The news of Chase Budinger’s knee aggravation and need for surgery brings two cliches to mind:
“Here we go again,” and “Things will work themselves out.”
We’ll take them one at a time.
“Here we go again…”
I hardly need to explain this one. Budinger missed 59 games last year due to a torn meniscus. His teammate Kevin Love, All-NBA the season prior, missed 64. Ricky Rubio missed 25 and had to play his way back into shape after ACL reconstruction. Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic missed 18 and 20 games respectively. I suppose I should also include Brandon Roy, here. For a minute, we talked ourselves into his comeback tour. It lasted five games before the former Blazer great called it a career.
In short, what many expected to be the team’s first playoff appearance in years turned into a 31-51 season of medical updates and frustration.
With just a few days remaining before media day (Eds note: I’m excited to make my inaugural media appearance on Monday.) and the start of training camp, this Budinger news carries an inescapable sense of doom-and-gloom, in light of everything that went down a season ago. Let’s hope it’s the only setback the team faces in the season’s early stages.
“Things will work themselves out.”
Flip Saunders replaced David Kahn just a few months ago. In that limited time he has reshaped the roster by loading up with wing players that are kinda-sorta indistinguishable, at least in terms of the net effect that each might have on the team’s success. The Wolves re-signed Budinger. Saunders arranged a sign-and-trade acquisition of Kevin Martin. He signed Corey Brewer. He drafted Shabazz Muhammad in the lottery. J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved remain on the roster. Kirilenko — a significantly better player than all of those listed, perhaps save Martin — opted out of his $10 Million option so that he opt into the Brooklyn Nets for $3.2M. (!)
At the end of this chain of transactions is the task of setting a rotation. While every coach wants a deep roster, there is real potential for headaches when there are too many players of similar ability at the same position. There will be no questions about point guard, power forward, or center, because Rubio, Love and Pekovic play well enough to command those positions. And while I assume Kevin Martin’s starting shooting guard spot is all but etched in stone, his injury history and [sort of] advanced age suggest he’ll *only* play about 30 minutes per game this year.
That leaves the starting small forward position and a significant reserve-wing position up for grabs, among the Budinger, Brewer, Muhammad, Barea and Shved list of hopefuls.
Before yesterday’s news I would’ve predicted a regular nine-man rotation that looks something like this:
Point Guard – Rubio (38) Barea or Shved (10)
Shooting Guard – Martin (30) Barea or Shved (10) Budinger (8)
Small Forward – Brewer (28) Budinger (20)
Power Forward – Love (33) Cunningham (15)
Center – Pekovic (34) Dieng or Turiaf or Johnson (9) Love (5)
This would have left one of Barea or Shved (probably Shved) entirely benched for many games, along with Shabazz.
With Air Bud on the shelf, there are 28 newly available minutes. They’ll likely be filled by some or all of the following changes:
* Martin and Brewer will play more.
This one is simple and probably inevitable. Adelman isn’t quite Tom Thibodeau when it comes to wearing out his players, but he has shown a willingness to play his best guys a lot of minutes. (See Kevin Love’s 39.0 per game in 2011-12.) With Bud on the shelf, Martin and Brew will likely play a few more minutes per game.
* The JJ & Shved Backcourt: IT LIVES!
For better or worse, the Budinger injury will likely mean that the Wolves’ first reserve unit will once again be led by J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved. (This may have been the case even with Budinger, but now it seems like a foregone conclusion due to a lack of other options.) The two playmakers shared the floor a lot last season — 1064 minutes, to be exact — and had mixed results. With Barea and Shved on the floor — usually as the guards — the Wolves had an average point differential of -1.0 per 48 minutes. While that was better than the team’s overall differential of -2.4 per 48, it obviously is not good to be in the red at all.
Too often it seemed that they’d wait too long to get the team into a meaningful offensive set. For JJ that meant dribbling the air out of the ball before a kamikaze drive to the basket. For Shved it meant holding the rock 30 feet out, waiving off a few ball screens before his patented, hesitation-dribble pull-up from just inside the three-point line. Wolves fans should hope that the Shved & Barea Backcourt can get things moving quicker — the way the Spurs do, for example — to use all 24 of the seconds available to them, rather than just the last few.
* Shabazz will get to play.
Consider me intrigued, if not excited, about this consequence of the Budinger injury. Unless Rick decides to play Derrick Williams at the 3 (PLEASE NO) we should get to see some Shabazz, early and maybe even often. I hope they manage the rotation such that the rook plays most of his minutes with Rubio. I worry some about the disaster potential of the dribble-happy JJ-Shved duo paired with Shabazz’s propensity to chuck shots. Rubio is nothing if not a maestro of team offense. He should help put Shabazz in scoring positions, and guide him to improved decision making.
Losing Budinger to another extended absence is obviously not a good thing. But with the roster assembled by Flip Saunders, it answers some questions for the coaches and at least kicks the can on some personnel and rotation issues that were looming with the season coming up quick.
Here’s to a quick recovery for Chase and better luck in the future.