Denzel Valentine often seems like the odd-man out in the formative stages of the Big Three era. Zach LaVine’s return put him back on the bench, and Valentine admits it’s been a struggle to adjust to a new role that still is being defined as the Bulls figure out who’s who and what’s what.
“With Zach coming back and a new role and all the changes that are going on now, [it’s a matter of] finding where I can be aggressive,” Valentine said.
“It’s difficult. It’s not just difficult on Zach. It’s difficult on us, too. But at some point we’ll get it figured out. When you add a new piece — and thank God it’s a very good piece — things take time, but they’ll work out.”
It remains to be seen how big a piece of the puzzle Valentine will bewhen LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn finally are full-go on the court at the same time and the Bulls find their groove in Fred Hoiberg’s offense. But every so often he leaves a reminder that he has value as a do-it-all niche player who makes a good team better.
Valentine had one of those moments in the Bulls’ 108-103 loss to the Lakers on Friday night at the United Center. In a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, he hit two three-pointers and had four rebounds and a key blocked shot to spark a 19-3 Bulls run that turned an 89-76 deficit with 10:38 left in the game into a 95-92 lead with 4:11 to go.
“It felt good. I feel like I could get into [that rhythm] more often,” Valentine said. “But time will come.”
Valentine finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 three-pointers, with 11 rebounds and four assists. It was by far his most productive game since he went to the bench when LaVine returned against the Pistons on Jan. 13.
Like everything else with the Bulls these days, Valentine’s role and his future is fluid. Ask Hoiberg about Valentine and several teammates often factor into the response.
“Denzel is a guy that you can put the ball in his hands and he’s going to make plays. He did it in college,” Hoiberg said. “So we have given the ball to Denzel. It doesn’t matter if he’s starting or coming off the bench. He’s finished games for us. But we’ve also finished the game with David [Nwaba]. And then obviously with Zach back playing more minutes, he will play late in games. And then Justin [Holiday] has been good — maybe our most consistent wing player all season as far as playing both ends.
“So we’ve got a lot of decisions on our hands moving forward. But I do like what Denzel has brought to our team, because he plays with a swagger; he plays with great confidence and he’s a guy that can really get it going for us.”
Valentine’s confidence is still high, but there’s still a lot of sorting out that has to be done.
“Yeah, I definitely belong out there. I think I can play at this level,” Valentine said. “Zach coming back makes us a ton better, so that’s a good problem to have. But we’ve got to figure it out. It’s going to take some time to figure things out. But when we [do that], we’re going to be dangerous.”
NOTE: Guard Kris Dunn (concussion) will miss his fifth consecutive game when the Bulls play the Bucks at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the United Center. “He’s dribbling the ball a little bit. He took a couple of shots [Saturday],” Hoiberg said, “but he still isn’t doing much physical activity.” Hoiberg said Dunn could join the team on the upcoming West Coast road trip, but he’s still out indefinitely.
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