From: Las Vegas
"The Moon" on Valentine:
This is the most fascinating player in the draft, so this is going to be a long one. I think it will be easiest to look at three sides of Denzel Valentine. There’s his offensive side from above the free throw line extended. There’s his offensive side below that line. And there is his defensive side.
Above the free throw line extended is where Valentine is a kind of genius. Easily the most dangerous player in college in this area. As a shooter, he was every bit as good as Buddy Hield this year; and as a passer he had no equal. He is outstanding at running PnRs in the middle of the floor. He keeps his head up very well and he is almost inerrant in exploiting any confusion in the opposing PnR coverage. It should be noted that he himself creates much of this confusion because his outside shot is so powerful.
One thing he does really well is exploit the opponent’s second defensive rotation, or rather lack thereof. So one of MSU’s guys will fake his defender out and cut to the basket. One of the defender’s teammates will rotate to cover this lapse. Instead of trying to hit the cutter, Valentine hesitates and then passes to the man vacated by the help defender on the MSU cutter. And this guy will usually be wide, wide open. Valentine did a lot of damage like this, especially in transition, and he really made use of the fact that MSU had four rotation players who shot over 40% from three.
Side Note 1: It looked to me like he and his team got a lot of their offense in transition. They, and in particular Valentine, really seemed to understand how to exploit a confused defense. Using hoop-math.com to compare MSU to other top 25 colleges, it does appear as though they were among the most prolific transition offenses in the country. I have no idea whether that is a good thing or not for Valentine.
Side Note 2: The score-keepers in Lansing were clearly hunting for triple doubles for Denzel. In one game versus Ohio State, Valentine passed to his guy in the corner, that guy faked a pass, put the ball on the floor for one dribble, and shot the ball. That was called an assist for Valentine. In the same game Valentine threw an entry pass in to Matt Costello. Costello caught the ball, dribbled twice into the lane, and threw up a righty hook that went splash. Another assist for Valentine. There were many, many similar situations in the footage I watched.
Below the foul line offense is where Valentine’s flaws start to manifest. We know from hoop-math.com that Valentine doesn’t get himself to the basket very often. Only 16% of his FGAs were around the rim. Once at the rim, Valentine only converted at a 60% rate. What is more, 46% of his makes at the rim were assisted. All of these numbers are very poor for a guard or a wing. They suggest what is obvious from viewing: Denzel Valentine rarely gets himself clean looks in the paint. Everything is contested and difficult and awkward. Even his passing in the paint begins to feel less clinical and more desperate.
He has a weird floater/hook shot arsenal. Honestly it’s really ugly shit. It’s often the case that you can’t tell whether he is trying to shoot a floater or throw a lob. If you’ve ever seen Matthew Dellavadova play in the pros then you’ve seen this sort of thing before.
And then there’s defense, where Valentine’s flaws come at you like a violent tidal bore. Valentine has great size for a guard and solid size for a wing, but he is an extremely poor athlete by the standards of NBA perimeter players. He cannot jump, he’s slow up and down, forward and backward, side to side. If he is going to play on this end in the NBA it is going to require an extraordinary amount of focus, preparation, attention to detail, and maximizing every bit of athleticism he has. Even then I’m not sure what position he is supposed to defend. I seriously doubt he will be able to defend guards, but that’s where he would need to to use his size advantage. Once he shifts to forwards then he’s still slow but now he’s also small. I look at some of the guys I would like to compare him to and they are all bigger than Valentine, often by quite a bit.
How good a rebounder will he be? That appears to be his strong suit as a defender. I have a little rule which goes as follows: if you want to know a non-point guard NCAA perimeter player’s pro TRB%, simply look at their per40 minute pace adjusted rebound number and add a "%" after it. So since Valentine grabbed 9.3 rebounds per40 pace adjusted, I would expect his pro TRB% to be about 9.3%. That is very good. It would rank him 15th in the league this year among perimeter players with +500 minutes. But it isn’t quite elite, and with his numerous other defensive red flags I do think he would basically have to rebound like a power forward to justify starter’s minutes.
CEILING: Mike Miller
MEZZANINE: I have no idea
FLOOR: Jason Kapono