Denzel Valentine’s only been with Michigan State for two years. However, there have been times when he's given off the senior feeling—and that’s a good thing. The Spartans are known for veteran leadership, and Valentine’s contributions—some of which are beyond his years—will, in part, make or break Tom Izzo’s team in 2014-15.
At 6’5” and about 220 pounds, Valentine has the size to physically dominate as a large 2 or 1. But due to his overall game, he also has the ability to shine as a slightly undersized 3. Constantly evolving, the soon-to-be-junior continuously demonstrates take-charge abilities and game-changing tactics.
He’s never been a high-profile scorer. But he can fill it up when he wants to.
He’s not quite Magic Johnson with the assists, either. But he’s broken out the showtime passes on more than one occasion:
In short, Valentine is ideal for Izzo, who is known for molding recruits into quintessential collegiate ballers. Case in point: Adreian Payne, and several others like him.
Although different as a player, Valentine is set to make a similar sophomore-to-junior jump as Payne made two years ago. As it turned out, the former Spartans big man transformed into the player he was meant to be: A star.
Why should it be any different for Valentine? He's arguably more polished than Payne was during the same stretch of his career and has the potential to become a true general for Michigan State, which suffered a loss in the Elite Eight this past March.
Don't expect anything less than value from Valentine. Yes, value. Statistics are one thing, but Valentine brings much more than a few baskets and nice passes to the fold. He's one of the smartest athletes on the roster and he comes from a true basketball family.
He was basically born to do this.
Valentine can shoot the lights out when he chooses to do so. But as mentioned above, he's never been a highlight scorer in college. But he's becoming more effective and dangerous.
As a freshman, Valentine struggled to bury three-pointers versus Big Ten competition, sinking roughly 29 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, per Sports-Reference.com. However, he bounced back in 2013-14 with a head-turning .396 rate as a second-yearer for Izzo. As a whole, he finished the year with a mark of .377.
Hitting better than or dangerously close to 40 percent from long range would be incredible. Not many guys can put together that sort of stretch for an entire season.
But Valentine can. Expect his three-point shooting to take another step in the right direction.
Basically, Valentine is a poised athlete who knows how to follow a game plan. He's a great half-court, catch-and-shoot option, but he can also drive to the basket and finish with emphasis. Don't forget, he's pushing 6'6" and has hops of his own.
With that being said, his half-court game is getting better all of the time; it's his full-court game that needs work. Turnovers are always a problem, especially while in transition (or full court). This past year, Valentine wasn't exactly turnover-prone, but he wasn't a poster boy for ball control either.
His average took a slight dip, dropping from 2.0 to 1.8 "my bads" per game. Think back, and you'll remember several of his errant passes sailing into the stands—those were the best-case scenarios. The worst-case scenarios were when teams took advantage of the gift and converted it into points on the other end.
Without Gary Harris, Valentine's shooting touch becomes more important. Without Keith Appling, though, his need for ball security drives through the roof. In all likelihood, he'll be a score-first, pass-second threat for Izzo, who looks to replace both point production and size.
On the Rebound
Don't expect Valentine to post up like Payne and snatch every loose ball, but don't be surprised to see him work the interior more often. Branden Dawson, the team's best rebounder, will need assistance. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling are growing into their roles, and the Spartans are on the hunt for more help on the glass.
Believe it or not, Valentine isn't just a fill-in guy in that department, he's actually one of the better candidates. As a sophomore, he was No. 9 in the Big Ten with an 18.2 percent defensive rebound share, per Sports-Reference.com. Basically, nearly one of every five Michigan State defensive boards belonged to Valentine.
For most of this past year, the Spartans weren't the Spartans when it came to rebounding. Somehow, in terms of percentage, they ended up as the league's No. 2 defensive rebounding unit (.725). Of course, Valentine was there to lend a hand as his team grabbed 26.1 defensive boards per game, No. 3 in the league.
Valentine's role will be part guard and part forward, mixed with a dash of everything else. He knows the game well and has proved himself as a valuable—there's that word again—component to his team.
Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling are honorable mention All-Big Ten by coaches and media. Valentine is MSU's sportsmanship award winner.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) March 10, 2014
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81