Chicago Bulls' Valentine takes demotion in stride after LaVine returns
Timing is not always everything in basketball.
Take Bulls guard Denzel Valentine, for example. Earlier this week, he matched, then set new career-highs for points in a game, peaking with 20 in a win at New York on Wednesday.
Then it was time for Zach LaVine to return from knee surgery. So Valentine shifted to a bench role and scored just 2 points in Saturday's 107-105 victory over Detroit at the United Center.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is Valentine comes from a coaching family. His father Carlton was his high school coach in Lansing, Mich., and his older brother Drew is an assistant at Loyola. Valentine is well-versed in the practice of "control what you can control."
"I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win," he said Sunday at the Advocate Center. "I feel like if I come in and do my job, I don't think my minutes are going to change that much. It might be slightly changed because I'm not starting. If I come in and play well, coach will leave me in there."
I know I'm not the only one who has been asking if Valentine has the athleticism to excel in the NBA. Earlier this season, my feeling was the Bulls' 2016 first-round pick could have a good career, but he'd be a James Jones type of role player -- come in off the bench and see if he can get hot from 3-point range. Jones made a good living following LeBron James around the league,
In recent weeks, though, Valentine has made dramatic improvements in being able to score off the drive and make plays for teammates. Versatility was his greatest strength in college at Michigan State, but he seemed to struggled with the speed of the NBA game as a rookie.
That is, until the past few weeks when Valentine started to demonstrate he can bring his varied skills to an NBA game. He's been using an effective floater when he gets near the basket and has finished a few layups by using his body to shield defenders.
"Last year, I was kind of just a spot-up guy. It was kind of just an instinctual thing," Valentine said. "But then I was like, 'Hey, wait up. I'm more than just a spot-up shooter. I can do a little of everything.' Over time, as the year kept going, I just got more confident, making more plays and getting back to the player that I am."
Valentine's improvement fits into the Bulls plans. As LaVine returns, the hope is Valentine can move from starter to valuable scorer off the bench. Someday if the Bulls can add another star, Justin Holiday may also take that step from decent regular to excellent role player.
"One thing that did stand out is Denzel had been playing very well with that (reserve) group, better than any of the other starters," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "And he's going to have more of a featured role in that group as well."
Hoiberg had enough trust in his reserves to play an all-sub lineup of Valentine, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis for more than six minutes at the start of the fourth quarter against Detroit. Since LaVine is on a minutes limit and not playing in fourth quarters yet, Hoiberg chose to leave Nwaba in for the entire quarter to guard Avery Bradley.
"I feel like I did my job when I was starting," Valentine said. "I kept working, got better, showed consistency. I just have to keep doing that with the minutes that I have."
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Bulls game dayBulls vs. Miami Heat at the United Center, 2:30 p.m. Monday
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: Last year, Miami made a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the season and is heating up again. The Heat (25-17) comes to town on a seven-game winning streak with the largest margin of victory 7 points. PG Goran Dragic is the top scorer at 17.0 ppg, followed by C Hassan Whiteside at 14 points and 11.8 rebounds. SF Josh Richardson (12.7 ppg) and SG Tyler Johnson (12.1) are two of the more underrated players in the East. SG Dion Waiters hasn't played since Dec. 22 due to an ankle injury and reportedly decided to have season-ending surgery. In his place, Wayne Ellington has averaged 15 points this month. The Bulls are 0-2 against the Heat this season, losing at the United Center 100-93 on Nov. 26.
Next: Golden State Warriors at the United Center on Wednesday, 7 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw