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Tuesday October 6, 2009 1:39 PM

The Thrill of The Chase

Budinger opening eyes at training camp

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Houston - The subtle velvet notes from the saxophone hang in the air, defying gravity and mesmerizing audiences just like Mike. A quick chord change here, a snappy new rhythm there, and the band members never even miss a beat, falling right in line while displaying the same sort of telepathic connection that made Stockton-to-Malone a permanent part of the NBA lexicon.

The link between jazz and basketball is nothing new; in fact it’s only natural given their shared similarities of improvisation, rhythm and tempo. Both require uncanny timing and teamwork. Both demand feel, passion and soul. And at their ethereal best, both are a sight and sound to behold.

Know then, that when Rockets’ Assistant Coach and Advance Scout Pat Zipfel calls rookie Chase Budinger, "Smooth Jazz,” he is paying him the ultimate compliment. First year players aren’t supposed to possess the poise and instincts which Budinger has displayed since joining the club; especially first year players who slip all the way into the second round (Chase was chosen No. 44 overall) of the NBA draft.

“Chase obviously got really good coaching growing up,” says Rockets’ Assistant Coach R.J. Adelman, “so I think the transition has been easier for him because his game is so well-rounded. Often when a rookie comes into the NBA and there’s something that he’s weak at, (opponents) are going to find it and expose it, whereas in college a lot of times you can hide those weaknesses.

“But he’s so well-rounded and just knows how to play and he really fits in. That could have been one of the reasons he slipped in the draft, just because it looks like it’s so easy for him that people maybe think that he’s not giving it 100 percent even though he really is. Sometimes he just blends in and doesn’t assert himself, so we’re on him to be aggressive and really want the ball, rather just fit in with his teammates because he really is a talented scorer. Part of that is just being a rookie. But he’s getting things done. He’s just so smooth that sometimes it’s elusive to see how effective he really is.”

Budinger admits that his draft day slide was a big disappointment but he certainly hasn’t allowed that downer to detract from his performance going forward. He kicked off his rookie campaign by shooting the lights out in Las Vegas, scorching the nets with a jaw-dropping .727 mark from beyond the arc. And though no one expects him to keep up that pace once the real games begin, Budinger has continued to draw raves from the coaching staff with a confidence and understanding of the game which belie his rookie status.

“(Summer league) definitely gave me confidence,” he says. “I was able to come off screens and be very aggressive knocking down shots and hopefully I can carry that confidence right on through the regular season.

“I feel like I’m a guy who can come in and contribute right away. That’s where my mindset is at and I just want to keep showing in practice that I can be a contributor, playmaker and someone who can knock down shots because I think (opponents) will be keying in on Ariza and Scola and leaving me open which means I’ve got to be able to hit those shots that are available to me.”

Offensively, there’s little question that Budinger is able to make a positive contribution right this instant. It’s the defensive side of the ball, however, which could determine how much playing time Chase will be given early on. For as much as the Rockets might crave the offensive boost Budinger provides, they don’t want that to come at the expense of their defensive integrity. Fortunately for both parties, Budinger has unlimited instant access to one of the best defensive minds in the game.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to pick Shane Battier’s brain as much as possible and ask him as many questions as I can, especially on the defensive end. I’m always asking him, ‘How do you do this? What do you do?’ because he’s such a great defender. He thinks that he doesn’t know all the right answers but his answers are pretty good; you can tell that by the way he plays defense. So I’ve picked up a lot of things already just by listening to him.”

For his part, Battier is only too happy to help.

“I’ve tried to point out things you must do as an NBA defender,” he says. “Not everyone can do the things that a Ron Artest or a Bruce Bowen does. But there are certain things that every capable defender in the NBA does. There’s no reason (rookies) can’t be capable defenders now and improve every year. It’s just a matter of body positioning, understanding the angles that you want to give the opposing player and the angles you want to take away and just a few things that, if you learn, you can go out and might be able to fool people into thinking that you can actually play defense. That’s what I did and got better from there.”

Clearly, the necessary resources are there for Budinger to succeed. So, too, are the tools, since no one doubts that Chase certainly has the chops to make it in the NBA. And just one look at the Rockets’ roster makes it clear that the opportunity is right there waiting to be seized.

"Tracy isn’t playing right now, we have Shane and Trevor who are proven and then things are wide open from there," says Adelman. "There’s an opportunity for somebody to step in there, be in the rotation and play significant minutes right away. I think Chase knows that, so he’s trying to seize his opportunity and he’s doing the job so far."

The rest of the band stands at the ready, anxious to begin playing the opening notes of a new season. Now it’s just a matter of time, a matter of finding his feet and the right rhythm, before Budinger steps forward, joins in and starts making some of that sweet, smooth music of his own.

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