The recent conclusion of this year's Las Vegas Summer League did little to reassure us of the Bulls backup point guard position. It may have opened the door to one more player.
Ok yes, I know it's Summer League. The first rule of Summer League is, it's Summer League, everything must be taken with a grain of salt. But there are some things you can take away from it. The biggest, for those entering their second years in the league, another stint in the summer festival offers players an opportunity to showcase their growth, resulting in dominating the competition (i.e. Tyus Jones, Devin Booker, Bobby Portis, etc.). This was the case for newly acquired second year man Jerian Grant, but that's not exactly what we saw through two weeks of play for the presumptive backup point guard.
Through seven games, Grant averaged 12.7 PPG, along with 3.9 APG, 2.9 RPG and 1.86 turnovers per game. He shot a lackluster 34.9% from the field and only 22% from three. Where shooting has been a struggle for Grant, summer league did very little to show that he's improved in that area, one in which the Bulls desperately need help. Though what caused the greatest concern was that Grant was wildly inconsistent throughout, having difficultly in managing the team's offense and creating opportunities for teammates. More times than not Grant was looking for his shot first, and when attempting to create for others he struggled, specifically out of the pick-and-roll. His play left an uneasy feeling to say the least.
Now, for rookie Denzel Valentine, his averages weren't anymore impressive, his shot as inconsistent as Grant's play. But what separated Valentine from Grant was his court vision, decisiveness and ability to manage the offense when needed. Manning the point guard position during his senior year at Michigan State, Valentine's passing was one of his most heralded attributes entering the draft, and it was on full display these past few weeks.
Denzel Valentine with a nice pass to Cristiano Felicio who misses the easy lay in. pic.twitter.com/YFUl2XxD0o— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD_) July 19, 2016
Valentine with another nice pass. pic.twitter.com/UWX1QECcvI— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD_) July 19, 2016
Valentine's playmaking out of the pick-and-roll was sensational, whether it was hitting the role man as seen above or finding the open shooter in the weakside corner. He pushed the pace when he got the ball in the secondary break, looking ahead up the floor to advance. Valentine was decisive in his passing, swinging the ball to the open man, avoiding holding onto the ball sabotaging precious seconds off the clock (a habit that plagued the Bulls last year). To put it one way, there was a bigger sense of comfortability seeing Valentine at point.
Granted, Valentine does have very apparent weaknesses that Grant has the upper edge on, especially when it comes to the point guard position. The biggest is Valentine's athleticism, or lack thereof. Inevitably, this will make it difficult for Valentine to create separation against opposing guards, whether it's in an isolation situation or out of the PnR. Defensively, he struggled immensely on that end during summer league, his lack of lateral quickness made it especially tough to guard opposing players in isolation or getting over the screen in the PnR. Grant doesn't exactly excel in these areas where Valentine struggles, but he offers more athleticism, an ability to create separation offensively and the potential to defend opposing (point) guards with time.
Both bring strengths and weaknesses at the backup point guard position, Valentine's weaknesses a bit more glaring. And maybe with time, specifically during training camp and being given a more defined role, Grant will become more acclimated at the position as well as with Fred Hoiberg's philosophies. But training camp and the regular season are months away, and nothing is for certain. At the very least, Valentine has played his way into the conversation for being the Bulls backup point guard come October.