If Valentine has an NBA future, it's likely not with Bulls

Eighth in a series

The chances Denzel Valentine returns to the Bulls next season are practically zero.

But it's worth reviewing his four years with the Bulls to figure out what went wrong and whether the 6-5 swingman has a future in the NBA.

Valentine, the No. 14 pick of the 2016 draft, can be a restricted free agent this summer. But for that to happen, the Bulls would have to make a qualifying offer of $4.7 million. They aren't likely to do that, so Valentine will probably be an unrestricted free agent and look for a new home.

He showed some promise early in his career, averaging 10.2 points per game in 2017-18 before missing the following season due to ankle surgery.

Valentine's slow start this season can be partially explained by the ankle injury. It was a slow recovery. He didn't resume full activity until about a month before training camp. So when he made just two token appearances in the first 15 games this season, the ankle was a valid excuse.

But Valentine didn't become part of the regular rotation until injuries made him a necessity. Coach Jim Boylen's mutual Michigan State roots didn't help Valentine's playing time.

His stats were skewed by the limited action, but the numbers weren't impressive no matter the circumstances. Valentine shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range overall and even when he started the last five games before the NBA season was suspended, he shot just 25.8% from long range as a starter. His net rating was on the lower end of the Bulls roster.

In some ways, Valentine feels like a package-error by the Bulls. In 2014, the Bulls made one of the worst of their recent mistakes by trading up for the No. 11 draft pick and choosing Doug McDermott. That one was a mistake because the Bulls could have chosen Zach LaVine at No. 11, while both draft picks they traded (Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic) have had better NBA careers than McDermott.

Bulls management looked at McDermott, a polished college senior, and thought he could carry his scoring skills to the NBA. Valentine was a similar decision. He played four years at MSU and had advanced, versatile skills. But his relative lack of athleticism gave him a low ceiling. While other NBA teams chose players based on potential, the Bulls gambled on college performance and lost - twice.

The 2016 NBA draft wasn't particularly loaded but a couple of higher-upside guys chosen after Valentine were Brooklyn's Caris Levert and Toronto's Pascal Siakam.

But just as McDermott has survived in a reserve role for Indiana, Valentine might still have an NBA future. He knows how to score. At times for the Bulls this season, Valentine was able to get some baskets when they were needed, and reliable scorers are valuable in the NBA.

The Bulls made some mistakes in both draft judgment and player development. By next season, Valentine will be hoping to see if a fresh start leads to better results.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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