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NBA Draft 2016 Scouting Profile: Denzel Valentine

Michigan State Senior Denzel Valentine checks every box the Kings could want in a player on offense. Could the team cover up his defensive limitations enough to justify selecting him at #8?

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Denzel Valentine

NBA Position: SG/SF/PG

General Information: 22 year old senior, played at Michigan State. From Lansing, Michigan. 2016 AP Player of the Year.

Measurables: 6'5.75", 210 pounds, 6'10.75" wingspan, 8'6" standing reach, 27' no step vertical, 32' max vertical

2014-15 Season Statistics: 19.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, .2 BPG, 2.7 TOPG (33.0 minutes per contest) -€” 46.2% FG, 85.3% FT, 44.4% 3P, 57.9% TSP


Valentine is a player who represents the best that the full-NCAA experience offers the NBA; he's an older senior (still only 22!), and while he doesn't have the athletic luster of his peers, he provides hallmark traits across the board. He's an excellent shooter with crafty footwork and deep range, and also proved to be one of the smartest passers in the game. He'll have serious defensive limitations in the NBA in isolation, but that won't be from lack of effort. He's proven to be one of the hardest workers in college basketball, and has made major improvements throughout his career; skills that were weaknesses in his freshman year (shooting ability, range, ball-handling) are now what define him as a prospect.

Offensive Breakdown:

In a league that demands more playmakers spread across the offense, Valentine's court-awareness and proven success in a motion offense cannot be undersold. Valentine wasn't even supposed to be the primary ball-handler for the Spartans this year; he took over due to injury, and morphed into one of the best floor leaders in the country. He finished the year with a 28.4% usage rate, a 45.8% assist rate, and a surprisingly low (given his usage in the offense) 14.8% turnover rate, which equated to a near 3/1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He showed great command of Michigan State's offense and consistently made the smart, correct play on offense.

Valentine will not need to command the ball to be dangerous. his shooting makes him a serious off-ball threat, both with his feet set and on-the-move. 52% of his shots were from three, and he sank 44% of them. His quick footwork broke defenders constantly, and even with guys glued to him, he showed an ability to knock down step-backs and faders. He was a major threat in the pick-and-role thanks to his dangerous range and his ability to dump the ball over the defense.

While he showed good ability to get into the paint in college thanks to his great footwork, he may need to focus on his shooting and limit his drives due to his lack of speed. He also never showed consistent ability in the one-on-one, and the speed and length of the NBA game might disrupt his passing skills. Valentine will be a serious weapon on offense in the NBA, but he's going to have to understand his physical limitations. Regardless of these weaknesses, it's impossible to gamble against such a hard-worker... at least on offense.

Defensive Breakdown:

Any Tom Izzo star is expected to give total effort on the defensive end of the court, and despite playing such a massive role in the offense, Valentine was never a sub-par defender due to intensity. Unfortunately, neither his body nor his awareness equal his effort levels; Michigan State did have to hide him on defense.

He's not the most aware defender, and determined opponents found ways to lose him due to his lack of great speed and his bad habits. Too often (especially in their NCAA tournament loss to Middle Tennessee State) he'd end up following the ball with his eyes and lose defenders on the wings. He didn't show success in one-on-one situations in college, and NBA squads will constantly try and navigate for isolation opportunities against him. While teams will want to play him in small-ball/versatile lineups, he doesn't have the speed to guard most NBA points nor the size and vertical quickness to battle most small forwards.

Thanks to his omnipresent effort, Valentine is a great rebounder for his position; 7.5 a contest and a 21.2% defensive rebounding rate that is way above the rest of the guards in the class and near guys like Jakob Poeltl and Ivan Rabb.


While the first round loss to Middle Tennessee was a shockingly disappointing end to his career, Valentine was a model four-year starter who was the heart and soul of one of the best programs in the county. Tom Izzo has produced NBA talent before, and showed near-absolute confidence in Valentine.

It would be irresponsible for an NBA squad to bank on Valentine as a focal point of a team; rather, he's a player who can take a developing team to the next level. Valentine will have serious worth in the NBA small-ball era—he'll present a capable shooter and ball-handler on offense, and a determined defender on the other. Valentine has a strong history of exceeding expectations through his hard work and smart play; he doesn't have the NBA body to be a superstar, but he'll provide value regardless.

While his talents will be much better suited to an NBA offense, teams will need to be aware of his defensive limitations; his lack of burst and lateral quickness is much harder to hide on defense than on offense. If he's surrounded by great athletes who can complement his ball-handling and cover up his defensive issues, he could be regarded as a steal of the draft. He's got a much higher floor than some of the players in the 8th-14th range, and would be a smart pick as long as a team has the foundation to utilize his skills and doesn't need him to be the focal point.

Fit with Sacramento:

Do the Kings have the depth and roster solidity to draft Valentine over higher-potential picks such as Timothe Luwawu, Jaylen Brown, or Henry Ellenson? Valentine could a serious asset to the Kings offensively, and he fills a position of need, but given how unstable the roster is, Vlade will have to judge the long-term potential against the immediate production value that Valentine provides.

An even bigger question: are Kings a good enough defensive team to compensate for Valentine's weaknesses? I don't think they are. Dave Joerger will hopefully have an impact, but the Kings have two players I'd consider above-average positional defenders (Willie Cauley-Stein, and 75% of DeMarcus Cousins' minutes) and only a handful of others (Darren Collison primarily) that could be considered good. Adding a defensive liability—which Valentine certainly is and likely will remain for his career—would be a massive gamble on Vlade and Joerger's part that they can coach Valentine and the rest of the team to compensate for this.

Valentine has skills the Kings would absolutely love to add; he's an unselfish playmaker, a great ballhandler who can play multiple positions, and he's a lights-out shooter. He checks every box the Kings could want on offense. But I don't believe the Kings can cover his defensive weaknesses enough for him to be a valuable pick over the other prospects in his draft range.

Fair warning: when he gets drafted by a smart team with good defenders (Utah at #12, Boston at #16, or the Spurs somehow... you know they'll try and snag a guy as smart as Denzel), he's going to look like the steal of the draft. But I don't think he'll be that steal in Sacramento, not with the roster as it's current constructed.

As always, check out the DraftExpress breakdowns;