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Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”

Scottie Pippen discusses Kobe Bryant's legacy and connection to Michael Jordan on GMA

Scottie Pippen discusses Kobe Bryant's legacy and connection to Michael Jordan on GMA

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on Good Morning America on Monday, discussing the legacy of Kobe Bryant, who passed away on Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA. Pippen knows quite a bit about Bryant, having been at the tail end of his prime years right when a fresh-faced 17-year old Bryant was drafted into the league. As Pippen discussed in the GMA interview, his NBA career—which lasted until the 2003-04 season—spanned the majority of Bryant's rise to prominence. By the time "Pip" retired in 2004, Kobe was a six-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion. 

Pippen fondly remembered Bryant's drive, saying that his "competitive fire was unmatched." He went on to of course discuss the profound impact that Michael Jordan had on Bryant's career, essentially providing him a roadmap for the type of NBA legacy he wanted to leave:

I look back at Kobe and I watch his growth and development. He was one of those players that idolized Michael Jordan but he mimicked Michael Jordan in a lot of ways, and it was a guy that y'know, I watched him watch films on one of the greatest players that ever play[ed] the game [Michael Jordan] and he emulated his game to a T and to some degree overcame all of his weaknesses and became to me, one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Pippen is also a part of one of the greatest moments of Bryant's illustrious career.

When the Kobe-Shaquille O'Neal Lakers were in pursuit of their first NBA title with head coach Phil Jackson in the 1999-2000 season they ran into an extremely tough and formidable Portland Trailblazers team in the Western Conference Finals, led by the veteran trio of Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Steve Smith. The series ending up going seven games and that high-pressure Game 7 is when Kobe showed a national audience what the rest of his NBA career was going to look like.

Bryant and O'Neal led the Lakers back from a 15-point deficit, capped off by an amazing alley-oop from Kobe to Shaq that will be replayed on NBA highlight reels for ages, and led to the first title for the Lakers' dynasty of the 2000s.

By the time he retired, Kobe Bryant racked up 18 All-Star game appearances, 15 All-NBA appearances, and five NBA championships, solidifying his place as one of the all-time greats, a thought Pippen said was shared by his NBA peers:

"I've heard a few players even say it, Kobe Bryant had no weaknesses in his basketball game. He worked hard at everything and he became great at every part of his game."

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

The tears streaming down Jim Boylen’s face said all you needed to know about the Bulls’ reaction to the stunning death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other victims in a Sunday helicopter crash that has rocked the NBA community.

Like Bryant, Boylen has daughters who love basketball. Like Bryant, Boylen is uber competitive and serious about his job.

But he’s a father and a human being first.

“Obviously, a very emotional, tearful day in our building. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kobe Bryant’s family, the other families that are involved in the accident,” Boylen said. “These things hit your team and the league on different levels. There’s the rookie out of high school breaking into the starting lineup, one of the hardest workers ever and becoming an All-Star and a champion and a Hall of Fame player. And then there’s the second half of your life where you earn respect from the basketball community and you’re a husband and a father and a mentor for the rest of the league. Difficult day.

“And if you have children like many of us do, it’s painful.”

The Bulls discussed the tragedy after a Monday morning shootaround to prepare for a game against the Spurs that everyone acknowledged would be difficult to play. The United Center has projected images of Bryant, smiling in his Lakers uniform, since Sunday night and fans have started a makeshift shrine outside the building.

The Bulls will have a moment of silence to honor Bryant, and Thad Young, who will wear Bryant’s “Zoom Kobe 4 ‘Prelude’” shoe, said it’s likely they’ll take a 24-second violation to honor one of the numbers Bryant wore.

“Kobe has always inspired me — and not just me but other guys around this league, from young to older guys,” Young said. “He's always been very inspiring to each and every one of us just because of what be brought to the game and his life outside of the game. He was pretty much an open book. You know, he let us see how he treated his wife and kids. He let us see the behind the scenes of how he lived his life.

“We thank him for that. He showed us how to continue to walk this Earth and be upstanding citizens and he showed us how to be not just a person to walk this earth but to be a loving husband, father and family member.”

LaVine, who wears No. 8 in part to honor Bryant, acknowledged the difficulty of playing Monday night but said it’s the best way to honor the future Hall of Famer’s legacy.

“It’s going to be really sad, but I think it’s something that he would have wanted — for people to get back into the game and play,” LaVine said. “I feel like that’s how he would approach it. So I’m going to go out there and play the way I do, play my heart out. Obviously, everybody is going to have a heavy heart. But we still have a job to do. It’s terrible you have to play under those circumstances, but I feel like it’s something he would want as well.’’

LaVine grew up idolizing Bryant.

“He inspired a whole generation of kids pretty much. They wanted to be like him. It’s like kids in the 80s and 90s wanted to be like Mike. We wanted to be like Kobe,” LaVine said. “Growing up and seeing the different highlights of his hard work, I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that was instilled in me was his hard work. I try to bring that to my game. And his passion for the game, how ruthless he was as a competitor. But it’s more than that as a basketball player. He was a father. There were more families on there. It’s just terrible what happened, man. It’s just such a loss in so many different ways.”

LaVine proudly detailed one anecdote from his rookie season when he scored 28 points off the bench in a Timberwolves road victory at Staples Center on Nov. 28, 2014.

“I just remember Kobe was guarding me in the fourth quarter, and obviously I knew growing up and idolizing him that he always guarded the best player [late],” LaVine said. “I had a really good game so he was guarding me, and we were standing at the free-throw line and he tapped me on the butt and said, ‘You know, keep going.’ It was almost shocking to me that I was in that situation as a 19-year-old. It was like, ‘This is a dude I idolized, he’s guarding me.’ It was just surreal.”

LaVine also recalled how he fouled him to send him to the free-throw line that gave Bryant the points to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. But LaVine’s takeaways from Bryant were as much professional as personal.

“I try and take his hard work,” LaVine said. “He was somebody that after games, I heard so many different stories from former players that have coached me where if he had a bad game he would stay all night. Or during the summertimes, he wouldn’t take time off.

“Obviously, everybody is different. But I just try and take that mindset of working hard and being in the gym and his mindset of coming in to just kill every game. That was his mindset. There will never be another Kobe Bryant. There’s only one person like that ever. He touched so many lives in the way he affected basketball, and beyond that as well.’’

Young also acknowledged Bryant’s competitiveness.

“He's just always been a clear-cut assassin. There's a reason they call him the Black Mamba. He's one of those guys that's very ferocious, very competitive, do whatever it takes to win, even if it means dunking on his grandmother,” the veteran forward said. “But at the end of the day, he's one of the greatest to ever do it, one of the realest to ever do it. He's put this league on his back. He's helped make the league to what it is today. He's helped inspire and lead the way for guys like me and younger guys to come into this league and be able to do a lot and be able to continue to grind.”

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