There weren’t many positives for the Chicago Bulls during this years NBA Summer League. Yet in the plethora of bad performances, there was one player who shined for the “SummerBulls”, Antonio Blakeney. The former LSU guard averaged 16.8 points while shooting a whopping 64.3% from three-point range during his time in Vegas. He certainly provided his share of highlights, and his hard work and effort was rewarded by the Bulls signing him to a two-way contract that lasts for two years.
By signing Blakeney, Chicago has invested in a player who has a lot to develop in his game (he’s turning merely 21 just before the regular season) but could turn out to be a useful role player in the future. Let’s take a look at what Blakeney can do .
The one thing that stood out in Blakeney’s Summer League performance was his offensive output. He showed the ability to get buckets in a hurry, using his quickness and craftiness to get to spots he wanted on the court.
Blakeney took a leap offensively in his sophomore year at LSU, going from 12.6 to 17.2 points per game. He was their leading scorer and their go-to guy offensively last season. By being the guy offensively, Blakeney was given the freedom to go and create shots for himself.
(0:50-1:00) Here he creates enough space on a mismatch and was able to hit a quick pull-up jumper before his man can recover. In the given play, LSU gives Blakeney the ball near the half court line and lets him go to work. He gets a pick at the top of the key and Kentucky big man Wenyen Gabriel gets switched onto Blakeney. The pick was initially suppose to come to Blakeney’s right but right before the screen is suppose to be set the roll man resets on the other side, catching the UK defenders off guard. Due to the confusion Blakeney is able get a head start towards the lane and forces Gabriel to make a quick recovery. Garbriel does a good job staying with Blakeney and is right on his hip when he reaches the free throw line. But Blakeney is able to stop on a dime, letting Gabriel run past him, and rises up for an open jumper.
His athleticism is also a big part of his game as he uses it to help him drive into the paint and get up to the rim. This also makes Blakeney effective in transition offense as it always helps when there’s a guy who can run and throw down a dunk in the open court. In the video above (2:13-2:21), Blakeney does a good job of recognizing Kentucky not getting back quick enough on defense following a turnover. Realizing this, he immediately attacks the basket, side steps the defender in front of him, and scores with ease. Although it’s nice to see him taking advantage of opportunities in transition by going to the hoop, his numbers when it comes to scoring around the rim needs to get better.
At LSU Blakeney was average from three, at 34.7%. While it’s certainly not a horrible percentage, it certainly needs to improve considering 35% of his attempts were from that distance (4.8 3PA per game in his senior year). In Summer League, however, he has shown flashes of becoming reliable threat from three-point range. When given space and in catch and shoot opportunities, Blakeney made opponents pay for leaving him open. Obviously Summer League is a very small sample size, so while playing in the G-League, a thing to look for is Blakeney’s three-point shooting.
Blakeney also needs to also become a more versatile offensive player, more specifically when it comes to making plays for his teammates. He only averaged 1.3 assists per game during his career at LSU. In the G-League, teams will double Blakeney coming off screens or crowd him in the lane knowing he is unlikely to pass out or move the ball to an open teammate. If he can start making plays for his teammates, it’ll eventually open up space for him to operate in isolation.
There are some key things for him to work on, but there is a lot to like about Antonio Blakeney’s offensive game. Most specifically when it comes to his athleticism and scoring, which increases his upside/potential.
Registering -2.5 defensive box plus/minus at LSU last season, it’s clear defense wasn’t Antonio Blakeney’s strength. This is the area where growth is needed more than anything. It will help Blakeney get more minutes if he’s more refined on the defensive end.
At 6’4, Blakeney is likely going to be facing guys in this league who are much bigger than him. His height doesn’t really help him out when it comes to guarding shooting guards and wings plus his length won’t help him either when it comes to contesting jumpers.
Blakeney’s going to have to make the most of his skills he has, which is his athleticism and quickness. That’s going to aid him in sticking with guys on drives or off the ball. With length and height against him, the ideal situation would be for Blakeney to be at least a decent defender against 1’s and 2’s and be able to at least hold is own against smaller wings.
Like mentioned earlier, defense is the place where Blakeney needs to improve the most. He’s going to have to put a lot of effort there to improve his chances if he wants to be called up. His size is working against him but the quickness could help him at least not be a total negative on that end.
At age 20, there is a lot of room for Antonio Blakeney to grow as a player. Signing a guy to a two-way contract is a low risk move, and having the contract run for two years is a plus too. With his scoring and athletic ability, Blakeney could be a real fun player to watch in the G-League this season. But he has to improve in other aspects of his game to get a shot in the NBA. On a two-way deal, Blakeney can only spend a maximum of 45 days with the big club, but the ideal future for him is becoming a spark off the bench there.