NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Denzel Valentine.
6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.2 APG | 40.9% FG, 33.6% 3P, 75% FT | 22.9% USG (36 G)
July 2016: Signed 2-year, $4.3 million (plus two team option years for $5,658,169 million total)
2020-21: RFA (QO: $4,698,198)
Denzel Valentine represents another puzzling development case in the Bulls’ recent history. Drafted with the last pick in the 2016 lottery by the old front office regime after a decorated four-year career at Michigan State, he improved across the board from his first to second seasons, but missed all of Year 3 following ankle reconstruction surgery. In 2019-20, a contract season for Valentine, he oscillated in and out of Jim Boylen’s rotation and trade rumors swirled as he struggled to secure a defined role with the team.
That last point is the most befuddling, as Valentine’s strengths always seemed to suit the Bulls’ preferred run-and-gun style. He’s a better-than-average jump shooter (36.6% from 3 for his career), capable of making his open ones off the catch and dribble. He’s also a solid live-dribble passer, especially in transition, with a crafty handle and an effective in-between game that features a floater that once prompted Zach LaVine to affectionately call Valentine’s style “old man’s game.” For all his playing-time tumult, he’s well-liked around the locker room.
Yet, even as the team struggled to man the wing because of injuries and match jump shooting efficiency with volume, Valentine appeared in just 36 games this season (he was inactive for nine of his 26 absences), averaged the lowest minutes per game of his career and played more than 20 minutes on just eight occasions. In those eight games, he averaged 12.1 points on 42.9% shooting, and the Bulls went 4-4 — and only one of those games finished outside a nine-point margin. He was key to two of the Bulls’ better victories in a woebegone season over the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.
Areas to Improve
Valentine is never going to be an elite athlete, so perimeter defense will always be a question mark. As will shot selection. For every big shot made, or crisp assist slung, he also has shown a propensity to heave some head-scratchers. Both of the above could have factored into his sporadic playing time — especially given the Bulls’ hyper-defensive focus — though we may never know the full rationale.
And while not an area he could necessarily improve, he exits his rookie contract at age 26 (when the 2020-21 season tips off, he’ll be 27). Just something to consider when mulling his fit around the league, or specifically with a Bulls team mired in a rebuild.
There should be a place for Valentine in the NBA. Teams will always have use for shot- and playmaking wings capable of leading bench units, especially in an era where spacing and shooting are at such a premium. The Bulls’ new front office regime faces a free-agent decision on him this offseason (they can make him an RFA by extending the above qualifying offer), but it’s probably too soon to speculate on their opinion of Valentine.
Whatever the future, solid sixth-man — Evan Turner with a better jumpshot (and slightly lesser defense) — feels an apt ceiling.