Player breakdowns: Bulls guard Denzel Valentine is a rebel with a cause

With the NBA season still up in the air, the Sun-Times will look at all the Bulls, the seasons they had and the upcoming seasons they could have, in Chicago or elsewhere. Next up is Valentine.

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The Bulls spent a lot of time defending their analytics at the start of the season. The mid-range game had been removed from many of their players’ arsenals, especially early in the shot clock. Instead, players were asked to rely on three-pointers or attacking the rim.

“Modern basketball” was the phrase used.

With the NBA on pause during the coronavirus shutdown, now in its third week, the Bulls sit ninth overall in three-point attempts per game with 35.1. But they’re only 24th in percentage of three-pointers made.

“Modern basketball” looks more like a case of square peg, round hole.

Guard Denzel Valentine laughed when privately asked about the analytics earlier in the season — not because he necessarily agreed or disagreed with what the front office and coaching staff wanted in each player’s shot profile, but because of what he felt they were all overlooking: him.

In the 21 games in which Valentine played 12 minutes or more, the Bulls are 8-13 (.380). Not good, you say? Four of those losses were blowout losses in which he played mop-up minutes. In competitive games in which he played at least 12 minutes, the Bulls are 8-9 (.471). When the hiatus began, their overall winning percentage was .338.

Valentine never said he could have turned the Bulls’ fortunes around, but the 14th overall pick from the 2016 draft did suggest there were too many days spent in coach Jim Boylen’s doghouse, too many coach’s decisions to keep him out of the game and too many other games in which he didn’t get a chance to contribute.

“I’m definitely not happy about it,’’ he told the Sun-Times in January. “I’m a competitor. I want to play, I want to be productive. I want to help the team win. But that’s out of my control, so I’m not about to let it make [me] not happy every day.”

Earlier this month, when asked about Boylen’s job status, Valentine didn’t exactly throw his coach a life preserver. Was the locker room still listening to Boylen?

“I mean, he has a voice,” Valentine said. “He’s been our coach all year, so, hey, whatever happens to him is what happens. But for now, he’s our coach. It is what it is.”

It’s unclear what will happen to Valentine this upcoming offseason — whenever that may be — when he becomes a restricted free agent. But it appears obvious he’d like to be elsewhere, especially if the current coaching staff stays intact.

Evaluating Denzel Valentine

The situation

Valentine has been viewed as a system player by the Bulls’ coaching staff, as well as a tweener when it comes to backcourt vs. wing. The feeling is he’s not athletic enough to guard small forwards and also lacks true guard skills. But there’s an argument that he can get hot from three-point range and that, with the right coach, he could be an asset off the bench. It appeared he would be shipped out at the trade deadline, but the Bulls were underwhelmed with the dialogue they were hearing and opted to hold him.

The resolution

If there’s a poster boy for needing a change of scenery on this roster, it’s Valentine. He showed promise in his second season with the Bulls, averaging 10.2 points and shooting 38.6% from three-point range, but that was under former coach Fred Hoiberg.

Bold prediction

Valentine will be somewhere else next season . . . and he won’t take even a glance back.

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