clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Denzel Valentine is maybe the most fascinating player in the draft

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Previously: #1-5 | #6-10#11-15

Damian Jones

I don't know. Damian Jones is big and probably very athletic in some ways, but he is just not the kind of basketball player I like.

On offense he is very awkward and throws up a ton of goofy shots. He is very big and strong compared to most of his college peers so some of that junk goes in or he gets fouled. It's hard to imagine that being true at the next level when he's better covered and being pushed further from his spots. Maybe going forward there is something in his jumper? His last two years of 2pt jump shooting look pretty good. But his FT% has remained bad throughout his career. So probably not.

General defensive awareness and positional sense is very bad.


MEZZANINE: Primo Brezec

FLOOR: Jake Tsakalidis

Denzel Valentine

Maybe the most fascinating player in the draft, so this is going to be a long one. I think it will be easiest to look at three sides of Denzel Valentine. There's his offensive side from above the free throw line extended. There's his offensive side below that line. And there is his defensive side.

Above the free throw line extended is where Valentine is kind of a genius. Easily the most dangerous player in college in this area. As a shooter, he was every bit as good as Buddy Hield this year; and as a passer he had no equal. He is outstanding at running PnRs in the middle of the floor. He keeps his head up very well and he is almost inerrant in exploiting any confusion in the opposing PnR coverage. It should be noted that he himself creates much of this confusion because his outside shot is so powerful.

One thing he does really well is exploit the opponent's second defensive rotation, or rather lack thereof. So one of MSU's guys will fake his defender out and cut to the basket. One of the defender's teammates will rotate to cover this lapse. Instead of trying to hit the cutter, Valentine hesitates and then passes to the man vacated by the help defender on the MSU cutter. And this guy will usually be wide, wide open. Valentine did a lot of damage like this, especially in transition, and he really made use of the fact that MSU had four rotation players who shot over 40% from three.

Side Note 1: It looked to me like he and his team got a lot of their offense in transition. They, and in particular Valentine, really seemed to understand how to exploit a confused defense. Using to compare MSU to other top 25 colleges, it does appear as though they were among the most prolific transition offenses in the country. I have no idea whether that is a good thing or not for Valentine.

Side Note 2: The score-keepers in Lansing were clearly hunting for triple doubles for Denzel. In one game versus Ohio State, Valentine passed to his guy in the corner, that guy faked a pass, put the ball on the floor for one dribble, and shot the ball. That was called an assist for Valentine. In the same game Valentine threw an entry pass in to Matt Costello. Costello caught the ball, dribbled twice into the lane, and threw up a righty hook that went splash. Another assist for Valentine. There were many, many similar situations in the footage I watched.

Below the foul line offense is where Valentine's flaws start to manifest. We know from that Valentine doesn't get himself to the basket very often. Only 16% of his FGAs were around the rim. Once at the rim, Valentine only converted at a 60% rate. What is more, 46% of his makes at the rim were assisted. All of these numbers are very poor for a guard or a wing. They suggest what is obvious from viewing: Denzel Valentine rarely gets himself clean looks in the paint. Everything is contested and difficult and awkward. Even his passing once in the paint begins to feel less clinical and more desperate.

He has a weird floater/hook shot arsenal. Honestly it's really ugly shit. It's often the case that you can't tell whether he is trying to shoot a floater or throw a lob. If you've ever seen Matthew Dellavadova play in the pros then you've seen this sort of thing before.

And then there's defense, where Valentine's flaws come at you like a violent tidal bore. Valentine has great size for a guard and solid size for a wing, but he is an extremely poor athlete by the standards of NBA perimeter players. He cannot jump, he's slow up and down, forward and backward, side to side. If he is going to play on this end in the NBA it is going to require an extraordinary amount of focus, preparation, attention to detail, and maximizing every bit of athleticism he has. Even then I'm not sure what position he is supposed to defend. I seriously doubt he will be able to defend guards, but that's where he would need to to use his size advantage. Once he shifts to forwards then he's still slow but now he's also small. I look at some of the guys I would like to compare him to and they are all bigger than Valentine, often by quite a bit.

