There’s always last March for Bulls swingman Denzel Valentine to fall back on.
In those 15 games from his rookie season, Valentine — the Bulls’ first-round pick in 2016, 14th overall — showed he belonged in a rotation on an NBA court.
During that span, Valentine averaged 7.7 points in 24.7 minutes, scored in double figures six times and shot 37 percent from three-point range, all while basically playing out of position.
‘‘It was just because our offense last year, with Jimmy [Butler] and D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] and [Rajon] Rondo, they made the majority of the plays,’’ Valentine said of his role as a rookie. ‘‘There wasn’t need for me to try to play-make. My role last year was pretty much to be a spot-up shooter and be efficient when I got the ball.’’
Butler, Wade and Rondo are gone now, so it would seem Valentine would be in prove-it mode entering this season. Through the first week of camp, though, he is relying on the work he’s putting in rather than dwelling on justifying where he was drafted.
‘‘I do, but at the same time I don’t,’’ Valentine said when he was asked if he thinks he has something to prove. ‘‘If I just do what I need to do and play, everything’s going to fall into place. If I try to prove to everybody that I’m supposed to be the franchise player, that’s when stuff goes wrong.’’
First things first: Valentine must show he can be a starter in this Bulls rebuild. According to coach Fred Hoiberg, if a player starts in the preseason opener Tuesday in New Orleans, that doesn’t mean he’ll be starting the next night in Dallas or in the home preseason opener Friday against the Bucks. Besides Robin Lopez at center, the other four spots are wide-open.
‘‘We’ll throw different combinations out there,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘It’s just finding the right combinations, and we’ll use the preseason to determine what those lineups will be.’’
Valentine has been playing a little catch-up this offseason after having surgery on his left ankle at the start of the summer. He is working his way back into shape, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t seen improvement in his game in that time.
‘‘Getting more comfortable playing at pro speed and my shooting, of course,’’ Valentine said of his offseason focus. ‘‘Defensively, I want to be able to stay on the floor at all times and be able to guard one through four.’’
Hoiberg said it shouldn’t be seen as a disappointment if Valentine doesn’t start.
‘‘Denzel will have his opportunities [to play], there’s no doubt about that,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘But I’ve been happy with our wings. Part of it is going out there and competing, and they give you different things they can do on the floor.’’
That’s a mentality Valentine is trying to embrace.
‘‘It is what it is,’’ Valentine said when he was asked if he would be disappointed to come off the bench. ‘‘This year, I’m just going to have an open mind. If I start, I start. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m going to try to do what I do and keep progressing.’’
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