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Stiffs NBA draft series: Denzel Valentine

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After a standout senior season for the Michigan State Spartans, Denzel Valentine is ready to take his versatile offensive game to the NBA level. Could he be an option for the Nuggets?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of all of the projected first round prospects.

Denzel Valentine

Stats (per game):
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three Point %
19.2 7.5 7.8 1.0 0.2 2.7 46.2 44.4

Strengths

The most important part of Valentine's game that will help his transition to the NBA is that he has not just one pro ready skill, but two.

Jump Shot: His outside shot is ready for the highest level of competition, and he has the confidence to shoot from outside in any situation. On 7.5 attempts from distance, he made 44.4 percent, 3.4 three-pointers a game, a game changing number. His ability to rise up and shoot contested jumpers shows up on film, and while he may not be able to do as much as he did in college, he still profiles as a shot maker from outside in any situation.

Passing: His next best skill is his elite passing skills. His assist percentage of 45.8 placed him right in between Kay Felder and Kris Dunn among the national leaders. Both of those players are point guards, and Valentine could also be misconstrued as a point guard based on how well he distributes the ball to his teammates. He moves seamlessly from being an off-ball shooter to receiving the ball and turning into another creator of offense.

Rebounding and Size: Other skills involve his nose for defensive rebounds. His 21.2 percent defensive rebounding rate ranked third in the nation among any guard that played more than 1000 minutes, according to Sports Reference. Lastly, his size will allow him to defend most shooting guards and small forwards at the next level, given his 6'5.75" height in shoes and 6'10.75" wingspan.

Weaknesses

Athleticism: The main criticisms with Valentine stem from his lack of elite athleticism, which is putting it in a friendly way. Valentine's shuttle run, 3/4 court sprint, standing vertical jump, and max vertical leap all placed a poor light on his athletic profile. His numbers can be found here. While being one the best athletes on the floor isn't mandatory for success at the highest level, it certainly helps given that many players are just as skilled.

Shot creation: Mike Schmitz of Draft Express lists other weaknesses above, including how Valentine can struggle to create his own offense. While he may never be a great playmaker for himself, he's smart enough to avoid putting himself in one on one situations and will instead target other mismatches on the floor.

Focus on defense: Being one of the best players in college basketball, Valentine lost focus on both ends at times. He was mainly a culprit of ball watching when on defense and losing track of his man. He also conserved energy in order to fulfill his large offensive role, giving up a few easy baskets in the process.

Pro Comparisons:

1. James Harden - Perhaps more representative of his time with OKC when Harden won sixth man of the year and excelled off of the bench as the main ball handler and elite outside shooter. Like Harden, Valentine reminds of Harden in that he has been a focal point on offense but struggled on the defensive end.

2. Evan Turner - A spot starter and elite bench weapon. Turner is a trustworthy player who can facilitate offense and make outside shots when called to do so, but not at an elite rate.

3. Kyle Anderson - Kyle Anderson has shown the ability to step into a bench role and be a ball handler on the wing with decent play making ability. He doesn't impress anyone athletically, but he is solid reserve in his prime and carve a career out for himself.

Fit with the Nuggets

Valentine would likely profile as the fifth wing among the group of Gary Harris, Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler, but his intelligence, distribution skills and outside shooting would likely earn him spot minutes. Gallo and Chandler can also slide to the power forward position, while Harris can defend point guards, so there are creative ways in which Valentine could play for Denver. I see him as a player that earns 15-20 minutes per game off the bench by the end of the season.

One of the ideas I've thrown out there is to play Gary Harris at point guard defensively, but in order to do that, a player like Valentine is needed as the primary ball handler at the shooting guard position. If the Nuggets believe that they need improve at the starting shooting guard, then drafting Valentine and pairing him with Harris, another Michigan State alum, off the bench would make for a dynamic pairing.

Projected Draft Spot

SB Nation - 10 (Milwaukee)

Draft Express - 12 (Utah)

CBS Sports (Vecenie) - 14 (Chicago)

Bleacher Report (Wasserman) - 11 (Orlando)

ESPN - 13 (Phoenix)

NBADraft.net - 16 (Boston)

Final Thoughts

Denzel Valentine became one of my favorite players to watch in all of college basketball last season. His approach to the game was very intelligent, and he excelled in every facet offensively. His season ended abruptly in one of the biggest upsets in the NCAA tournament, but the veteran Spartan still showed enough on film to be considered a quality first round pick this June.

The most interesting aspect of the projections for Valentine is that while most see him as a bench player, they see him as a high quality asset. As evidenced by his landing in the late lottery, he has value as a contributor with two NBA level skills in outside shooting and passing. The Nuggets, along with 29 other teams, could utilize a player with Valentine's skills. With no true creator for others in the second unit outside of the point guards, Michael Malone could deploy Valentine in many ways.

His range of 10-14 in these mock drafts seems about right, and based on the large variety of teams that could select him in these mock drafts, it remains unlikely that Valentine falls to 15. Could we draft him at 7? Yes. Should we? Probably not. I don't believe in reaching for players, even if they fit well, if there are better players on the board.

That said, if Valentine lasts until 15, I would be very happy to draft him. He makes the jobs of players around him much easier because of his ability to space the floor and hit the open man with a crisp pass. I am a big believer in Denzel Valentine, and he should be a major contributor in the NBA for several years. Hopefully, he's doing so in a Nuggets jersey.