The Chicago Bulls have selected Michigan State's Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Valentine, the AP player of the year, had a senior year for the ages, and developed a ready-made game for the NBA.
The 6'5, 220-pound guard was one of college basketball's best all-around players last season. He averaged nearly 20 points, eight assists and 7.5 rebounds per game while leading Michigan State to a Big Ten Tournament championship and catapulting himself from a second-round pick into a surefire first-rounder. The Spartans lost to Middle Tennessee State in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, but Valentine's body of work proved he could be an asset on any NBA team.
Valentine's basketball IQ sets him apart from many of his counterparts in this year's draft. Four years with Tom Izzo turned him into a playmaker -- whether he's throwing a no-look dime from the top of the key or driving to the hoop for a twirling finger-roll. His court vision is superb, and his ability to make the correct pass makes him a dangerous threat. He was probably overzealous his first three years in school, often trying to make a pass or shot he wasn't capable of making. But as a senior, he became not only a better decision maker, but a spectacular one.
Valentine isn't the most athletic player in this year's draft. His first step isn't explosive, and he can be flat-footed on defense. His 6'10 wingspan helps him defend, but the jury is out on whether he'll be able to guard larger or quicker wings. His quickness in general hurts his abilities to make plays -- he needs a screen to get the offense going and isolation isn't his strong suit. But once he is in the open, he knows what to do. While his athleticism doesn't jump out, he can still wow you.
Even if he doesn't end up being a star, his offensive abilities are going to be useful for the Bulls. He shot 46 percent form the field and 44 percent from deep as a senior for Michigan State. If Valentine's defensive skills are holding him back, he can at least be a valuable bench player who comes in to boost the offense.
In the ever-changing NBA that's placing less and less emphasis on positions, Valentine is a perfect fit.
"I don't see myself as a position. I kind of see myself as just a basketball player," Valentine said at a draft combine in June. "You put me out there at point guard, I'll make plays for other people. But if you need me to be out on the wing, make decisions off the pass without bringing the ball up the court, I'll do that. And if you want me to catch-and-shoot in the corner, I can do that as well."
NBA teams learned with Draymond Green that skipping on a Michigan State senior because he lacked athleticism wasn't a good idea. They're not making the same mistake with Valentine.
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