Big Ten Award Spotlight: Does Denzel Valentine Deserve Recognition?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 20th, 2014

The phrase “glue guy” is used almost to the point of it being a cliche. It’s thrown around by announcers almost every game to describe players, many of whom simply aren’t very good or have much of a lasting impact. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine has been neither of those things this season: He’s been very good in his sophomore campaign, and he has made a significant and necessary impact for the 21-5 Spartans. He’s been the almost-literal definition of a glue guy, as he’s one of only two Michigan State players to have played in all 26 games during an injury-riddled season for a team that still has a chance to make the Final Four in Arlington and cut down the nets. But has he done enough to merit all-Big Ten consideration?

Denzel Valentine has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long for Michigan State. (Eric Gay, AP)

Denzel Valentine has been stuffing the stat sheet all season long for Michigan State. (Eric Gay, AP)

Before laying out the case statistically for Valentine and his impact, here’s a comparison to consider:

  • Player A: 25.5 MPG, 9.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
  • Player B: 29.0 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Player A is Draymond Green’s sophomore numbers, and player B is Denzel Valentine’s sophomore numbers. As you can see, they aren’t all that different. Green played more out of the post, but both players have filled similar roles early in their careers. Neither were asked to score, but they were both counted on by Tom Izzo to distribute the ball, hit the glass, and defend their butts off. Green was named to the all-Big Ten third team in his sophomore season, so it’s not all that far-fetched that Valentine would earn similar recognition this season. Consider his impact: He’s currently the only player to rank in the league’s top 10 in both rebounds and assists; he’s in the top 20 in steals (13th); and he’s fifth with a 2:1 assist to turnover rate. Whether his numbers are a bit inflated because of how many players Michigan State has had injured is irrelevant — his level of production is still quite solid.

Numbers, though, only really tell half of the Valentine story here. Izzo’s optimal starting lineup has been fractured completely. Gary Harris has missed three games; Adreian Payne has missed seven; Keith Appling has missed three; and Branden Dawson has missed eight. Valentine has suited up in green and white in each and every game, picking up his teammates’ slack in different areas where needed. He’s led the Spartans in rebounds nine times and in assists 10 times. Without his backfilling, who knows what Michigan State’s record would look like as of today?

It will be interesting to see how Valentine is considered for any of the all-B1G spots. It will largely be determined by what the coaches and writers decide to do with his more injury-prone teammates. Appling was in the running for Player of the Year before he started missing time. Harris is in the running for the same honor and will probably be on the first team regardless. Payne could move into the same spot with a strong finish in his last five games. In reality, Valentine might get lost in the shuffle of all the talented Spartans a little bit. His contributions to his team this season shouldn’t be overlooked, however. He’s been the most steady presence on a squad that could still win the Big Ten regular season title. Anything less than an honorable mention would be a gross oversight. Keep an eye on him the rest of the way.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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