Chase Budinger has been cleared by doctors to return to the Minnesota Timberwolves; this doesn’t mean he’ll be playing in their next game, but he will return to practice. After missing most of last season due to injury, Budinger will rejoin a healthy Wolves squad that has been dominant thus far. Just where and how does Budinger fit in, though, on a team that’s been doing so well without him?
This summer, Budinger was slated to be the Wolves’ starting small forward, but his offseason surgery allowed Corey Brewer to begin the season as a starter. Brewer has excelled in his role, becoming a favorite target for pass-happy Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Brewer also adds something that is sorely missing from the Timberwolves’ lineup — perimeter defense.
Budinger adds something else that’s sorely missing, though, as an above average three point shooter. Unlike many three point specialists, Budinger is athletic and can score in many ways. The Wolves desperately need scoring off the bench, and if that’s where Budinger ends up, he should still be a tremendous help.
Both Brewer and Budinger have played the majority of their career minutes off the bench, so neither would likely have a problem doing so again. Budinger’s return causes a bit of a logjam at the small forward position, however. Derrick Williams is trying to play as a three this year, and rookies Robbie Hummel and Shabazz Muhammad are also small forwards. With Budinger back in the mix, those three will see less time, impeding the development of the rookies and lessening Williams’ trade stock.
Still, Budinger’s return should help the Wolves, as they look to return to the playoffs. Depth has been their biggest problem so far, and whether Budinger or Brewer end up coming off the bench, either will be an improvement. Look for Budinger to come on slowly, but eventually challenge for the starting role.