One month ago, Daniel Gafford and Denzel Valentine were benchwarmers.
Now, the only seat they’re warming up is Jim Boylen’s (Michael: OH, SNAP! Eli with the burn).
When the season started and both players weren’t in the rotation, it wasn’t too surprising. Valentine was coming off ankle reconstruction surgery and missed an entire season, while Gafford was a raw second-round draft pick trying to prove his worth. However, as the Bulls continued losing to supposedly weaker opponents, members of the media – and fans, alike – started questioning why either player couldn’t at least get a shot.
As is tradition, Boylen mostly dodged these questions – Gafford needed to learn the position better while Valentine was simply not playing because Boylen “said so.” He willingly kept the players off the court despite the team’s struggles … that is, until, he had no other choice.
Gafford’s first time playing in the first half of a game came on the back end of a Luke Kornet sinus obstruction surgery. The big man got his opportunity on November 18th as the primary back up to Wendell Carter Jr., and he took full advantage with 21 points on 10-12 shooting against the Milwaukee Bucks.
As for Valentine, he started to get an opportunity due to the injury trouble for Chandler Hutchison. And since getting more consistent clock over these last five games, he’s more than proven his worth. Averaging 11.7 points over his past three games with three 3-point makes in each performance, Valentine has demonstrated he still has the tools to be a pretty valuable bench piece.
Both Gafford and Valentine went from afterthoughts to much-needed rotational players, and that all came to fruition in the Bulls’ last game against the Toronto Raptors.
Valentine scored 13 points while Gafford dropped 14 (and claimed 3 blocks). The two connected on a couple of nice alley-oops and each played a vital role in keeping the Bulls neck-and-neck with the Toronto Raptors. Long story short, it felt like they metaphorically gave their head coach the middle finger.
It’s hard to say whether or not this team has any more wins to their name with both these players in the rotation since the beginning of the season, but it’s not a crazy thought. Chicago struggled in three key areas these guys help with at the beginning of the season – hitting the 3-pointer, rebounding the basketball, and playing efficiently in the paint.
With each game that passes the thought of Boylen not giving them a shot only feels more and more inexplicable. Sure head coaches make mistakes, but it’s quite worrisome when a coach’s own players run out onto the court and obviously prove his judgment wrong.
Props to the boys.