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This Denzel Valentine NBA Draft profile dives into the strengths and weaknesses of Michigan State’s senior guard.
Denzel Valentine – 6’6” Shooting Guard, Michigan State University, 22 Years Old
Denzel Valentine improved significantly in each of his four years at Michigan State, adding over 14 points to his scoring average from his freshman season to his senior year. But this past year, in his senior season, Valentine shined the brightest. He averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game, making him one of the most versatile and best all-around college basketball players in the nation. He also shot 44.4 percent from beyond the arc, draining 3.4 three pointers per game – another huge improvement from earlier in his college career. Although Valentine’s Spartans were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Valentine still had a spectacular season. He won countless awards, including the Big Ten Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player at the Big Ten tournament, which Michigan State won. He also claimed the titles of both the NABC National Player of the Year and the Associated Press National Player of the Year, an award previously won by NBA stars such as Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Durant. Valentine is projected to be a mid-first round pick in the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft.
Valentine’s immense development over the course of his college career shows his strong work ethic. He is one of many high character players to come out of Michigan State’s program, following in the footsteps of current NBA players such as Draymond Green and Gary Harris. Just like those players, Valentine is known for his hard work and toughness on the court, despite not playing the same high-level defense as them. He also has long arms and a strong build, allowing him to be one of the best rebounding guards in college basketball this past season. On the offensive side, Valentine can do whatever his team requires of him. As mentioned earlier, he makes a high percentage of his threes, despite shooting a high volume of them – he attempted 7.5 threes per game this past season. Valentine can catch-and-shoot or catch-and-drive, making him a threat at all times. His ability to run pick-and-rolls as the primary ball handler relieves pressure from the point guard on the floor with him. That’s only one aspect of Valentine’s great playmaking abilities; his average of nearly eight assists per game was the highest for a non-point guard in the NCAA last season. Valentine’s all-around game and versatility, specifically on the offensive end of the floor, will allow him to thrive, possibly from the start, for nearly any NBA team.
Although Valentine clearly plays like a guard with his ability to create off the dribble on offense, he often needed to be hidden on small forwards on the defensive side of the floor, throughout his college career. That’s because Valentine is a step too slow on defense, with below average footspeed and explosiveness. His lack of quickness makes it hard for Valentine to stay in front of jitterbug guards with the ball. This is also an offensive issue sometimes, since it’s hard for a slower and less explosive player like Valentine to blow by quick and athletic guards, when he’s defended by them. Whichever team drafts Valentine will have to work with him to improve on his footspeed, quickness, and explosiveness.
Valentine is unlikely to ever win NBA awards of the same prestige as the awards he claimed in his senior season. However, he can still develop into an excellent NBA player. Valentine could play next to a respectable catch-and-shoot point guard who needs some relief from playmaking duties once in a while. That would place Valentine as an average starting shooting guard, and a good one if his defense improves. Alternatively, Valentine could make a huge impact as a sixth man, providing a scoring punch off the bench and being the main facilitator for second units. In the modern NBA, Valentine should be able to slide up a position to small forward, and potentially even power forward in very small lineups. He’d be a deadly shooting and playmaking threat in a point forward role, if used appropriately in those lineups.
NBA Player Comparison
As one of the most polished players in the 2016 Draft, Valentine already has skills that resemble several different NBA players. Valentine’s unique offensive game makes it hard to pick just one player to compare him to. Strictly offensively speaking, Valentine compares to Michigan State alum Draymond Green, in terms of his playmaking and passing abilities. Combine that with some of the sweet shooting and off-the-bounce pullup game of C.J. McCollum, along with the height, weight, and stature of Tyreke Evans, and there’s your comparison.
Watch to see where Denzel Valentine falls on draft day, and be sure to keep yourself updated with our complete coverage of the 2016 NBA Draft.