Valentine's Day

Did the Bulls Thursday in the NBA draft put the next building block in place for a new, exciting, versatile perimeter game with the drafting of Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine to pair with Jimmy Butler and newly acquired Jerian Grant?

“We talked about the changes we want to make with our team, wanting to get younger and more athletic and play with more pace,” Bulls General Manager Gar Forman said after selecting Valentine with the No. 14 pick.

The Bulls also chose Paul Zipser of Germany, a 6-8 forward, with their second round pick. Forman said he will join the team after playing with the German National team this summer.

“The biggest thing that impresses us is he has great instincts for the game,” Forman said about Valentine, the 6-5 swingman who was AP National Player of the Year as a senior. “He’s got a terrific feel. Passes it on the move, in transition, can play off pick and roll, very good three-point shooter. So really, he had everything we were looking for in that spot.”

That spot could be beside Bulls All-Star Butler pretty soon and if things go well either as a backcourt pairing or along with Grant, acquired in the Derrick Rose trade Wednesday, as three young, versatile players who can all make plays off the dribble, pass and shoot.

It’s a vision that perhaps begins to take the Bulls into the next phase of development.

Valentine, 22, was considered one of the most NBA ready players in the draft, and as a senior he was already accustomed to long seasons and tournament play and pressure. He averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists his senior year as the dominant player in the Big 10.

Though Forman said being so NBA ready and his position weren’t requirements in his selection, he appears to be an ideal fit for the team.

It’s possible Jose Calderon, also acquired in the Rose trade, could be the starting point guard when the 2016-17 season opens given his experience. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Valentine in a regular rotation quickly. He’s generally considered a shooting guard and shot 44 percent on threes as a senior.

That could enable the Bulls to use Butler in a more advantageous small forward position. And while none among Butler, Valentine and Grant are natural point guards, all are accustomed to handling the ball and making plays as Grant played point guard at Notre Dame.

In the NBA these days it’s more important to have perimeter versatility than a pure point guard. That could enable multiple players to be options in pick and roll, which has been a weakness for the Bulls. And while Valentine is not a super explosive athlete like Rose, he is regarded as a heady, skilled player who could fit in an uptempo game with Butler and Grant.

It leaves open the possibility of the burly Robin Lopez at center and perhaps Nikola Mirotic or Doug McDermott at power forward in a faster paced, more open shooting game. It also provides versatility with a defensive team with Butler, Taj Gibson, Valentine, Lopez and Grant and possibilities the Bulls could add in free agency this summer and next.

“He’s a big time winner,” Forman gushed about Valentine. “If you’ve seen him, on the road in tough situations, in big games, he produces at a high level; he was one of the most productive players in all of college basketball. Everyone at Michigan State raves about his character, his makeup, his leadership, what he brings to the floor every day.

“I think he’s a good athlete,” Forman said. “I wouldn’t characterize him as a great athlete. I certainly think he’s a good enough athlete in the position he plays, but his game is based more on skill and basketball IQ than athleticism. He moves well, has good mobility, obviously plays hard; we think his skill and IQ are what is going to carry him in his career.

“Analytically he was off the charts,” Forman added. “One of the top two or three players in the country when you put together all the statistics and analyze them that way. I do think he can play some one (point guard) in certain situations. He’s a natural two (shooting guard), but he can also play three (small forward). He has good size at 6-5, but he has a 6-10 wing span, he’s extremely long, which helps with the versatility, especially defensively.”

As the Bulls waited out their pick at No. 14, after which Forman joked he promised this year not to say again he couldn’t believe Valentine fell to them, there were numerous reports and rumors the Bulls were in serious discussions to trade Jimmy Butler to Boston or Minnesota for a draft pick and players. While the Bulls always liked point guard Kris Dunn, whom many teams did and went No. 5, Forman insisted the Bulls initiated no talks regarding Butler and were involved in no serious discussions to trade their All-Star.

“During the draft we saw something on TV that we were in heated talks with somebody,” said Forman. “We were in no talks with anybody. There was no discussion during the entire draft as far as Jimmy Butler was concerned. We have never made a call in regards to Jimmy Butler. We have talked about we value Jimmy Butler; we’re very happy to have Jimmy. We have a terrific basketball player who is an All-Star, an all-NBA defender, is still young, under contract long term. He is what we want to be. We like Jimmy Butler; we did not shop Jimmy Butler.

“Did we receive calls? Of course we did,” said Forman, “and that’s our job to listen. We get calls on a lot of our players and that’s stuff that happens throughout the league. When you have a special player like Jimmy, in order to take a hard look at something it has to be something to knock your socks off, something that is really special. We felt we never were presented with anything that we felt we’d consider moving Jimmy. There are so many false reports out there. We’ve read a number of things that are comical, but if we respond every time there is a source or a rumor and then we don’t respond once will they think that is true?

“We never made a single call,” Forman emphasized. “We’re not looking to move Jimmy; we appreciate and value Jimmy.”

There were reports heading into the draft that there were health concerns regarding Valentine’s knee with an arthroscopic surgery he had last season and missed four games, his only four of 148 at Michigan State.

“We knew those (health) stories were out there,” said Forman “Our medical staff was very, very comfortable with where he’s at from a health perspective; so that was not a concern. Then you look at his track record: He did have the injury this year where he missed two weeks, but aside from that he hasn’t missed any time.

He’s a guy who loves to compete, loves to practice. Tom Izzo told us, his exact quote was “Denzel will play dead.’ He absolutely raved about him and we all know how demanding he is on his players. Our medical staff was very comfortable with him.”

Valentine in brief comments to Chicago reporters on the phone from New York at the draft said, “I’m healthy now. I’ve been healthy in the past. I can’t control what others think; all I can do is handle my business.

“I’m very pumped up (about going to the Bulls),” Valentine said. “One, two, three, it doesn’t matter (where I play); as long as I can get on the floor to make an impact.”

And so the development Forman spoke of after the trade of Rose begins.

“It’s going to be a process and how we want to change our roster, become younger, more athletic,” said Forman. “We’ve begun that process. I don’t think it all happens at once. We’ve got to take steps in that direction. The last week we’ve started to take steps in that direction.

“Our night went as well as we could have expected,” Forman added. “Denzel is a guy we’ve seen play a lot, absolutely thrilled when he was there. I’m not going to say this year we were shocked when he slipped to our spot, but we were optimistic he would be on the board. He was the guy we targeted and just thought he’s a fit on so many levels. He’s also a heck of a basketball player.”