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Denzel Valentine, though improved, still has work to do

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does he have the self-awareness to target his deficiencies?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Denzel Valentine’s season ending due to another knee operation, Will Gottlieb at The Athletic penned a breakdown on Valentine’s game this year.

The bare-bones scouting report on Valentine goes something like this: he’s a good shooter (and has become adept at shooting off the dribble), with much improved playmaking skills. But he still has serious holes in getting all the way to the basket (7.1 percent free throw attempt rate), and his defense is still abysmal.

Gottlieb goes through all of this in much more detail. However, he had two points that I want to mention here because I didn’t realize either of these two things about Valentine.

First, Valentine is a fantastic rebounder for his size and position.

Valentine’s 18.3 defensive rebound percentage ranked among the elite for NBA wings. Of players Valentine’s height (6-foot-6) or shorter, only five rebounded a higher percentage of their opponent’s misses: Russell Westbrook, Dejounte Murray, Lance Stephenson, Royce O’Neale and Alec Burks.

Valentine’s rebounding prowess allows him to push the break and get opportunities to show off his aforementioned pull-up 3-point shooting, which is especially potent when defenses are scrambling to get back in transition.

Second, how about this stat: Valentine is in the 93rd percentile among wings in assist to usage ratio (adjusts for how often a player has the ball). That’s evidence that a glimmer of the playmaking skills that catapulted him to the Associated Press Player of the Year award in 2016 can be useful at the NBA level.

Valentine’s improvement from year one to year two has been encouraging. He did improve in a big way this season, doubling each of his major counting stats. He became a legitimate 3-point threat on a team that desperately needs spacing.

He isn’t yet on the level of a starting caliber player, though don’t tell him that. As Gottlieb points out, Valentine looks like he needs to brush aside his ego to correctly diagnose weaknesses and then improve upon them this summer. All of that starts with awareness, both on the court and off.