By: Zachariah Blott
On Monday, Milwaukee Bucks’ General Manager John Hammond made the expected announcement to not exercise the third year of Joe Alexander’s rookie contract. Basically this means that the eighth pick in the 2008 Draft will become the third first-round selection ever to become an unrestricted free agent after only two seasons. The Bucks made this decision after a single, injury-marred season under Alexander’s belt. The second-year forward is currently nursing a torn right hamstring until the New Year.
Alexander impressed draft scouts in ’08 with his freakish athleticism and a nice run of boxscores in March. I’m serious, the only production anyone in the league talked about from his three years at West Virginia were his final nine contests in which he averaged 24 PPG and 8 RPG. He shot a rather average 46% from the field during that fateful month, and Alexander actually hit below that mark in 5 of his final 6 games. That’s about it. A junior who was averaging 14 PPG from November through February suddenly became a lottery pick because it looked like he may have harnessed his off-the-charts athleticism and he was the god of dunking.
Like JaMarcus Russell, Alexander was supposed to turn great physical abilities and a limited run of college success into All-Star appearances. But then reality set in. During his rookie campaign, he played in 59 contests, scoring 4.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and shot a poor 42% – turns out his mid-range game only worked against slower college defenders. Since entering the league, he has been noted for his unpolished offensive
abilities and questionable lateral quickness, which is a nice way of saying he can’t guard his man. Freak athlete who works hard he may be, but a basketball player he is not.
Chase Budinger photo credit: Icon SMI
Looking back, draft aficionados and general managers should have seen this coming. Here’s the video from his Draft selection. It’s pointed out by the commentators that a) he’s shooting up the draft boards because of his high scoring average in March, b) he’s just now learning to use his athleticism to get to the rim, c) he needs to work on his defense and moving his feet, and d) he will need to adjust to being guarded by athletic forwards in the NBA. Which of these comments do you want to hear said about your newly acquired lottery pick?
Enter Houston rookie Chase Budinger. He has a similar build to Alexander (6-7, 220 to 6-8, 230), is also noted for his athleticism (he was the top high school volleyball player in the nation while splitting time with hoops), is also supposed to have a jumper, and they’re both obviously white. There have been similar things said about their games, but Budinger has already proven to be the superior NBA player, and he was a lowly second-round draft pick five months ago. The newest Rocket is actually doing the things Alexander was supposed to do.
In 16 minutes a night off the bench, Budinger is averaging 9.3 ppg (Alexander had 4.7), 2.5 rpg (2.0), is shooting 50% (42%) from the field, and he’s hitting 40% of his 3.8 triples per contest (35% of 0.8). Budinger actually has a jumper and a clue how to be part of a basketball team. Alexander might win a one-on-one driveway contest, but Budinger knows how to play within the flow of the professional game. Not only that, he’s playing some heads up defense, staying in front a variety of opponents he’s asked to guard (you’ll see him sticking shooting guards through power forwards), contesting shots, and fouling opponents less than Alexander did (1.5 FPG to 1.8). It’s still early in the season, but the Rockets are giving up a fantastic 9 points less per 100 possessions with Budinger on the floor compared to when he’s on the bench.
Should NBA scouts and GM’s have been able to figure this out? How did they draft these two so differently and get results so opposite of expectations?
Breaking down Budinger, after the jump …
Budinger has been an outstanding prep baller for a long time. Whereas Alexander went to junior college before getting and accepting a DI offer, Budinger attended much ballyhooed Arizona after winning co-MVP honors at the 2006 McDonald’s All-America Game, being named a Parade first team All-American, and winning the MVP award for the 2006 Nike Junior World Championships in France.
He was the 2007 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year after putting up 15.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and shooting 49% from the field. His breakout performance didn’t take long, scoring 17 on 7-12 shooting at Virginia in his very first game. The NBA loves potential more than anything, so Budinger was expected to be a lottery pick had he left school after one collegiate season. He stayed for two more and played for a new coach each year. Even with all the turmoil surrounding the Wildcats, Budinger’s play was steady, consistently putting up around 17 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, and shooting 47% FG and 38% 3FG. He even faced off against Alexander in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, scoring a game-high 23 on 8-13 baskets compared to 14 on 4-12 for the soon-to-be lottery pick.
Whereas Alexander was the new kid on the draft block with “unlimited potential” stamped all over his athletic gifts in 2008, Budinger was a known commodity in 2009 who apparently was stuck scoring 17 points forever. Known commodities never do as well in the draft as potential does, so Budinger dropped while players with a single great season—or part of a season—were taken well before him (Jordan Hill, DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Henderson, etc.).
I understand that these draftees with limited known production do work out sometimes (high schoolers like KG, LeBron, Kobe, or short-term collegians such as Chris Paul), but players who put up good numbers for multiple years at top schools amid turmoil (Sean Miller will definitely right that Arizona ship, by the way) seem like an infinitely safer bet after the guys with superstar skills are snatched up in the firt 5 picks or so.
Budinger has known how to play this game for a while and is already doing what the Bucks hoped Alexander would have done. Somehow I doubt this will change any future drafts. By the way, when is the last time a white forward whose athleticism—not shooting, brute force, or intelligent passing/team play/defense—worked out in the NBA?
See Also: Darly Morey’s Rockets an Early Surprise
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.