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Keen Draft Profile #15: My Buddy Denzel Valentine

“Cover up your windows
Close up all the doors
Time has come for me to really shine
Pick myself up off the floor”

My Bloody Valentine, Drive it all over me





6’6” • 220lbs. • 6’11” WINGSPAN

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Denzel Valentine, the shooting-guard from Michigan State, is one of the most perplexing prospects in this year’s draft. The 2015-2016 season was dubbed “the year of the senior,” and Valentine’s performance was defining in the maxim’s appearance. Over the course of his four years playing for the Spartans, he drastically improved his offensive game every year, becoming a well-known talent across college basketball. 

This season, Valentine averaged 19.2 points / 7.8 assists / 7.5 rebounds on .462 percent shooting with a PER of 30.1.  The impact behind this stat line and his leadership won him Big 10 Player of the Year as well as Associated Press Player of the Year, making it essentially a toss-up between Valentine and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield for the most valuable player in college basketball this year.

There’s a lot to like about Denzel Valentine, starting with his shooting. He shot .444 percent from beyond the arc this season and demonstrated NBA range from deep, something he did not possess earlier in his career (case in point, he shot .279 from three in 2012-2013).  His shooting is a function of his size and his length– at the guard position, he can see over defenses and is positioned by Izzo to come off high pick-and-rolls and hit deep shots.

iConsidering his usage rate – a team high .284 percent – his turnover rate of .148 demonstrates a deft touch as the main distributor in Michigan’s offense his senior year. He’s shown encouraging improvement since a sophomore year during which he had a horrendous .290 turnover rate with a usage percentage of only .171.  Draw your own conclusions, but clearly he didn’t have a feel for the game early in his college career.

This senior season, however, he had an astoundingly high assist percentage of .458 — he was an overwhelmingly positive influence on the offensive side of the ball.  Dude is a fantastic passer, especially in transition. He moves the floor well and as I’ve harped on in many draft profiles of the past, the way that the pro game is going in terms of small lineups and transition-based offense, being a capable transition passer is incredibly valuable.

Valentine’s struggles come more on the defensive side of the ball.  In fact, other than his toughness on the defensive glass, he’s a lousy defender.  MSU coach Tom Izzo is a wizard, and was able to use defensive switches and rotations to help cover up this weakness on this end of the floor.  For a guy with a 6-11 wingspan who tends to cover guards, he managed only seven blocks on the entire season.  Athletic point guards blew by him with ease, and in MSU’s shocking first-round upset loss to 15-seed Middle Tennessee State, he was exposed.

In the video above at [0:53], though he switches correctly on defense, he does a poor job contesting the shot inside, leading to an easy bucket for MTSU.  At [1:30], he gives MTSU guard Jaqawn Raymond too much room on the three before fouling him late, leading to a four-point play for the Blue Raiders.

At [1:02] in this video, he takes bad defensive positioning against Nebraska G Shavon Shields, who backs him down in the lane and finishes through contact, creating another three-point play. He tends to make bad shot contest attempts too late in players’ shot motions, leading to shooting fouls and easy buckets.

It’s not an effort problem for Valentine, either. He gives his all on both sides of the floor. He’s just not a supreme athlete and lacks the lateral quickness that is so common in elite defenders.  He also loses focus on the defensive side of the ball and tends to give players more room to work than he should.

lat-sp-denzel-valentine-20150322Overall, Denzel Valentine is one of those guys who could surprise people once in the NBA, and though I don’t particularly see him becoming a superstar, he could definitely be a guy who ups the level of play for an emerging team or come off the bench and provide energy, score quick buckets and hit transition threes. His personality will likely make him a fan-favorite wherever he lands.

But his defense is enough of a problem where teams probably won’t want to give him big minutes until he figures out some sort of system in which he isn’t a total liability. He will probably go in the early-to-late 20s in the draft, and if the right team picks him, he could be a fun player to watch develop going forward.

By Keenan Womack

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