Bulls Season Highlights: Denzel Valentine
*65 game season
Guard Denzel Valentine, the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has proved that he can put the ball in the basket. In his second season (2017-18), Valentine showed a scoring prowess and a knack for the long ball, knocking down 38.6% of his threes on nearly 5 attempts a game, and adding a few explosive scoring performances to his ledger, including a 34-point, 13-20 shooting performance against LeBron James’ Cavs team.
Unfortunately, Valentine’s follow-up season never got off the ground, as ankle issues and instability caused him to miss the entirety of the 2018-19 year. In many ways, this season was about working himself back into playing form after missing over a year of basketball action, and in a newly crowded backcourt Valentine saw his minutes and playing time fall as he worked his way back on the floor. Valentine only played a few spot minutes in the first month of the season before finding his way back into the rotation as the year went on.
While he never played heavy minutes this season, in the time he did play, Valentine showed that he can still score and was a major sparkplug off the bench for the Bulls, able to come in and heat up quick. His scoring punch off the bench was key to the Bulls’ success – as proven by the fact that in his top three scoring games of the season, the Bulls won all of them, and against three good teams at that - San Antonio, Dallas and the LA Clippers.
Denzel Washington Season Rewind.
Let’s take a look at the story of two of these games and why Valentine’s contributions were so key:
DECEMBER 14, 2019 VS LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (BULLS 109, CLIPPERS 106)
Valentine Stat Line: 16 points (5-11 FG, 4-7 3PT), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
In the Bulls first win of the season against a team above .500, the United Center crowd was treated to a show, an exciting back-and-forth game that went down to the wire and was sealed by a late clutch three-point play by star guard Zach LaVine. But LaVine doesn’t get the chance to win the game in the final seconds without the contributions of Valentine, who played the quintessential role of bench scorer to perfection, giving the Bulls the punch they needed to pull out a win against one of the West’s best teams.
Valentine poured in 16 points off the bench and was feeling it so much he wound up playing the entirety of the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in the final frame. He also hit a crucial three-pointer with 48 seconds left to tie the game.
"The last three minutes I was just waiting for the ball to come my way," Valentine said postgame. "I wasn't going to force anything. Zach's our best player; it's going to be in his hands. But I love those moments. I wanted to make the shot. I love when the ball is coming to me in a big time moment."
JANUARY 27, 2020 VS SAN ANTONIO (BULLS 110, SPURS 109)
Valentine Stat Line: 16 points (6-10 FG, 4-6 3PT), 3 rebounds, 1 assist
In an emotional game (the first the Bulls played following the tragic death of Kobe Bryant), Valentine in just 19 minutes provided the scoring off the bench the Bulls needed to sneak out a close win against the visiting Spurs. Valentine did his damage from the outside, hitting 4 of his 6 threes to help the team to their third win in four games, their best stretch of the season to that point.
“Man, Denzel is a true professional,” Zach LaVine said. “We’re thankful to have him on this team. I think any team would love to have him. It’s someone that is beneficial to us because he got put in a tough situation where he came off the bench. He’s a player that’s a regular rotation guy. That’s not up to him to play his minutes, but he came in and he’s the biggest reason why we won the game I think…. It was big and I appreciate having him as my teammate.”