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via:chron.com

Chase Budinger let out one of those laughs that are really more of an exhale when something is not all that funny. Things could be worse, he said, which in itself revealed much about his play through four games of a summer league he dominated a year ago.

“It would have been devastating if the way I’m playing now was last year,” Budinger said. “I don’t think I’m playing up to par right now.”

Less certain is the difference in perspective has led to the change in his play. No longer determined to prove he belongs, having accomplished that in a solid and promising rookie season, he has seemed to struggle to find the edge that drove his play last summer.

Now a featured player in the Rockets offense, he has averaged 15.3 points, making just 36 percent of his shots, just 25 percent of his 3s. Hoping to contribute in more varied ways than as a scorer, he has averaged 4.3 rebounds and just two assists.

In the Rockets 100-91 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, he finished with 13 points, but made just 4 of 13 shots, going 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. He was scoreless in the first half as the Rockets fell into a 14-point hole. Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan had 23 points in 20 minutes, many when matched up with Budinger.

“Man, I just can’t find the rim right now,” Budinger said. “You try to do other things. It’s been rough. The four games haven’t felt like all there.

“I think I’m doing better on the defensive end, helping out on the rotations. I’m trying to focus on the little things out there that I need to improve on the season.”

Budinger had hoped the summer league would offer an opportunity to expand his game by being more of a playmaker. He has shown signs of that, with several strong drive-and-dish moments, especially Tuesday. But overall, the Rockets have tried to get him to do more, no matter whether his shot is falling or not.

“I don’t see him doing different things,” Rockets assistant coach Elston Turner said. “We reiterated to him that the summer league team is here for guys like him. You want him to be aggressive and try things and not be passive. I’d just like to see him be more aggressive, don’t treat this summer league like this. You are the main guy on this team.

“It looked like he had an edge last year. He had a little more pep to his step, a little more attitude, it seemed like. The way his shot is, that comes and goes. We all know he can shoot the basketball. He has enough talent in my opinion to fill up the stat sheet.

“That’s what I’m on him about. If he goes 0 for 15 in summer league, so what. He needs to be in there rebounding, passing and blocking shots. We’ve all seen how athletic he is. He needs to fill that stat sheet up. Have some value when your shot is not going. That has to be the goal of any player, but especially the ones with that kind of ability.”

Budinger had seemed in the first few games of the week to struggle with balancing being a playmaker and scorer. On Sunday, he started slowly and coaches instructed him to look for his shot. He came on in the second half, finishing with 21 points in his best game of the tournament.

“When I play, the way I play is I take what is given to me,” Budinger said. “Sometimes that is me not being very aggressive. Sometimes that’s me looking for other players. Before (Sunday’s) game, the coaches told me they want me to be more aggressive. That’s where looking for more shots came from.

“When I drive, I see things that are open and try to get other people involved. I tried to get contract and get to the free throw line, overall, it’s been a struggle for me the last four games.”

His confidence, however, is not shaken. He might not have as much to prove and that might have hurt him. But Budinger does not have to worry about whether he can turn it around.

“It doesn’t affect me,” Budinger said. “I know my game best. I know will be better when the season comes.”

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