic, extremely talented basketball player, but would, say, the Chicago Bulls welcome him with open arms right now? Probably not. All 30 teams could find a place for Budinger in their rotation, and he’d make it work with every allowed minute on the court because is style of play is seamless. He goes unnoticed until you’re forced to pay attention—the league’s ghost. If Westbrook is a never ending fireworks display, Budinger is a pin-drop quiet room that every so often startles its occupants with the sudden slamming of a door.
According to Hoopdata, only three players who average at least 20 minutes per game have a higher percentage of their baskets assisted than Budinger. Those numbers would indicate that he isn’t creating for himself; that his points are merely the byproduct of standing in the right place in the right time and taking advantage of some heady ball movement. On the contrary, he IS creating for himself, and by doing so, creating for others.
He’s highly effective cutting to the basket and finding opportunistic space to make simple shots. He’s sneaky, weaving his way around the basket and finishing on wide open looks when defenders fall asleep. Basically, he’s making his teammate’s job easier when he’s on the court. Not in a “pass the ball and eat a snack” kind of way, a la those who’ve been beside Kobe Bryant, but to fans who’re paying attention, when a teammate picks up his dribble or isn’t sure where to go, Chase Budinger will throw him a life raft by making himself available.
So far this season he’s excelled in catch and shoot situations, rolling off screens and spotting up in the corners. Only seven small forwards averaging at least 20 minutes per game have a higher True Shooting percentage, and only 19 players in the league are scoring more PPP.
He doesn’t handle the ball and boasts a USG% of just 18.2, but Houston is significantly worse at the offensive end when he’s sitting on the bench. How is this possible? (Before going any further, please keep in mind what we’re about to discuss is a sample size that doesn’t even register on BasketballValue.com’s top players list because Budinger’s 85 total minutes don’t reach the minimum 91.35 needed to weed out statistical anomalies.)
When Budinger is on the court, the Rockets score 121.8 points per 100 possessions (a team high). When he comes off, they score 93.5, giving Budinger a net difference of +28.3 (also a team best).
A ghost is something you forget exists when nobody’s talking about it.
A ghost has no known tangible effect on the way we live or the various outcomes of our daily personal actions. Chase Budinger makes an impact whether people are talking about him or not, and I don’t ever want him to leave.