In an ideal world, the Bulls would be sharks ravening through the free agent frenzy that’ll get underway in July. But while plenty of big names (including several point guards (an obvious position of need)) are ready to hit the market, the Bulls will most likely have to sit back and watch.
The organization is expected to have around $21 million in cap space to work with this offseason, and that sum isn’t quite enough to be in the running for some of the top free agents. Instead, they’ll be looking for veteran assistance and a free agent point guard to help crank the competitive-engine back into gear. Boring, but necessary.
Considering the starting lineup is practically set in stone with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls can focus on really advancing their bench play. With a revamped second-unit, it’s not hard to imagine the Bulls competing for a solid spot in the playoffs this upcoming year (*aggressively crosses fingers*).
Right now, you should expect the Bulls to bring in about three new players, one of which will compete for a starting point guard role (possibly Patrick Beverley?). However, in the midst of all the fuss, we need to remember one player who’s already part of the Bulls organization.
Denzel Valentine missed the entirety of the 2018-19 season due to a lingering ankle issue. In November 2018, he had reconstructive surgery on his ankle, which marked his third ankle surgery in three seasons. Nevertheless, the Bulls drafted him back in 2016 with the No. 14 pick in the draft (wow, not No. 7!) and had expectations for him to become a pretty consistent part of the lineup.
Even after all this missed time, Bulls Vice President John Paxson listed Valentine as one of the seven players he currently sees as a “starting or rotation player” in an interview with NBC Chicago Sports after this season concluded. Specifically, Paxson called Valentine a “very good complimentary player” and pointed out that the Bulls missed his shooting and ball-handling ability last season.
Initially, it was hard not to be excited about Valentine. Not only does he have a name that is easy for Stacey King to make a pun out of, but his introduction into the NBA came with a buzzer beater! All right, I know it only helped the Bulls win the Summer League Championship, but at least the Bulls and the word “championship” were in the same sentence!
These prolonged ankle injuries are never easy to come back from, but if Valentine can channel what he once was, he is a very nice option off the Bulls bench. His final season at Michigan State he put up 19.2 points per game with 7.8 assists per game. Not to mention, the six-foot-six shooting guard was also pulling in an impressive 7.5 rebounds per game.
His adjustment to the NBA wasn’t seamless, but he made some nice improvements from one season to the next. After averaging only 17.1 minutes per game with 5.1 points per game, Valentine earned some starting time during the 2017-18 season. During that second year, he received double the number of minutes per game and doubled his points per game as well. The rebounding and assist totals started to work back in his favor too, dishing out 3.2 assists per game and grabbing 5.1 boards per game. The Bulls are also in the need of some fresh shooters, and Valentine should comeback well equipped with a very strong three-ball (shot 38% in 2017-18).
At the end of the day, everything Valentine does may not be the most flashy, but he manages to always keep in mind the little things.
As the Bulls begin their free agency hunt, just don’t forget about Valentine. Considering his smart play-style and well-rounded skill set, I would argue the Bulls are already adding one very helpful piece to the bench next season.