Denzel Valentine’s Bulls career seemed to be finished after a disappointing 2019-20 season in which he found himself in Jim Boylen’s doghouse. He had appeared in just 170 games in four seasons to start his career, with the 2018-19 a total loss thanks to ankle surgery. That was the third lower-body surgery of Valentine’s Bulls tenure.
Valentine showed flashes of his intriguing skill set when he played 77 games in 2017-18, averaging 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 38.6% on 3-pointers. But taking everything else into account, I was still surprised when the Bulls extended the 27-year-old (yes, he’s 27!) a $4.64 million qualifying offer for this season, which he quickly accepted.
Valentine’s shot selection has always been, shall we say, ambitious, to put it kindly. The same thing can be said about his passing. He has a confidence level in his skills that don’t really match up with his actual ability:
This is how you end up with attempts like this in a 30-point deficit:
Denzel Valentine with a nasty between the legs pass pic.twitter.com/E7wYGJK7Ap— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) January 2, 2021
Just last weekend, Valentine submitted an entry for Shaqtin’ A Fool by running into Zach LaVine on his game-winning attempt at the end of the Thunder collapse:
Zach LaVine mad at Denzel Valentine pic.twitter.com/mSMmtF0gcA— Gustavo (@iamvega1982) January 16, 2021
Valentine tweeted and deleted an explanation for himself:
Valentine didn’t play in Sunday’s game against the Mavericks, but then there was Monday’s win against the Rockets, which was basically quintessential Denzel Valentine.
He oscillated between comically bad plays:
And doing an MJ shrug after a 3-pointer:
we give the people what they want pic.twitter.com/qltJYtnPkN— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 19, 2021
In the fourth quarter, he hit two big shots to start the frame and then missed three bad ones in a row as he started feeling himself, including two back-to-back floaters that got him a seat on the bench.
Valentine’s decision-making will make you want to scream at least a few times a game. He’s probably one of the least athletic players in the league. He hasn’t made a single layup and has attempted two free throws this season. He’s not exactly a defensive stalwart.
Yet amid all the jokes and memes, Valentine has been, dare I say it, quite effective in his role off the bench this season. In Monday’s game he had 13/8/3 and was a plus-14 in 24 minutes, making him the Bulls’ leader in raw plus/minus this season at plus-44. He’s shooting 41.0% on 3-pointers and crushing his career-high mark in defensive rebound percentage on a Bulls team that’s cleaning up the glass.
Speaking of Cleaning The Glass, they have the Bulls at over 121 points per 100 possessions with Valentine on the floor in his 178 non-garbage time minutes. He has the second-best on/off differential among regular rotation players (150-plus minutes played), behind only Thaddeus Young. Valentine is definitely bolstered by playing with vets like Young and Garrett Temple as part of a terrific bench unit that’s consistently crushing teams (shoutout to Daniel Gafford as well), but the 27-year-old has made an impact himself. Valentine even grades out as best on the Bulls per FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric.
There’s obviously a limit for how much Denzel Valentine can be tolerated in a game. When he goes bad, it’s chaotically bad. Who knows how much he plays when Tomas Satoransky and Chandler Hutchison are available again. But in the limited role he’s playing right now (18.9 minutes per game in 10 appearances), Valentine is helping the Bulls be competitive, chaos and all.