Nick: “Air Bud” came on extremely strong after the All Star Game last season.
In the last three months of the year, Chase’s numbers drastically improved as he averaged 9.9 points per game (+ 1.7 from Pre All Star Game), shot 49 percent from the field (+ 9 Pre), and 41 percent from behind the three point line (+ 7 Pre). He also made the most of every opportunity, especially when he got to start. When Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza were sidelined with injuries, as the starting forward,Chase averaged 19 points per game, shooting 53.9 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from downtown. This shows me with increased minutes and responsibility, Budinger is able to respond to the challenge of being a go-to scorer. He is going to be thrust into this position again due to the fact that Batter is a year older, and the departure of Ariza creates more room for playing time at the Small Forward position. Chase is now the primary offensive option off of the bench for the Rockets, which just so happens to be the deepest in the league.
While he is a joy to watch on the offensive end, Bud is a below average defender which could hurt him in the Sixth Man of the Year race. Even though he has great length, he gets beat off the dribble too often not to be considered a liability on the defensive end of the court. Having Yao back in the center should take some pressure of that aspect. The Rockets coaches have proven they are great handling and extracting the potential from young talent. Look at what Carl Landry was able to do in his second season in the league last year. He was one of the leading Sixth Man of the Year Candidates before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. If I were in Vegas right now, this would be an easy buy for me.
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I think the key word in this question has to be “candidate.” Is Chase Budinger one of the first five names out of your mouth when asked about the Sixth Man Award? Probably not. But the emerging small forward has the ability to emerge as a candidate. To me, the Sixth Man Award is a lot like college football’s Heisman Trophy because it’s an individual award that normally goes to a player on an extremely talented team. When you look back at some of the recent winners, they’re mostly on competitive, playoff basketball teams. You’re not going to win the Sixth Man Award on a team that experiences a summer highlighted by watching ping pong balls hoping to land the next John Wall.
So, we already know that Budinger can score when given the minutes. As a starter, the former Arizona Wildcat averaged 17.0 points, 6.8 boards, and shot over 50 percent from the floor. It all boils down to his opportunities and the play of his team. After a strong 09-10 season, there is no reason why Budinger can’t emerge into Houston’s go-to-scorer off the bench, and that could mean 12-14 points per game with a solid shooting percentage, good amount of rebounds, and a lot of three pointers. As long as the Rockets are in contention, ”Air Bud” is a Sixth Man candidate.
Sell: Nowadays, the 6th man is the second or third scoring option on a team. In the past ten seasons, a player has averaged at least 13.6 ppg, and in the past four 18 ppg. It all started with Greg Popovich reshaping the 6th man award by putting Ginobili on the bench. Coaches are desperate to have that strong scoring option off the bench, no matter how good the player might be. So with that in mind, I highly doubt Budinger can raise his game that dramatically to average in the high teens in ppg. Budinger may have the offensive skill set to put up these point totals every now and then, but I don’t see it happening on a regular basis. If you account for Yao getting his 20 ppg, Martin gets his 20 ppg, Brooks gets his 15 ppg, Scola gets his 15 ppg, I don’t see any room for Budinger.
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Unless, the Rockets plan on scoring 110+ points a game this season, I don’t see Budinger in the running for the 6th man award. With guys like Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, and Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench, Budinger needs to average at least 18 ppg to be seriously considered a viable candidate for the 6th man of the year award. If anyone on the rockets bench were to make a run at the award, I believe Courtney Lee has the best chance.
I think he’s ready to take a huge step this year. In the last month of the season he averaged 12.9 points on .488 shooting and .500 from beyond the arc in 23.3 minutes. With Ariza gone and a bigger hole at SF, I think he’s ready to get 25 minutes a game off the bench. The real question is if he can be more aggressive offensively and get to the line a little more, because it will take way more than 13 points a game to be in the 6th man of the year discussion. Crawford won it last year with 18 points a game in 31 minutes. I don’t see Bud putting up those kind of numbers, but I could see him having more of an impact defensively.
You might laugh at that because his defense has never been his strong suit, but on this team and with his athleticism, I see no reason why he couldn’t be a very good defender. So while I don’t think he’s suddenly going to be an elite scorer overnight, I think if he can get about 15 points in 25 minutes a game, while shooting solid percentages and significantly improving his defense, then I think he could be in the discussion.