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Despite inconsistent play, Denzel Valentine remains confident in his game

Photos of the Bulls’ 2016 first-round draft pick.

Whenever Fred Hoiberg is asked what position Denzel Valentine is, the Bulls’ coach gives the same answer.

"He’s a basketball player," Hoiberg says.

Last summer his ballhandling and playmaking abilities gave momentum to the idea Valentine even might log backup point guard minutes during his rookie season. Instead, Valentine suffered the first of two badly sprained ankles to miss all of training camp, never fully gained the coaching staff’s trust defensively and, with Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade dominating the ball, became basically a spot-up shooter the rare times he landed in the rotation.

This summer has been another attempt to push Valentine into more of a playmaking role. And the early returns have been mixed.

Through his first three summer league games in Las Vegas, Valentine averaged 10.3 points on 27.3 percent shooting with nine turnovers and eight assists. He has struggled to find separation as a ballhandler and also displayed questionable decision-making at times.

"I’m pretty confident," Valentine said when asked about his struggles. "I work hard in the gym every day, so I know what I am. Just depending on what team you’re on and who you have on your team, what role you play in … (playmaking) wasn’t my role last year. But I think the opportunity is going to come."

Some combination of Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant projects to split the point guard minutes. But Hoiberg’s offense also dictates that whichever wing gets the rebound can go with the ball.

Photos from the Bulls’ summer-league games in Las Vegas.

It’s a wrinkle that Valentine likes.

"Fred has been saying, ‘You know if you get the rebound just go,’ and then I initiate the offense," Valentine said. "So that’s what I like about his offense. Pretty much everybody touches the ball if you do it the right way. Everybody is playing together, making plays for one another and trying to get the best shot.”

Valentine has had no issues with the left ankle that he had scoped in mid-May. And across the board, coaches rave about his work ethic and practice habits.

As the 14th pick in the 2016 draft, Valentine knows he has the opportunity to put an underwhelming rookie season behind him. With Butler and Rondo gone, he said he wants to take on more of a leadership role.

But improved on-court play is what the Bulls need the most.

"We’re a team looking for somebody to step up. Everybody is in the NBA for a reason," Valentine said. "I can go down and name plenty of names of people who didn’t come in (the league) being a superstar and then they’re a superstar now. So who’s to say that we can’t do the same thing? That’s how I feel.”

Twitter @kcjhoop