In this series, Jameson Draper will be firing up his Crystal Ball and diving into the 4 Spartans that signed pro contracts this week. He is going to attempt to predict the future and tell you what their NBA careers are going to look like.
On Thursday night, dreams came true for 60 young men, Denzel Valentine and Deyonta Davis included. Being drafted is one of the most rewarding things a young star athlete can experience. It's the culmination of years of work, ending in triumph. Unfortunately, NBA Draft night can also be disappointing for those who worked to get to this point but failed to hear their names called. Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, among many others, were some of the players who had to go through that experience. In the following days, though, these players breathe a sigh of relief as NBA teams turn to the free agent rookies to help fill roster spots. From that point on, the playing field is leveled. Now it's all about performance.
So, of the four Spartans embarking on their journey this coming season, who is poised for success? Let's take a look. and then revisit this article in five years when all of my predictions are completely wrong.
Denzel Valentine - Pick #14, Chicago Bulls
The 2016 AP Player of the Year was the first Spartan to be a lottery pick since Jason Richardson was the 5th overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. The funny part about this is that it was expected for a Spartan to go in the lottery this year — but not Denzel. Deyonta Davis was in the top 10 in most mock drafts coming into Thursday night, but he slipped to the second round.
Denzel Valentine is a great fit on the Bulls. Not only is he a versatile player that can fit pretty much anywhere you put him, but he's filling a need for the Bulls. Just days before the draft, the Bulls shipped Chicago legend Derrick Rose to the Knicks along with shooting guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick for Robin Lopez and point guards Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant.
Now, the Bulls roster has a grand total of three point guards on it: Aaron Brooks, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant, none of which are starting-caliber point guards (Calderon started in New York, look how that turned out). Valentine, who is 6'6" and listed as a small forward on most websites, is the perfect point guard for the Bulls. He effectively played point guard for the Spartans, and his best skill is facilitating an offense.
Valentine's skill set is perfect for the Bulls. He's the type of player who can make an immediate impact because of his basketball IQ, court vision and shooting; according to Draft Express, he's the best 3-point shooter in this draft not named Buddy Hield. He won't have to be the main scoring option — Jimmy Butler is arguably the best shooting guard in the NBA, so he can take the bulk of the load. Valentine can focus on learning the system and polishing his already NBA-ready skills.
Valentine gives the Bulls options with his shooting skills. In addition to his frame and court vision, his two most likable traits, Valentine is an elite shooter. Of the Bulls' top four three-point shooters last year (E'Twuan Moore, Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday and Kirk Hinrich), two have been traded (Holiday and Hinrich) and one, Moore, is currently an unrestricted free agent. Given that the Bulls traded for more point guards and have a future point guard in Denzel Valentine, they have leeway with what they decide to do with Moore. It may be a better financial decision to let him walk, as the only true asset he brings to the table is covered by Valentine.
The only sore spot in Valentine's game is his defense, and that's only because of his lack of athleticism. It may be bad to have a relatively unathletic defender at point guard, but the only thing worse is someone who is constantly lost. Valentine will work tirelessly to learn coach Fred Hoiberg's defense. At any rate, Valentine should already be a step up from Derrick Rose's 2015-2016 campaign. The former all-star was an inefficient shooter and an average defender last season, so getting rid of the dead weight and adding a young Valentine should really help the team in the long-run. Even if he starts the season behind Calderon on the depth chart, it wouldn't be surprising to see him take the starting role before the end of the season. It may not be an immediate thing, as I expect the Bulls to try Valentine in several different positions.
Best case scenario: A better passing and worse rebounding version of Draymond Green. In other words, a poor, poor man's Magic Johnson. I hate using the MSU comparisons but this is the closest I can get. Denzel is incomparable.
Worst case scenario: Danny Green without the defense.
Verdict: Denzel Valentine will be an excellent pro. He's never going to be a perennial all-star, but he can be an elite shooter and a great facilitator as point guard on a championship-caliber team.