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NBA AM: It’s Not Easy Being A Rookie In The NBA

After leading college basketball last year, Chicago’s Denzel Valentine is now struggling to find minutes in the NBA.

Steve Kyler

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Not Easy Being A Rookie

Last year, Chicago Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine was leading Michigan State in virtually every category that matters in basketball. He was the focal point of the team and ended up being named the Big Ten Player of the Year and the AP Player of The Year and landed in Chicago by way of the 14th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

This season, things have been very different for Valentine, and to say it’s been an adjustment might be a big understatement.

“I’m just trying to make the most of my minutes and get a rhythm out there and help the team as much as I can,” Valentine told Basketball Insiders.

Playing time this season has been spotty and Valentine is trying to keep the big picture in focus.

“You’ve just got to be more mentally prepared at this level,” Valentine said. “You’ve got to know how to work hard and stay in shape at the same time. Don’t kill yourself, too, because it’s a lot of down time, free time, stuff like that. You’ve just got to learn how to stay ready—not physically, but mentally as well.”

Valentine is surrounded by veterans like Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and even three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, who have literally been there and done that. He’s trying to glean as much from them as he can.

“I’m glad that we have vets like that, that I can look up to and learn things from. I’m glad I’m able to learn from them,” Valentine said.

The Bulls have crossed the 45-game mark, which, for most college players is more than a full collegiate season. And still, there are three more months left to play. Nonetheless, Valentine says he’s adjusting to the pace and lifestyle of the NBA and starting to find a groove.

“It’s a lot with traveling and all the games that we play,” Valentine said. “I just try to watch what the vets do a little bit, observe and listen to the coaches and try to work off them. I’m just absorbing a lot my rookie year and trying to learn the most that I can.”

It would be easy for a player who played such a big role just a season ago to be frustrated with a smaller role, especially on a Bulls team that’s struggled to find a consistent identity, but Valentine is trying to see the big picture and learn as much as he can from the experience.

“I’ve just got to keep continuing to make the most of my minutes when I get in there,” Valentine said. “I don’t have to go in there and make something drastic happen, [like] make a lot of plays. Just make simple plays, make my own shots, play defense and hopefully, I can keep gaining rhythm and confidence in the coaches to keep putting me out there and playing me.”

Among “true” rookies this season, Valentine is posting 3.3 points per game and 1.6 assists per game. His 6.27 PER rating ranks him 27th in the rookie class, a far cry from his production a season ago when he was among to top players in college basketball.

For some players, it might be too frustrating to take such a drastic step backward, but for Valentine, he’s trying to take it all in stride and understand that the path forward is what he’s working toward.

The Insiders Podcast

Basketball Insiders Senior NBA writer Michael Scotto and producer Brian Fritz discuss the All-Star starting snub of Russell Westbrook, the underwhelming New York Knicks and the NBA trade market. They’re also joined by special guest Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers as he discusses his individual growth, where the Pacers are headed in the second half of the season and the Eastern Conference overall.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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