With the 14th selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls selected Denzel Valentine out of Michigan State. At the time of the selection, it was widely applauded and viewed in a positive light.
There was one concern with Valentine entering the NBA and that was the status of his knees and if they would eventually shorten his NBA career. As long as that didn’t happen, the common evaluation of the Bulls draft at the time was positive.
It makes sense, as well. Valentine was coming off a monster season for the Spartans and was considered by many to be the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft. He had started 116 games in his four-year college career and proven himself as a well-rounded offensive player.
His senior season at Michigan State was especially outstanding as he helped lead the Spartans to a 29-6 regular-season record. That season he averaged an eye-popping 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also increased his three-point accuracy for the fourth straight season by knocking down 44.4 percent of those shots.
It wasn’t very hard to see the offensive repertoire he possessed. It also made sense that a team was going to love him at some point enough to take him over a younger player that has more room and ability to grow in the upcoming seasons.
For that reason, it is hard to give the Chicago Bulls too much blame for their selection. Looking back in hindsight is always way easier, and the goal in doing so is not to tell people who the Bulls should have drafted necessarily, but instead who they could have drafted.
Much like the similar recent piece on former Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr., the intention is not to rip the former front office for these specific decisions. The goal is simply to share the list of players that have become better NBA players than Valentine that technically could have been selected where he was.
A number of things contribute to players not panning out or not maximizing their potential in the NBA. There very well could have been obstacles in his development out of his control, so we aren’t here to knock him or anyone specifically today.
We can always wonder what if, though. These six players were selected after Denzel in the 2016 NBA Draft and have already become much better players in the NBA.