PROJECTED DRAFT RANGE: Michigan State senior swingman Denzel Valentine has some work to do during postseason evaluations to become a lottery pick. He’s currently ranked No. 22 on Chad Ford’s latest ESPN.com Big Board, while Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress pegs him at No. 18, so he’s projected as a mid-to-low first-rounder. ESPN lists him as the No. 4 small forward — though it’s a stretch to say he’ll play that position in the NBA — and No. 4 among players that DraftExpress lists primarily as shooting guards.
RISE/FALL: Valentine’s all-around game and maturity could help his draft status. He should be able to step into a team’s rotation, if not a starting role, in his first season. Scouts and front-office personnel will also be impressed by Valentine’s ability to raise his level of play against tough competition. He was the Spartans’ best player during their Final Four run last season, and early this season he lit up Kansas, the nation’s top-ranked team entering conference tournament play, with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Valentine is arguably the best and most polished passer in the draft, ahead of even the point guard prospects, and he has a well-above average jump shot to complement his distribution skills. The biggest thing he’ll have to prove is that he won’t be a major defensive liability. His instincts and basketball IQ can help him overcome that to an extent, but he’ll have to show he won’t consistently get beaten off the dribble. His below-average athleticism will keep him out of the Top 10, but it’s quite conceivable he’ll end up as a late lottery selection.
FIT: There are plenty of teams that could use another offensive facilitator and shooter at the wing spots. He’d be a nice fit for the Heat, as a backup or even eventual replacement for Dwyane Wade. The Hawks could certainly use a boost in that area, and he would seem to be an ideal fit for the Knicks’ triangle with his ability to read, react and shoot. He’d also be a nice offensive fit for half-court reliant Western Conference clubs like the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Jazz.
FINAL TAKE: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo doesn’t hide his affection for Valentine. As he recently told the assembled media, including Hoops Rumors, “I don’t know many guys that have improved in every aspect of the game like he has. He’s the closest thing to a player/coach that you could have.” I suspect Valentine’s NBA coaches will have similar feelings about him. He may not be a star in the NBA, but he should emerge as a rock solid starter who will have a better career than several of the players picked ahead of him.
(For Part 1 of our Denzel Valentine Draft Analysis, click here.)