Voted a Big Ten All-Conference Player as a junior, Denzel Valentine took his game to an entirely new level as a senior, emerging as one of the most skilled and productive players in all of college basketball. He was named Big Ten player of the year, and is currently neck and neck with Buddy Hield for most of National Player of the Year honors.
Valentine is the only player in our extensive college basketball historical database (dating back around 30 years) to average over 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game. The only ones to come close are Penny Hardaway (23, 8+6 as a sophomore at Memphis in 1993), Evan Turner (20, 9+6 as a junior at Ohio State in 2008) and Michael Anderson (24, 6+7 as a senior at Drexel in 1988).
Unfortunately, Valentine's season came to a premature end when Michigan State was shockingly upset in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 64 at the hands of #15 seed Middle Tennessee State.
From a physical standpoint, Valentine has good size for either guard position, standing around 6'6 in shoes, with a long 6'10 wingspan. He has a heavy set frame that he's done his best to maximize, but will continually require toning as his career moves on, and is not a great athlete by any stretch, lacking much in the way of quickness and explosiveness.
Valentine was Michigan State's point guard this season for all intents and purposes, and his best attributes revolve around his prodigious court vision and passing ability, which are incredibly unique at his size. Valentine may have the highest basketball IQ of any player in this draft, as his timing and instincts as a playmaker are simply off the charts. Able to see over the top of the defense at all times, he can make every type of pass in the book, and is especially good at making reads in transition and early offense situations, finding shooters in the corners, big men cutting to the rim, and everything in between, particularly on the pick and roll. Valentine is the first college player over 6'5 since 1988 to average over 9 assists per-40 minutes, so it might be a while until we see another player his size who is able to distribute the way he can.
Valentine is also a tremendous shooter on top of that, making the second highest volume of 3-pointers among DX Top-100 prospects (behind only Buddy Hield), but doing so at an incredible 45% clip. Only five players in college basketball made over 100 3s this year and did so while shooting so accurately, while none did so last season.
What's even more impressive about Valentine's shooting, beyond the numbers, is the way he knocks down his jumpers, some of which come off the most complicated looks you can imagine. Valentine is frequently utilized as a floor-spacer, but is also very capable both running off screens and shooting pull-up jumpers. He does a great job of getting his feet underneath him and releasing the ball quickly, and has the ability to attack closeouts with straight-line drives and floaters when defenses play up on his shot too aggressively. Valentine is not afraid to take big shots and has had some very memorable moments in his college career hitting timely jumpers with a hand in his face and the clock running down.
Valentine's size, length and instincts also translates to his work on the glass, as his 8.5 defensive rebounds per-40 minutes was the top rate among any guard or wing prospect in our Top-100 prospect rankings, higher than many power forwards or centers in fact.
While Valentine doesn't look scared to mix things up on the glass, he's an extremely poor defender that needed to be hidden constantly at the college level in order to not emerge as a liability. While somewhat of a combo guard offensively, he's best suited guarding small forwards who don't have much in the way of ball-handling ability or explosiveness on the other end. His lateral quickness is very poor, he doesn't cover ground well, and his effort really comes and goes, as he often looks fairly lazy closing out on shooters or trying to keep his man in front. Valentine relies heavily on reaching and grabbing his man to try and slow him down, which simply will not work at the NBA level.
Another concern is his lack of burst offensively, as he often has a tough time turning the corner against better defenders in the half-court. His size, strength and ability to change speeds works to his advantage at the college level, but there are concerns about whether he'll be able to do the same against NBA-level defenders, where everyone is much bigger, longer, stronger and more athletic.
With as good of a season as he had, he still converted just 48% of his 2-point attempts (67th best out the 80 college prospects in the DX Top-100) and got to the free throw line just 4 times per-40 minutes (also ranked 67th out of 80). When he is able to get past his man, he often simply isn't explosive enough to finish what he creates inside the paint, forcing him to rely very heavily on floaters.
A player with radically contrasting strengths and weaknesses, Valentine is likely to end up as one of the most hotly debated prospects in this draft class, as NBA teams already seem to be all over the map in how they view him. His ultimate success will likely depend on a team and coaching staff's willingness to utilize his tremendous playmaking and shooting ability, while surrounding him with players who can help mitigate his extreme deficiencies defensively, similar to what Michigan State did. Potentially draftable anywhere from the late lottery, all the way to the end of the first round, it will be fascinating to see how Valentine's NBA career pans out.
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-Louisville's Damion Lee
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-Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith
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-Estudiantes' Juan Hernangomez
-Oakland's Kay Felder