By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — On a Monday in which you knew the grandiose platitudes would flow — that’s what introductory press conferences are for — one of the more telling comments came from Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who addressed the point guard question mark on his team following last week’s shocking trade of Derrick Rose.
“You don’t have to have maybe the pure point guard in there if you have multiple ball-handlers,” Hoiberg said.
Seated directly to Hoiberg’s right at the Advocate Center while he said this was first-round pick Denzel Valentine, whom the Bulls selected out of Michigan Sate at No. 14 overall on Thursday night. While general manager Gar Forman has remarked that the 6-foot-6 Valentine’s true position is probably as a shooting guard in the NBA, foremost on the Bulls’ mind is his ability to make plays. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands, having served as the de facto point guard for Tom Izzo and the Spartans in his senior season.
It’s those traits of Valentine’s that Chicago needs to help fill the void of Rose, whom for eight years the Bulls constructed a team around, a task made difficult by his injuries. Now, the Bulls are headed in a new direction, one without a traditional point guard serving as the fulcrum of the offense.
Instead, the burden of play-making will fall on All-Star wing Jimmy Butler and, to some degree, Valentine as well.
“The thing I like the most about Denzel is his versatility,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a basketball player. That’s the big thing I got from talking to Coach Izzo, is you can play him all over the court. He’s a facilitator. He’s an excellent positional rebounder. He can bust out with the ball. And he gives you the opportunity to play in so many ways. He can get into the paint, and he’s always going to make the right decision.”
In the mix at point guard for Chicago are veteran Jose Calderon, second-year pro Jerian Grant and perhaps a free-agent addition, with their own E’Twaun Moore on the radar. Also on the roster is third-year pro Spencer Dinwiddie.
Whether Valentine is on track to start is still unclear. He’ll battle Doug McDermott (and Mike Dunleavy if he’s not traded) for playing time, and we’ll know more after free agency. What’s more certain is that they envision a big role for him right away, because he opens up possibilities.
“He’s a downhill guy and can get into the paint and make plays,” Hoiberg said. “He can shoot. You look at a guy like Jimmy Butler, if you give him the ball coming off a step-up ball screens and you have floor spacers, it’s going to allow him to get in the lane and kick out for guys who can make shots — like Denzel, like Jose Calderon.
“Denzel attacks. The more guys you have who can get into the paint, the better off you’re going to be and your offensive efficiency numbers should go way up. Denzel is smart.”
More and more often last season, the Bulls turned to Butler as their primary facilitator and go-to guy in high screen-roll, so they have some experience with that style. Time will tell how these pieces fit together — and it’s incumbent on Hoiberg to make it work — but Valentine’s excited to get started.
He believes he’ll be a fit next to Butler, who reached out to Valentine not long after he was drafted.
“I like Jimmy Butler a lot,” Valentine said. “He’s tough. He’s not afraid compete and get after it, no matter who he’s playing against. I really that. He’s really developed his offensive. If you pass him the ball, he’s going to get a bucket. Playing with players like that, I get more assists. It will be good playing with him and everybody.”
Notes: In an unusual move and in a nod to their revamping, the Bulls will have five players on their roster play in the Summer League in Las Vegas: Dinwidde, Grant, Valentine, Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis. Doug McDermott will also practice with that group before it leaves for Las Vegas … Forman confirmed that there were no changes on the Bulls’ bench regarding assistant coaches. There had been some speculation that Randy Brown could be moved to a front office role.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.