Chicago Bulls: Why Denzel Valentine Will Win ‘Most Improved Player’

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 29: Denzel Valentine
MIAMI, FL - MARCH 29: Denzel Valentine /

Denzel Valentine will return to action for the Chicago Bulls this year after missing the 2018-19 season with an injury. Here is why he will win MIP.

The Chicago Bulls drafted Denzel Valentine 14th out of Michigan State University in the 2016 NBA Draft. He had a relatively successful first season, coming off the bench and used primarily as a shooter to space the floor. He made a significant leap in his second season, improving by 100 percent in nearly every major statistic.

That season also saw him begin to embrace his role as a facilitator, rather than a spot shooter. However, Valentine missed the entire 2018-19 season after undergoing a full surgical ankle reconstruction. Coming into the 2019-20 season, Valentine will play a bigger role than ever, and will have plenty to prove. Here is why he will win the ‘Most Improved Player’ award.

In Valentine’s first NBA season, he shot more three-point attempts than two-point attempts. He shot over 200 three-point attempts while shooting under 100 twos. He was used primarily as a spot shooter, someone to space the floor and knock down a three when required. His rookie season saw him average 5 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist per game, in just over 17 minutes. He was serviceable in his role, shooting 35 percent from three, but he largely did not have any significant impact on his team.

Valentines sophomore season saw him make a jump. In around 27 minutes a game, he contributed 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, essentially doubling his first-year numbers. The major change in his second season was his increased opportunity to handle the ball and facilitate.

This ability to play ‘quarterback’ was possibly Valentines most endearing quality coming out of college, so reducing him to a spot shooter was somewhat misusing his abilities. Given the chance to handle the ball and run the point opened opportunities for Valentine, able to showcase his smooth passing ability, and his improved ability to finish in the lane through both floaters and layups.

Then came the injury. The Chicago Bulls announced November 19th that Valentine would be out for the entire 2018-19 season, as he was having reconstructive surgery to fix ‘ongoing ankle stability’. It was a significant procedure and one that Valentine spent the majority of the year rehabbing. Barring any complications, he will be ready for the start of the 2019-20 season.

This season will see Valentine play in a sixth man role, the backup two guard behind Zach LaVine. He will be given increased minutes, with a large amount coming in a facilitating capacity. If he follows his current trajectory of doubling his numbers, he would be on track for 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists a game.

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While this may be a tad generous, there is no doubt that he will have increased usage, and that this will hopefully see him rise to the challenge of being the Chicago Bulls secondary ball-handler. He is a consistent scorer and one who has proven he can make his teammates better. By accepting and thriving in this role as a facilitator, Valentine will win the NBA’s 2019-20 Most Improved Player award.