As Bulls practice wound down Monday at the Advocate Center, coach Jim Boylen pulled Denzel Valentine aside from group shooting drills and spoke to him at center court.
“It was just about him recognizing what I did in my G League performance,” Valentine said.
Valentine, who is playing through a sprained left pinky he suffered in that performance, scored 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting with 18 rebounds and eight assists in Windy City’s victory over the Wisconsin Herd last Friday. Given that Valentine has played just 5 minutes in one NBA game thus far this season, the G League game marked Valentine’s most significant action since undergoing reconstructive left ankle surgery that knocked him out all of last season.
Asked if the performance boosted his confidence or made not getting the chance to contribute at the NBA level more difficult, Valentine didn’t hesitate.
“I think a little bit of both. Like I told (Boylen), obviously I want to play. I’m a competitor. And I know I can play. I’m very confident in that,” Valentine said. “But that’s not in my control right now. I’m just here to work hard and support the team in any way I can.”
Throughout much of the offseason, Valentine’s return from ankle surgery landed him in the same storylines as additions like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young. Here was a player who averaged 10.2 points in 27.2 minutes while shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range poised to fit right into the Bulls’ increased emphasis on taking 3-pointers.
Instead, as the Bulls sit at 25th with a 3-point percentage of 31.4, Valentine is out of the rotation. Chandler Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison all have currently leapfrogged the former lottery pick.
“I’m a very confident player. I know what I can do. And 3-point shooting is definitely one of those things,” Valentine said. “I think I could add energy, leadership, ballhandling, the ability to guard multiple positions. I’m an experienced player. I think I can bring a lot to the floor. But I’m just focused on working hard. Whatever they want me to do, that’s what I’ll do.
“My role here for the Chicago Bulls is to work hard and support the team in any way I can. I’m just happy and blessed to be healthy, to be honest.”
Valentine said his surgically repaired ankle “feels great” and that his game shape while playing for the Windy City Bulls pleased him. Asked if he knows why he’s not playing, Valentine said: “I’m not too sure. You’d have to ask Coach.”
Here’s how that went.
Reporter: Why is (Valentine) out of the rotation?
Boylen: Because I said so.
Reporter: Is there something specific that he needs to improve?
Boylen: I think he needs some seasoning and he needs to play and he needs to grow.
Reporter: Grow in which areas?
Boylen: All areas.
Reporter: Why didn’t you play him at end of the (blowout) Rockets game?
Boylen: Because I didn’t want to.
In previous, more forthcoming interviews, Boylen has pointed to several players shooting below their career 3-point percentages. So it’s likely that theory offsets in Boylen’s mind his need to try minutes for Valentine, a career 37.4 percent 3-point shooter, to help the Bulls improve in that area.
Also, Boylen has consistently used a 10-man rotation. So it’s not like he’s not trying multiple players and multiple looks. Valentine just isn’t currently one of them.
“Stay ready,” Boylen said. “That’s what he needs to do.”
Valentine promised he would.
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