Thanks to a slew of dynamite performances in the NBA Summer League, Antonio Blakeney found a spot on the Chicago Bulls’ roster. However, it’s the promise of Blakeney that just might showcase the guard’s untapped potential.
Before I start this diatribe, I’d like to note that watching the Chicago Bulls this year is going to be hard. However, if you watch this team knowing they’ll struggle, it’s easier to find excitement in the catalog of young talent.
One of my personal favorite members of the Bulls is 6-foot-5 rookie guard Antonio Blakeney. Now, because I’m a little bit crazy, I actually watched a handful of Summer League action. Due to the hype of Lonzo Ball and the display of versatility from Jordan Bell, the Bulls had their own Summer League stud.
Undrafted out of LSU, Blakeney went a little crazy in the Las Vegas portion of summer ball. In four games, averaging 26.8 minutes, the guard dropped 16.8 points and grabbed five rebounds per contest. Want to adjust that for points and boards per 36 minutes? He’d average 29.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Maybe I’m digging too far in to Summer League stats. Maybe I’m not. Let’s talk about this kid’s upside. GarPax saw enough upside to ink a two-way deal with the 21-year-old guard.
On Tuesday night in 12 minutes of action, Blakeney scored 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field, grabbing three rebounds. One of the most interesting parts of last night’s 113-109 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans was seeing the guard’s speed and vertical abilities on display.
On transition dunk at the 6:57 mark in the fourth quarter, Blakeney slammed the Bulls to a 100-96 lead. The dunk was fast, momentous and promising.
One of the things interesting about the guy was his recruiting prestige combined with lack-of-attention in college. Blakeney played sidekick to Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers in college.
As I’ve pointed out in the past, his college numbers were NBA draft-worthy. Averaging 17.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 2016-17 while shooting 45.8-percent from the field is good. However, credit a low-ish 35.8-percent three-point clip and a 10-21 finish by the Tigers as a huge factor in his draftlessness. (Is that a word? We’ll never know.)
For just a second, let’s assume Blakeney is at least an NBA replacement-level starter, just for fun.
The Bulls are essentially paying pocket change on a guy who’s looked really tough in preseason action. While Zach LaVine‘s potential is one of the things the Bulls purchased in the Jimmy Butler deal, it makes Blakeney a factor from both angles.
The league is trending away from traditional point guards for the scorers due to the Steph Curry basketball model. LaVine is a classic shooting guard, but it’s not inconceivable that he’ll bring the ball up the court with regularity.
This would perhaps factor Blakeney in as a starter if he continues to produce.
On the other hand, if you don’t see what you need to see in LaVine this season, you have flexibility. LaVine is a free agent at the end of the season and you’d have to assume he’s slated for a max deal. Blakeney is a guy who, if you can get a cheap deal done now, you can bring him back to start in 2018-19.
I’m a big fan of the guard. Perhaps I’m investing too much stock in an undrafted combo guard, but all Bulls fans can do for now is hope. This is a league that’s thrived on early draft picks. Blakeney would be an unheralded figure if he shines like he’s done thus far.
If nothing else, he’s certainly got potential to cause some scoring havoc in the right moments.