How good a rebounder will he be? That appears to be his strong suit as a defender. I have a little rule which goes as follows: if you want to know a non-point guard NCAA perimeter player's pro TRB%, simply look at their per40 minute pace adjusted rebound number and add a "%" after it. So since Valentine grabbed 9.3 rebounds per40 pace adjusted, I would expect his pro TRB% to be about 9.3% (maybe less if it makes more sense to use his career rebound number and not just his senior figure). That is very good. It would rank him 15th in the league this year among perimeter players with +500 minutes. But it isn't quite elite, and with his numerous other defensive red flags I wonder if he would almost have to rebound like a power forward to justify starter's minutes.

CEILING: Mike Miller

MEZZANINE: I have no idea

FLOOR: Jason Kapono

Cheick Diallo

13.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 4.5 blocks per40 looks pretty sweet for a freshman. 7.5 MPG, 7.4 fouls, 3.3 TOs, and 0.2 assists per40 looks really bad for anyone.

He commits lots of offensive fouls on rebounds he has no chance of getting to. The motor is appreciated, but the decision making is not.

I know this is a weird thing to carp about, but it annoys me when he holds his hands up for his teammates to pass him the ball when, as far as I can tell, he isn't in a good position to do anything. I feel like that's a sign of a player with a poor understanding of the game.

To me, if I'm drafting a barely 6'9'', 220 lb center in the first round, he either needs to have great range on his shot or he needs to be defensively versatile. I think we can rule out the former with Diallo. So the question is: what sort of defender is he?

Really bad PnR understanding. Not nearly as mobile or light on his feet as you would want. Hangs back a lot on PnRs like he's 7'0'' or something. I guess that might be scheme (or not, Self wouldn't play him) but he didn't hedge screens well when he tried. Doesn't close out on shooters like you'd want. Looks like a center doing so, not a small forward. Doesn't change direction very easily. Looks kind of plodding when he has to move backwards. So he plays big, but in a bad way.

CEILING: Chris Anderson

MEZZANINE: Jahidi White

FLOOR: Lou Amundson

Tyler Ulis

I first noticed Ulis when I was watching footage of Jamal Murray. I found my focus being drawn away from Murray from time to time, even in Murray highlight videos. Good stuff always seemed to happen when Ulis was around.

He is an extremely impressive offensive player in so many ways. The best I saw this year at faking defenders out with his eyes. That speaks well of his intelligence, but also of his comfort with the myriad basic PG skills that he can think ahead in the play like that, and therefore draw his mind away from what he is doing in the immediate moment. He also talks a lot on offense.

Incredible balance. His shot always looks smooth and in control. His skill level is phenomenal. He's only 149 lbs(!!!) but he can hit some very deep 3s so he might be sneaky strong. Great at fakes, feints, changes of speed, &c. Finishes right or left comfortably, off different parts of the glass. Though he doesn't finish well: only 57% around the rim. Doesn't seem afraid of contact. That mid-range game is really going to have to work for him in the pros. He is not super explosive.

Works very hard on defense. Someone this quick and smart and hard-working on defense probably should have had more steals, yes? Maybe this is already a sign that his physical limitations are going to be a big deal on that end in the pros?

Appeared to get a little better as the year went along.

CEILING: D.J. Augustin

MEZZANINE: Chris Whitney

FLOOR: Speedy Claxton

Brice Johnson

This draft has so many weirdos in it.

Johnson scored a lot of garbage baskets. And baskets off drop-off passes. If he gets the ball in the paint, he is putting a shot up. Elevates nicely and quickly and hits a lot of hook shots. He was pretty automatic with that 12-17 footer this year.

I just wish he had better defensive motor. He's such an explosive athlete but he often sits there and watches while block opportunities pass by. He's kind of like Marquese Chriss in that way. Except he's 21 (young for his class, by the way).

He is taller than Mike Dunleavy, but only by a bit. He actually weighs 20 lbs less than Dunleavy did at the combine. And while he rebounds, he doesn't block many shots. Could he perhaps be a SF in the Roberson mold? Their non-scoring college numbers are kind of similar. I saw him defend Matt Jones-- a pretty blah guard from Duke-- well off the dribble. Saw him deny penetration to Brandon Ingram in an iso. Can he do this more? Checking out DX's "Weaknesses" video... seems to respond with an emphatic "No".


MEZZANINE: Lorenzen Wright

FLOOR: Othella Harrington

Stats will either be from or or