In the months leading up to the 2015-16 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the 'BTPowerhouse 25,' which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.
Welcome back to BT Powerhouse's countdown of the best 25 basketball players in the Big Ten! Today we're going to talk about one of my personal favorite guys to watch over the past three years: Michigan State senior forward Denzel Valentine. Can the jack-of-all-trades lead the Spartans back to greatness after they reached the Final Four last April?
‘BTP 25'- #5 Denzel Valentine
- Eligibility: Senior
- Career Totals: 113 games, 3160 minutes, 1050 points, 622 rebounds, 398 assists
- 2014-15 Averages: 33.2 min, 14.5 pts, 6.3 rbs, 4.3 asts, 0.2 blks, 0.9 stls
- Positional Role: Small Forward
As talented as he is, Valentine was not the most exciting prospect recruited by Michigan State in the class of 2012. That would be Gary Harris, the explosive shooting guard who spent two seasons in East Lansing before joining the Denver Nuggets on an NBA contract. Valentine isn't as promising a pro prospect, but he still has a chance to make a big impact at the next level just like Draymond Green, who graduated from Michigan State months before Valentine played hist first game as a freshman.
It might be optimistic to think that Valentine could be quite as good as Green, who was Big Ten Player of the Year in 2011-12 and won an NBA title last year as a valuable member of the Golden State Warriors. However, there are similarities between the two Spartans. Both players don't have one specific part of their games that stands out, but rather excel in several different areas. While Green started out as a great rebounder and built on his shooting and passing skills as he matured, Valentine was always a great passer for his position, which helped him get serious minutes as a freshman. In the last two seasons, he's become a much stronger shooter and rebounder.
Last year, Valentine grabbed 18 percent of available defensive boards and knocked down 42 percent of his three-point shots. If those rates continue to improve in 2015-16, we might have another Player of the Year candidate on our hands.
Areas For Improvement
One thing that could hold Valentine back, both this season and in the future, is his lack of aggressiveness. Even though he measures up at 6-foot-5-inches and 220 pounds, Valentine took more than half of his shots from beyond the arc last year. With just 3.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, Valentine helped lead a Spartans squad that probably settled for more jump shots than head coach Tom Izzo would have liked.
Valentine also isn't a very intimidating defender, as he averaged fewer than one block and one steal per game in 2014-15. As a small forward, he's not working in the paint all the time, but Valentine can still afford to use his athleticism a little more this season. Last year, he averaged just 2.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Obviously, fouls are a bad thing, but in this case, it could be a sign of Valentine being too timid on defense. With his ability to guard multiple positions, the senior should be an asset on both ends for Izzo.
I'm a big fan of forwards who can pass, so I've liked Valentine ever since he stepped onto Michigan State's campus. Over the past three years, he's developed into quite the productive player, but this coming season, there will be more eyes on him than ever before. With Travis Trice graduating and Tum Tum Nairn struggling on offense in 2014-15, Valentine will be counted on to lead the Spartan attack in both scoring and assists. There's also going to be a great need for his defensive skills with the versatile Branden Dawson departing for the NBA. If Valentine can increase his aggressiveness in the paint while maintaining his excellent shooting and passing ability, he'll be a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year and perhaps even a spot on the national All-American team. If not, Michigan State will probably take a step back this season and fail to advance past the Sweet 16.
- Players That Just Missed The Cut
- #25 - Kendrick Nunn (Illinois)
- #24 - Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern)
- #22 (tie) Rasheed Sulaimon (Maryland)
- #22 (tie) - Thomas Bryant (Indiana)
- #21 - Rapheal Davis (Purdue)
- #20 - Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan)
- #19 - Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)
- #18 - Shavon Shields (Nebraska)
- #17 - Eron Harris (Michigan State)
- #16 - Zak Irvin (Michigan)
- #15 - Jae'Sean Tate (Ohio State)
- #14 - Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin)
- #13 - Alex Olah (Northwestern)
- #11 (tie) - Diamond Stone (Maryland)
- #11 (tie) - James Blackmon, Jr. (Indiana)
- #10 - Malcolm Hill (Illinois)
- #9 - Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)
- #8 - Jake Layman (Maryland)
- #7 - Troy Williams (Indiana)
- #6 - Caris LeVert (Michigan)
- #5 - Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
- #4 - To be continued ...