If you are looking for a plug-and-play prospect to come out of this draft, look no further than Denzel Valentine from Michigan State.
Valentine was the NCAA's National Player of the Year for his work as a scorer, rebounder, defender and playmaker for the Spartans in 2015-16. He produced one of the most versatile and productive stat lines in NCAA history.
- Height: 6'6" (in shoes, which are required to play NBA basketball)
- Weight: 210
- Age: 22 (will be 23 in November)
- Wingspan: 6'10.75"
- Agent: #notKlutch
Latest DX mock draft position
Valentine was the glue on the Michigan State team that exceeded expectations, providing scoring, playmaking and rebounding as well as solid defense all season long.
This guy is a player and a leader. His coach, Tom Izzo, couldn't stop raving about Valentine all last season and there was great reason.
Of all the prospects on the draft board, the 6'6" 22 year old Valentine could be voted the most likely to earn a productive rotation spot on a solid team from day one. He looks like a veteran and plays like one. He is the only player in the last 30 years to average 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game, according to DraftExpress.com. Penny Hardaway and Evan Turner are the closest comparisons over that time, in terms of productivity.
On a Suns team desperately in need of playmakers all over the floor, Valentine could provide that skill in spades from the wing. He has really great floor vision, knows how to set up teammates for scores and often finds a great scoring pass out of double and triple teams, showing that he's got great focus under duress.
Here's a triple double Valentine tossed up against Kansas this past year. Some of these passes couldn't have been made by anyone on the Suns this past year. And on the scoring end, that one-handed floater in the lane is a perfect way to score against more athletic defenders.
Watch the profile video made by Mike Schmitz for DX
But of course, there's another side to the story.
Valentine is most definitively NOT the next Penny Hardaway. Hardaway came out of college as an elite athlete who could do anything he wanted on the court and until he started having knee/injury issues that's exactly what Hardaway brought to the table.
Valentine is no Hardaway.
From a physical standpoint, Valentine has good size for either guard position, standing around 6'6 in shoes, with a long 6'10 wingspan. He has a heavy set frame that he's done his best to maximize, but will continually require toning as his career moves on, and is not a great athlete by any stretch, lacking much in the way of quickness and explosiveness.
He's also "old". Valentine will be 23 in November, while other prospects at his position will be a lot younger. Taurean Prince will be 22 all next season, Timothe Luwawu will be 21 and Jaylen Brown will be 20.
When it comes to Valentine, you're likely seeing the best he's going to get right now.
Let's take a look at those weaknesses more closely, thanks to DX.
It's lazy to compare NBA prospects to NBA veterans. But I'm lazy, so let's do it anyway.
Valentine's physical profile might better resemble Jared Dudley than Penny Hardaway. Once I had that vision, I've been unable to shake it. Valentine will spend his whole career working to stay in shape, and having to figure out smart ways to play defense in a league with players a lot more athletic and talented than he. Dudley figured it out - even becoming, at one point, a defender to rely on. Remember when Dudley was considered a good option to defend the league's best wings?
A player Valentine better resembles as a player, though, is Evan Turner. Turner, a one-time #2 overall pick who now appears to have reached his career apex as a role player on a playoff team (Celtics), has made a career of being pretty good at passing, pretty good at rebounding (for his position) and pretty good at scoring when expected to score.
Where Valentine projects better than Turner though is in shooting. Valentine made 44% of his threes last year on 7.5 attempts per game. He will be able to stretch the floor from day one, an area where Turner really struggled his whole career.
Fit with the Suns
If you ascribe to the theory that the Suns just need to get healthy and their current roster makeup only needs some tweaking to make the playoffs, then Valentine is a perfect prospect for the next three years or so.
If you slot Valentine's passing, shooting and versatility into a lineup that features score-first guards like Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, maybe the Suns will actually have a mid-pack assist ratio. The Suns really could use some passing and playmaking from the three spot, in a rotation with T.J. Warren.
With Valentine on the team, you don't have to dip into free agency to overpay for Nicolas Batum or Harrison Barnes. Valentine is a plug-and-play guy who can get 20+ minutes a night from day one and mix and match on the wing with various lineups including any of Warren, P.J. Tucker, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe. He can be the PG, SG or SF, or even a PF in some small-small lineups.
But if you're a 'rebuild' proponent who's looking for prospects with the highest NBA ceiling, then drafting a kid to play small forward who's already 23 in November is not the smartest choice. And placing Valentine next to Booker on the wing would make the Suns a virtual sieve on defense.
I'm more in the latter camp than anything, so I'd pass on Valentine in favor of an SF who can defend, shoot and score and won't reach his athletic peak for years.