The Bully Pulpit

Denzel Valentine Could Play Extended Minutes Off The Bench Right Now

denzel valentine chicago bulls

How much should we really care about the Chicago Bulls’ 7-0 run through the Las Vegas Summer League? Well, let me put it to you this way: The NBA Summer League is a lot WebMD. It’ll give you a very basic, watered-down, and marginally accurate depiction of what problems a team might have down the road.

In the same way that I use WebMD to try to find out if the blood in my stool means I have colon cancer, NBA teams like the Bulls use the Summer League, usually as sort of a dry-run for their rookies and marginal bench players in an effort to reveal any glaring problems those players might have. WebMD is nowhere near the same thing as an actual doctor’s appointment, just as the competitiveness of the Summer League is nowhere near that of the NBA regular season. Thus, like the hypochondriacs on WebMD who mistake mild indigestion for stomach cancer— many NBA teams and fanbases are leaving the Summer League with a warped sense of reality, for better or worse.

You can feel pessimistic based on something you saw, just as you can feel optimistic— but at the end of the day, remember: It’s only WebMD.

With that said, the Bulls had an undoubtedly impressive run through the Summer League, but these games weren’t really about the score— they were about the players. Without a doubt, the most intriguing player to watch was Bulls’ first-round draft pick, Denzel Valentine.

How would he do? Would his outside shots fall? Would he be a liability on defense? Would he flirt with triple-doubles as he did so many times in college?

I think a lot of those things remain to be seen, and we won’t have a clear picture of the type of player Valentine is until the regular season. But if his play in the Summer League told us anything, it was this:

Denzel Valentine could play extended minutes off the bench, right now.


This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to his recent late-game heroics. This, in my mind, hopefully, is a fair and grounded analysis of a guy who found a way to help his team, despite playing like absolute shit.

To give you some context, Valentine shot a mere 25.5% from three and 35.2% overall this summer. These numbers were way below his college averages of 44.4% and 46.2%, respectively. He turned the ball over twice per game, and averaged three fouls per contest, the most of any Bull in both categories. He missed 57 shots— most on the team. Scoring-wise, it took him a long time to get going in each contest, especially last night, when he didn’t score his first basket until the fourth quarter. Yet, despite all this, he managed to lead his team to victory when it mattered most. Even on his worst day, he still found a way to win.

What I want out of a bench player, is someone who isn’t going to hurt the team on an every-other-game basis. Every player has their “off” nights, however— as is too often the case with offensively-oriented players— it doesn’t help the team if your “off” night renders you essentially useless as a player. A lot of guys, like former Bulls Nate Robinson or Kyle Korver, simply couldn’t offer the team anything if their shot wasn’t falling. The best role players in the NBA are guys who can still contribute, even when their best weapons are taken away. For my money, we saw this from Denzel Valentine. Despite his poor defense, poor shooting, and all around shaky NBA debut— he contributed. He helped the team win games.

The biggest thing that impressed me about Valentine was his rebounding. I knew he was a strong rebounder in college— I guess I just didn’t realize how well that skill might translate to the NBA. During the Summer League, Valentine averaged 6.7 rebounds per game, the second-most of any Bull behind Bobby Portis’ 9.4. Valentine did most of his work on the defensive glass, averaging 5.9 defensive boards per game— tops on the team. He contributed in other areas as well, finishing second on the roster in assists per game (2.7), first in steals (1.6), and first in three-pointers made (12).

Now obviously, playing time has a lot to do with those numbers, as does the quality of opponent. He needs to work on his shooting percentage, get involved earlier in games, cut down on turnovers and stop fouling so frequently— but at the end of the day, I would have no problem bringing him off the bench to play 20-25 minutes per game. Will he get those type of minutes? Probably not. At least not at first. But if injuries forced him into an expanded role, that wouldn’t scare me too much.

I’m not saying he’s going to be a super star. What I am saying is that there’s a role for players like Valentine in the NBA. Think Boris Diaw, Robert Horry, Mike Miller, Nicolas Batum— guys who help in a multitude of categories, team-first guys with a high basketball IQ, humble guys who are willing to accept their role. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think Denzel Valentine can be that type of player for 20 minutes a night starting this October, no problem.

He might not have a high ceiling— but he does have a high floor, and right now, with the Bulls in utter turmoil— that’s good enough for me.

(Header image via).

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