Denzel Valentine has had an up and down season. It has been two different Valentines this season. Starting Valentine, and then off the bench Valentine. On November 17th Hoiberg announced Valentine as a full-time starter until Zach Lavine returned. Hoiberg had lost confidence in Zipser and allowed Valentine an opportunity to start. Before being named full-time starter; Valentine was averaging 10.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. He shot 38% from the field and 39% from 3. He did this in 12 games, starting 1, while playing 26.4 minutes a game. Valentine would go ahead and start the next 30 games, and you started to see Valentine’s confidence grow. In those 30 games Valentine averaged 9.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. But the biggest improvement was the FG%. Valentine went from 38% to 44% and shot over 40% from 3. And in those last 19 games he started in, Valentine shot even better. Valentine shot 48% from the field during that stretch, while the Bulls went 12-7 during that stretch. That was the best basketball we saw from Denzel Valentine since becoming a pro. It was also the best basketball we have seen from the Bulls all season, and Denzel was a factor in that run. Denzel was shooting with confidence and seemed to find his rhythm with the team. But things changed once Zach Lavine became healthy.
On January 13th Zach Lavine made his return, which demoted Denzel Valentine back to the bench but mainly hurt his confidence. Denzel’s stats since the benching isn’t much different but two things stand out. He is shooting below 40% from the field again, shooting 39% from the field in the past 15 games. But more alarming is he shot 28% from 3, while still shooting 4.7 3’s a game. Valentine’s shot has not only abandoned him, but his shot IQ has gone down as well. He has taken some questionable shots the past 15 games and isn’t shooting them well. Everybody goes through slumps, I don’t want to make a big deal out of the bad stretch. The fact Valentine hasn’t looked the same the minute Lavine started playing to me isn’t just coincidence. But I don’t blame Valentine for losing his confidence and rhythm.
The Bulls must help Valentine find that confidence. Valentine is a good shooter. And is better than 28%. But he doesn’t seem the same on the 2nd unit. Part of the reason is talent around him. Valentine’s lack of athleticism limits him offensively. He is better when baskets are assisted for him. 59% of Valentine’s made field goals this year come from an assist. Compared to Lavine, where 70% of his made field goals are unassisted. Valentine struggles when the ball in his hands more. Where he is put in situations to create. On the first unit the ball isn’t in his hands as much, while on the 2nd unit the offense is ran through him more. And I do think Valentine is a good team player who sees the floor well. But he can’t beat his man off the dribble enough and create passing lanes to use his vision or score effectively. But the 2nd unit is where Valentine belongs. He shouldn’t start over Lavine at shooting guard, and in the big picture probably won’t be able to hold is own against good NBA starting small forwards. Valentine coming off the bench playing good team basketball, while shooting near 40% from 3 can be helpful moving forward though and is something he is more than capable of doing. Valentine is on a cheap rookie contract, if the Bulls can develop him into that solid 7th/8th guy off the bench it will be a big plus moving forward the next two seasons.
The Bulls announced David Nwaba will start over Justin Holiday, which I love. The Bulls are valuing player development the last 25 games. At this point why should Holiday see more playing time than Denzel Valentine as well? The Bulls invested a first-round pick in Valentine. The Bulls only invested 9 million for 2 years in Holiday. If the goal for the next 25 games is player development, then Valentine should see more minutes than Holiday as well. At least show Valentine they are invested in developing him moving forward. The Bulls are trying to find who can work around the core of Markkanen, Dunn, and Lavine. Valentine is a player capable of making 38%-40% of his 3s, he plays good team basketball, he attacks the boards, and has nice pass vision. The Bulls need to start helping Valentine develop into that role player they could use the next 2 seasons. And possibly, more.