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Michigan State Spartans Season in Review: Denzel Valentine

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This is the third post of my Season in Review series where I will analyze each MSU player’s season and give each a grade based on (my) preseason expectations

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

For his first couple of years Denzel Valentine was the quintessential glue guy. He was an above average rebounder and passer for a player his size, but was far from a star player. Over the past two summers he has worked on improving his all-around game and it clearly paid off as his 3P% has improved from 28% as a freshman to 37% as a sophomore and finally 42% as a junior on over 6 attempts per game. Despite being just a junior this year who averaged only 8 points/game as a sophomore, Valentine was named as a captain and was arguably the most important player for MSU which led to him earning All-B1G 3rd team honors.

The Comparisons

Using this player comparison tool created by MGoBlog’s Alex Cook, these are the B1G players with the highest similarity scores (dates back to 2008):

William Buford Denzel Valentine has a somewhat underrated list as these guys are a bunch of good players who may not have gotten the recognition they always deserved due to either being on bad teams or not being the main guy (mostly just Buford on this part). Moore and Russell were both stars on good teams and had very solid freshman campaigns. Hoffarber and Gatens were on mostly average teams but had solid careers (Hoffarber went from role guy to go-to guy his senior year). Buford was a very good player who was the second option because he played with stars in Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger. Buford being on there so much was a little surprising to me but one interesting stat was that he had a shot% of at least 26% all four of his years. Valentine somewhat quietly went from a guy known for his passing ability to a player who was 9th in the B1G in shot% in conference play at 27.2% which will be the second highest rate for returning players behind only James Blackmon Jr.

The Good

As I said Valentine was quite possibly the most important player for the 2014-15 Spartans as he had a combination of above average shooting, defending, rebounding, and passing that couldn’t be matched by any single player that came off the bench at the wing position. Despite increasing his role from an 18.2% usage% as a sophomore to 24.3% as a junior, he was also able increase his ORtg from 106.9 to 113.7 which speaks volume to his terrific development as a player. He also increased his assist rate while decreasing his TO rate for the second straight season showing better decision making and the game slowing down for him to an extent. He was second on the team in points, assists, and rebounds while shooting better than 40% from 3 and 80% from the charity stripe. Finally, an underrated asset he has added to the team is that he’s had a remarkably healthy career and he hasn’t missed a single game during his time at MSU.

The Bad

The Turnover. I hate bringing it up but I feel that I have to. Leading 69-67 in the B1G tournament championship game with the shot clock turned off, Denzel Valentine got the ball on a Josh Gasser save from out of bounds (yes he stepped on the line, but it went to our guy so not a ton to complain about). Instead of holding onto the ball and going to the line along with his 83% free throw shooting, he threw an ill-advised pass ahead to try and get transition points that ended up in the hands of Sam Dekker. Wisconsin tied the game on that trip and the rest is history. Aside from that it was a mostly solid year apart from a few bad games in losses including the 5 TO’s against Duke in November, and home losses to Illinois and Maryland. One issue with his game right now is that although his jumper is much improved, he’s rarely drawing fouls and his FTR of 19.3% was lowest on the team and lower than even Bryn Forbes.

Overall

Valentine had a very good season including postseason averages of 14.6 ppg on 58.8% true shooting percentage (50.0/40.4/82.4 2P/3P/FT splits), along with 7 rebounds and 4.8 assists on just 1.9 TO/game. His infamous turnover may have been a blessing in disguise as a win against Wisconsin may have bumped MSU to a 6 seed which may have led to an unfavorable matchup against Arizona, Gonzaga, or Notre Dame in a difference region. Valentine will always have his "What was he thinking there?" moments but you take the bad with the good as he makes passes that most wouldn’t think of, let alone attempt. He took a big leap forward as an offensive threat and became one of the more reliable defenders on the team last season. He’ll unquestionably be the leader next year and will likely compete for both All-B1G 1st team and POY honors.

Grade: A-

(On a side note: I’d love seeing a good amount of point guard-less offense next year with Valentine being the de facto point guard and pairing him with two wings (likely Harris and Forbes). The floor spacing could be terrific and I’m personally a fan of a 4-out 1-in system.)

Previously

Travis Trice

Branden Dawson