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Valentine's Day: A Defense of Denzel

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A TOC love note to an underappreciated Spartan

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In an ideal world, Denzel Valentine would not be the go-to guy for any MSU team. In fact, he probably wouldn't be the ideal second option, either. Denzel would be the third guy, a glue-y Swiss Army knife that fill the gaps, defending the 1 through the 4, serving as the key to unlock zone defenses, and providing rebounding from the wing.

At the height of 2013-14 season, this is what Denzel did. He posted a 12-7-3 (points-rebounds-assists) in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, using just 15% of available possessions. He followed that with an ugly-but-effective 3-4-3 line against Michigan in the final, using just 11% of possessions. In the NCAA tournament, Denzel posted a 6-7-6 on 17% usage against Harvard, followed by a 3-5-3 on 11% usage against Virginia. When MSU was at it's best, Denzel was not a focal point.

Unfortunately in 2014-15, that is not how Denzel is able to play. Instead, he's the de facto #1 option. In conference play, he's used 28.6% of possessions and taken 31.1% of shots. Those are good for #5 and #3 in the conference, respectively. For reference, Adreian Payne used 28.5% of possessions in conference play last year.

The weird thing is, Denzel Valentine is posting an efficiency of 107.1 in that time frame this year, compared to Payne's 102.7 last year.

I mean, here are the conference stat lines next to each other:

That's incredible, right?

And look, I get it, this team is 7-4 in conference play. They're squarely on the bubble. There are many flaws to Denzel's game, as there are many flaws to this MSU team in general. He's not an NBA athlete. The turnovers he makes are often dumbfounding and frustrating.

But let's give some credit to Denzel for a significant amount of growth over his three years at MSU. His turnover rate is way down, he's shooting at a significantly better clip from three than he ever has before, and he's able to exert advantages over smaller wings in the post. He's gotten in significantly better shape, too.

On Leadership

I suspect that the reason for the lack of Valentine love is one of my least favorite tropes in sports. This team, and Denzel Valentine in particular, is "not displaying leadership" I guess. But how can you tell that? Because he let Bryn Forbes shoot the technical free throws against Illinois? Because the free throw shooting is poor?

That's garbage. If he shot the free throws himself and went 1 for 2, the narrative would be that he's selfish for taking them. And he's also not the head coach of the team; that's Tom Izzo's call to make, anyways.

So really, tell me what leadership looks like on the floor. To me, it's improving your game and playing unselfishly. And Denzel's body of work shows that he's doing both of those things.

I thought it was time we show him some love. As always, you're my valentine, Denzel. Keep the tourney streak alive for us.