Chicago Bulls: Denzel Valentine standing out in limited spotlight

Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Nick Monroe/Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Nick Monroe/Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports /

Even though his role is slightly elevated this year, Chicago Bulls shooting guard/wing Denzel Valentine is doing well in a limited spotlight off the bench.

There’s a lot of optimism growing around the direction of the Chicago Bulls rebuild in the midst of its fourth year. Off to what is a better, but still inconsistent start, to the 2020-21 regular season slate, first-year head coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls still have a long way to go with this rebuild. The good news is that it feels like the work that the likes of Donovan, newly hired executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, and general manager Marc Eversley, is paying off so far.

Although the Bulls are currently boasting a record of 4-7, including a three-game losing streak to round out their west coast road trip from last week, the results are much improved if you look a bit closer. The Bulls fell short against a very difficult stretch of opponents last week, against the Los Angeles Clippers and defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, by just a combined margin of five points.

The improved results for the Bulls so far this season is largely due to the increase in productivity and overall efficiency from the backcourt rotation. While the Bulls largely have the same backcourt in the mix this season that they did last, the effectiveness has greatly increased.

A lot of the praise for the Bulls play early in this season has fallen on the starting backcourt pairing of shooting guard Zach LaVine and point guard Coby White. But there should be more of a positive spotlight given to the likes of veteran shooting guard Garrett Temple, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono (at least once he returns from quarantine), and shooting guard/wing Denzel Valentine.

The 6-foot-4 27-year-old former Michigan State Spartan Valentine is off to a solid start this season, as his usage from the coaching staff in this new scheme has greatly improved. Valentine is being used more as a support perimeter/wing defender, and spot-up shooter and creator off the bench, this season compared to the last few.

In fact former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen didn’t really play Valentine much at all last season. Valentine has played in more than 30 percent of the total minutes in just eight games played this season than he did in nearly three dozen games last year.

Moreover, Valentine is averaging just north of 18 minutes played in the eight games he’s suited up for so far this season. And he’s averaged 7.4 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.1 blocks. Valentine shot 45.8 percent from the field, 43.3 percent from beyond the arc, and is still a perfect 100.0 percent in just two attempts from the charity stripe.

That all has amounted to a much improved and career best 1.3 box plus/minus rating, 0.1 value over replacement player rating, .108 win shares per 48 minutes, 60.4 true shooting percentage, 120 offensive rating/113 defensive rating, and 15.4 player efficiency rating. Every single one of the all-compassing advanced metrics, along with rebounding percentage, true shooting/effective field goal percentage, and turnover percentage, are all greatly improved this season compared to last for him.

Even the RAPTOR 538 rating has Valentine sitting at a career best 5.6 total RAPTOR rating through eight games played. He’s also sitting with a solid 0.6 wins above replacement since he doesn’t have all that many minutes played thus far.

All indicators are pointing to a version of Valentine that could be very useful this season, and potentially in the years ahead, for Donovan and the Bulls. Karnisovas and Eversley went out on a limb last offseason to extend Valentine a qualifying offer out of the restricted free agent market, on a one-year contract worth around $5 million. That happened while the front office didn’t bring back the likes of point guard Kris Dunn and combo guard Shaquille Harrison.

But that decision from the new front office regime is working out well so far. Valentine’s modern switchability between the backcourt and wing rotations, and his modern skill set as a solid secondary creator and shot maker, is something that brings a lot of value to the table for the Bulls.

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Valentine and the Bulls are set up next to take on the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder on the road on the night of Jan. 15. They were supposed to take on the Boston Celtics at home at the United Center on Jan. 12, but that game was pushed back in the wake of novel coronavirus-related issues.