Zach LaVine effect being felt by Denzel Valentine, several teammates
Bulls guard Denzel Valentine knew his time as a starter would be temporary, so it’s not as if life back on the bench has exactly sneaked up on him.
Valentine, the 14th overall pick of the 2016 draft, started 31 of 44 regular-season games before he was bumped back to a reserve role Saturday with the return of Zach LaVine from an 11-month knee rehab.
Coach Fred Hoiberg said Valentine is handling the decision just fine.
“Denzel’s doing great,” Hoiberg said Monday. “Had a really good conversation with him before Zach came back into the lineup, as well as the other guys that were affected with Zach being back, with Justin [Holiday], Paul Zipser and with David [Nwaba]. It’s going to affect everybody, but that’s what it’s about at this level.
“When you have a guy like that coming back into the lineup, ultimately it’s a great thing because of Zach’s talent. Our guys handled it the right way. That’s the thing I love about this team is they’re in this thing together and they’ve shown great chemistry.”
Valentine was averaging 29.7 minutes as a starter and already has seen a reduction, getting 21 minutes in LaVine’s first game against the Pistons and then just under 28 minutes against the Heat on Monday. Expect that to be about the norm for now, especially with LaVine on a strict minutes restriction that will keep him at the 20-minute mark for at least the first week back.
“[Hoiberg] just basically said, obviously, with [LaVine] coming back, everybody’s role is going to change,” Valentine said. “It’s not specifically me. Obviously, I’m affected by it because we’re the same position. But everybody in the guard rotation is going to have his minutes changed. It is what it is. We have to stay together as a team and keep getting better.”
Valentine remains the first option off the bench for LaVine. He took the floor against the Heat after LaVine put in his first four-plus minutes. As long as he continues to play well, expect that to also be the new norm.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win,” Valentine said. “If that’s coming off the bench or starting or whatever I have to do, I’m going to make sure I play hard and be effective to help us win.”
Zipser is the player whom LaVine’s return might affect the most. Because of injuries early in the season, Zipser was a starter in seven games. But now he hasn’t seen the floor in two straight games.
“The No. 1 thing that everybody has to look at is you’re getting a really good dynamic player back in your lineup,” Hoiberg said. “Are you thrilled when something like that happens? No, and you don’t want [the other players] to be. You want them to want to gain a little edge when you have something like this happen. I think all of our guys did that.”
Finally some pace
Since his arrival, Hoiberg has stressed playing with pace on offense, and he may now have a team that gets it. The Bulls were ranked 23rd in the league in pace on Dec. 7 but now rank fifth.