Bulls

Denzel Valentine trying to take advantage of long awaited opportunity

Denzel Valentine trying to take advantage of long awaited opportunity

During the fourth quarter of Monday night’s road victory over the Kings, coach Jim Boylen called timeout. A double-digit lead had shrunk to single digits. The Bulls have blown similar games before during this season.

As Boylen huddled with his assistant coaches before addressing the players, Denzel Valentine approached the five currently in the game who were sitting on the bench. Even from 15 feet away, it was easy to spot Valentine’s passion and positivity.

“I was just trying to keep us up,” Valentine said late Monday in the postgame locker room. “They were going on a run and I kept saying, ‘We’re good. It’s cool.’ Sometimes when adversity hits us, we struggle. Having that ability to be positive is huge.”

Valentine has natural leadership qualities. Management cited them upon drafting the Michigan State product in 2016.

But Valentine knows as well as anyone a simple truth of sports.

“When you’re playing, your leadership can have more impact. When you’re not playing, you can say the same stuff but you’re not playing,” he said. “When you’re competing, your energy is up. You’re positive. It just naturally comes out of me when I’m playing.”

Valentine finally is.

It may not always be big minutes. It may not be every game, although Valentine has appeared in four straight and logged double-digit minutes in three.

But it’s something. And for a proud competitor who recently found himself behind Shaq Harrison even with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison sidelined and the Bulls struggling to shoot from 3-point range, that’s better than nothing.

“It’s been cool,” Valentine said. “It definitely feels good to be playing again and competing again. I’m just loving it.”

Valentine said he leaned on his family, agent Austin Brown and his internal confidence to keep him going through his period of inactivity that he knows may come again. In seven games, he’s averaging 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.7 minutes and shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range.

“I’m always going to believe in myself no matter what,” Valentine said. “Whether I play or not, that’s not in my control. I know what I can do. It’s all about the right opportunity. When I get the opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it.”

Against the Kings, Valentine beat the shot clock with a difficult 3-pointer from a tough angle in the corner and followed that with a nifty assist in transition to Daniel Gafford in the third quarter. He also isolated and shot an airball on a 3-pointer as the quarter ended.

But like his season, Valentine persevered. He finished with six points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist in just shy of 12 minutes.

“At the end of the day, I’m blessed to be in the NBA. I’m living my dream job,” Valentine said. “So many people came up to me and told me I’d get an opportunity. And here it is.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 98-81 loss to the Kings.

1:00 - Reaction to the loss and LaVine getting double-teamed

2:50 - On Jim Boylen saying don’t expect system changes with Markkanen hurt

4:25 - Sabine’s list of things that have happened since the last time the Kings made the playoffs in 2006

5:35 - Viewer comment on LaVine and Coby

6:40 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine

8:00 - On the importance of 1st vs 3rd quarter

9:00 - Viewer comment on possible trades

11:00 - Viewer comment on seeing Bulls without Markkanen

14:30 - On Lauri Markkanen’s hip injury and missing 4-6 weeks

18:40 - Viewer comment asking if Bulls should shut down Markkanen

19:50 - Hey Matt Peck, did you see what DRose did tonight?

21:15 - Viewer comment on what to expect from Lauri when he returns

23:40 - Viewer asking the greatest moment the Outsiders have witnessed

24:55 - On NBA naming the All-Star starters

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Without Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine's job will only get more difficult

Without Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine's job will only get more difficult

It’s been the most pressing on-court issue facing the Bulls all season — in a season full of them:

Outside of Zach LaVine, where do the points come from?

The glare of that question is only set to amplify with Lauri Markkanen now set to miss four to six weeks with a pelvic injury. Take Friday's 98-81 defeat at the hands of the Kings as an example. LaVine tallied 21 — his 13th consecutive game with 20 or more. Thad Young chipped in 10; Kris Dunn did, too. But the rest of the team mustered 40, and the Bulls finished with 81 points against the Kings’ 18th-rated defense.

For a stretch — a 109-second one, to start the second half — it appeared LaVine might single-handedly save the day, as he has before. He opened the third quarter with 10 quick points to shave a 10-point halftime deficit to two after tallying eight in the first two periods combined.

But the Kings clamped up. The rest of the way, LaVine scored only thrice and was ever on the run from one, two or three Sacramento defenders at a time, depending on the possession. The Bulls’ dearth of scoring around him made the gameplan a simple one: Cut the head off the snake. LaVine finished just 8-for-21 from the field, and the Bulls scored 12 fourth quarter points.

“I think they did a good job of that,” Jim Boylen said of the Kings’ throwing waves of bodies LaVine’s way. “Zach's a primary guy and they treated him like a primary guy. He got up 21 shots. You know, six rebounds. I thought he tried.”

This storyline isn’t going away. Three of the Bulls’ top five scorers (Marrkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr.) are sidelined and weeks (at least) away from return. Young, steady as he is, isn’t going to transform into a consistent 20-point scorer overnight. Tomas Satoransky and Coby White represent the Bulls’ best chance of secondary explosions on a night-to-night basis — but against Sacramento, they combined for 16 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

“I mean, [opponents have] been doing that,” LaVine said of the double and triple-teams he received Friday. “We gotta get somebody to step up, and I think we'll find it. It's the first game without Lau [Lauri Markkanen]. We'll figure out what we gotta do in Cleveland.”

Easier said than done. Down another primary 3-point threat in Markkanen, the Bulls shot 8-for-37 from deep tonight, the fifth time in seven games they’ve made less than 10 3-pointers. They’re now 2-13 on the season when they make less than 10 3s.

“Will we have to adjust some things and maybe play a little differently? Maybe,” Jim Boylen said of the team’s shooting. “I'll evaluate with the shots we got and what else we had. But I'm not gonna reinvent the wheel in January, I'm not gonna do that.”

The Bulls — spearheaded by Boylen and LaVine — insist they’re going to keep plugging. Still, an offense already third-to-last in the league in offensive rating just lost another cog, and the impact was apparent. LaVine already carried as great an offensive load as anyone in the league. Now, if he didn’t already, he’ll receive as much attention as anyone, too.

“That's up to coach. I'm prepared for everything. I think my conditioning's [good], so we'll see, maybe I gotta do that,” LaVine said of potentially taking on more minutes.

And of the injuries: “Nobody's gonna feel bad for you. They're just gonna try to take advantage of it.”

The Kings did that successfully tonight. The Bulls hope it doesn't prove a foreshadowing.

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