OVERVIEW: Denzel Valentine has steadily built his legacy — and his draft profile — during his four seasons at Michigan State. The versatile swingman — listed at 6’5” by ESPN.com and 6’6” by DraftExpress — was a valuable role player for the Spartans during his first two seasons, then exploded onto the national landscape during last year’s NCAA Tournament as a junior. He led the Spartans to an unlikely run to the Final Four, then upped the ante this winter with a spectacular senior season. He’s on pace to become the first player since assists became an official NCAA stat in 1983/84 to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. His development is reminiscent of two recent Big Ten stars, former Spartan Draymond Green and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.
STRENGTHS: The attribute that becomes readily apparent when watching Valentine play is his uncanny knack to make the right read and find the open man. That makes him an outstanding initiator on pick-and-rolls, an extremely valuable skill in the NBA game. Valentine became the Spartans’ de facto point guard early in his senior season and he’s thrived in that role, with his assist average jumping from 4.3 last season to 7.5, while his turnovers have barely increased (2.6 to 2.4) despite having the ball in his hands so often. His creativity off the dribble opens up high-percentage shots for teammates as the defense collapses around him. His shooting stroke is also an asset. Valentine has a very compact stroke, as Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress points out, with deep range and multiple release points. He’s adept at shooting off screens, with his feet set, or off the dribble, Givony adds. Currently, he’s shooting 47.1% from the field while averaging 14.5 shots per game and an outstanding 45.4% on 3-point attempts. Valentine also does a superior job of getting into position for rebounds, averaging at least 6.0 per game in his last three college seasons.
WEAKNESSES: Valentine does not have a defined position as he heads to the next level. ESPN lists him as an undersized small forward. His size and outside shooting ability would suggest he’ll be a shooting guard in the pros, while his passing prowess and floor leadership could make him an oversized point guard. The biggest knock on Valentine, as Chad Ford of ESPN.com examines, is his lack of elite athleticism. Valentine’s defensive intensity has improved throughout his college days, but he could have issues covering players with better foot speed because of his lack of lateral quickness. If his NBA coach utilizes him as a point forward, he’ll be mismatched at the other end and vulnerable to postups by bigger, stronger players. Another concern, as Givony notes, is that Valentine may have trouble finishing in the lane because of his lack of explosiveness. He often relies on his body to create space in halfcourt situations and tends to shoot difficult floaters when the lane closes up and he doesn’t have an outlet.
(For Part 2 of our Denzel Valentine Prospect Profile, click here.)