Let me preface all of the following with two statements:
A: Hindsight is 20/20
B: It’s difficult to give a concrete overall verdict on a player who is still on a rookie deal.
Generally, I like to allow guys four years to figure out what kind of basketball player they are. That’s the scope I set last year when I wrote about why second round picks aren’t worth their weight in platypus feces. There’s perhaps no better example of why it’s important to be patient in evaluating talent than Jimmy Butler, a guy that went from 2.6 ppg in 8.5 minutes per game over 42 games as a rookie to
a diva perhaps the best player the Chicago Bulls have seen since Michael Jordan.
But professional sports are all about “what have you done for me lately,” and given we are now over the halfway point in the NBA season, I thought it would be fun to take a look at where some of the players that were Bulls draft targets—or should have been according to BaB—are at now. I’m going to exclude prospects the Bulls were targeting that ended up getting selected in advance of the 14th pick (Thon Maker, Domantas Sabonis, etc.), as it’s unfair to victimize a team for not trading up that didn’t explicitly need to. It’s not like the Bulls’ front office is very good at orchestrating deals of this nature anyway.
But first things first, we need to gauge the guy the Bulls actually picked:
It has been a worst-case-scenario rookie season for Valentine from almost every conceivable perspective. After the Bulls’ faithful forgave him for a horrible summer league campaign thanks to hitting the two most clutch shots of the entire tournament, Valentine’s brightest moment this season so far is pissing off John Wall in a losing effort. Along the way, his game log has been littered with DNPs due to injuries (he’s sprained his left ankle twice already) or Fred Hoiberg just deciding to keep him out entirely. Now, he’s been sent down to the D-League while the Bulls journey out to the Western Conference, and it certainly appears as if Paul Zipser has supplanted him in the
Random Minutes Generator Hoiberg Heirarchy (whatever it is, it’s not a rotation).
TheMoon broke down Denzel Valentine’s pros and cons in remarkable fashion this past summer during an always insightful—and surprisingly hilarious—draft coverage series. Coming out of college, many expected Valentine to be perhaps the most dangerous player in the draft from around and behind the arc for a variety of reasons. He possesses a beautiful shooting stroke, shot nearly 41% from distance in four years at Michigan State, and appeared to be a lethal playmaker with 7.8 assists per game his senior season.
None of those skills have translated to the NBA thus far. Though his shot is as pretty as ever, he’s shooting a disturbing 31.3% from long range on a walloping 7.5 attempts per 36 minutes. Unfortunately, that might not even be the most disappointing part of his offensive shortcomings. Right now, Valentine has the lowest assist ratio (12.8%) among all NBA rookie guards other than Buddy Hield and some guy named Alex Abrines. Barely over one assist for every ten personal possessions is incredibly disappointing for a guy that can regularly throw passes like this. However, it’s also worth noting that he takes pretty great care of the ball for a rookie (he only has 15 turnovers in 322 minutes), so at least he’s rarely making poor decisions.
Now take a deep breath... it gets even worse when looking at him close to the basket:
Valentine has eight (EIGHT) shots at the rim in 27 games and has made only three (THREE!!!) of them. They should call this monstrosity a ‘Frostmap’ for goodness’ sake. There isn’t enough hyperbole in the English language to describe how unfathomably unsettling this is on the
Eis eyes. The majority of fans knew that Valentine’s lack of athleticism would hinder his ability to get to the basket and finish, but one would expect better from a player that was technically a lottery pick. Of course, TheMoon acutely pointed out that Valentine finished poorly around the rim in college against far less size/strength and somehow had 46% of his baskets at the rim assisted on, so perhaps this problem was more legibly written on the wall than any of us realized. Did I neglect to mention the fact that he’s also only attempted eight (EIIIIIGHT) freethrows all season?
Then there’s the defense. I’ll let Cole Zwicker of FanSided do the heavy-lifting when it comes to explaining Valentine’s shortcomings in this area (he wrote a far more optimistic take on Valentine than what I’m giving now):
“[Valentine]’s usually cooked in space when he has big spaces to wall off, and running him off floppy sets with athletic shooters seems like an easy way to guarantee either an open shot or a favorable switch by design. He fights on switches in the post and has a decent frame, but he is prone to getting dislodged and really isn’t adept on closeouts changing direction north-south... he has never generated steals or been a big disruptor creating events off ball playing the passing lanes. He can eek out average defensive play potential by knowing where to be and not messing up, but that’s likely his ceiling.”
Essentially, what you’re getting with Valentine on defense is a smaller Doug McDermott with somehow less mobility, yet doesn’t need to worry about tripping over his own feet when he runs. Wonderful!
Look, I have no reason to believe that Valentine’s perimeter shooting isn’t going to bounce back at some point. Even if it isn’t this season, the guy has too pure of a stroke to be kept down this badly for this long. Moreover, his assist numbers are almost certainly hampered by playing on one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA. But the reality right now is that Valentine is brittle, lacks professional athleticism, plays defense like Ray Charles, can’t get to the freethrow line, and will probably remain one of the worst players in the association at both getting-to and finishing-at the rim for the entirety of his career. He’s going to have to be one hell of a dynamic offensive threat from above the arc to justify playing him or keeping him around. He still has plenty of opportunity to bounce back, but as a 23 year-old injury-prone rookie, time is certainly of the essence for Valentine to justify his lottery selection.
Then again, if the other prospects the Bulls had the opportunity to get aren’t doing too hot themselves, perhaps the Valentine pick was merely a casualty of being in a bad draft outside of the early selections. So who could the Bulls have had instead last summer? I’ll have the answers in Part II.