It’s a straight dribble drive to the basket, elevating above his opponents, the ball securely gripped between two hands, and Antonio Blakeney throws down the thunderous dunk. No frills, no double clutches, no windmilling arms, just two more reliable points.
Like the rest of the Bulls young talent, Antonio Blakeney is poised to make an impact on the NBA this season. Unless training camp goes poorly, he is probably going to be Zach LaVine’s primary backup at the 2 guard position. With a fresh guaranteed contract, the ink still drying on the signatures, Blakeney enters his second pro season with the confidence of knowing he’s made it. No more splitting time between the big club and the G-League Windy City Bulls. He is living the dream.
It’s time for Blakeney to raise some eyebrows with the Chicago Bulls. Last season, he was named the G-League Rookie of the Year. He averaged 32 points a game, with 6.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. The potential of his scoring ability seemingly mirrors that of Zach LaVine.
Going back and watching video from Summer League, it’s obvious that Blakeney has improved his overall game even in the short time since the end of last season. It’s clear that he has been focusing on being more than just a scorer. He was more involved with running the offense for the Summer League Bulls, taking some of the lead ball handling responsibilities, acting as a playmaker, and putting more effort into his defensive game. It’s these improvements that should propel him from “too good for the G-League/not good enough for the NBA” status, to a legitimate NBA rotation player. The Bulls are certainly banking on this being the case.
Like most fans, I’m expecting big things from Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr, and Kris Dunn. I believe LaVine needs to prove he deserves his contract, and Jabari Parker needs to prove he can fit on this team. The bar is set very high for these core players. All eyes are focused on them.
With all the pressure on the core of this rebuild, Antonio Blakeney has a real chance to emerge from the shadows this season. He is a pure scoring guard. He scores from off the dribble, from beyond the arc, curling around screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities, at the rim, slashing through the lane, spotting up for three or mid-range or half-court. The only place you don’t see him scoring from very often is the low post. Everywhere else, he’s money.
I feel Blakeney will be a solid back up for LaVine. He should do well with the second unit, playing along side Cameron Payne and Bobby Portis. I can see those three really pushing the pace, running opponents ragged in transition. The only other players I can see taking minutes away from Blakeney at the 2 would be Denzel Valentine and Justin Holiday. With Holiday seemingly on his way out, Valentine poses the biggest threat to Blakeney’s spot in the rotation.
Denzel Valentine is a completely different player than Antonio Blakeney. Valentine plays at a much slower pace. He is a crafty playmaker, skilled at passing, and better at grabbing rebounds. They both shoot the ball well from three point range, and they both struggle defensively. Where Blakeney has the edge over Valentine is in his explosive athleticism, speed, ability to create off the dribble, and his talent for getting to the hoop. Also, Blakeney’s pace of play seems to fit better with Coach Hoiberg’s offense. I think this will be enough to secure his spot in the rotation.
With all eyes on his big name teammates, this is Antonio Blakeney’s year. There’s a clear path to the basket. His dream of being an NBA player is secure between his two hands. All he has to do is elevate past the competition and jam his future home.
If you have the time, check out this awesome 6 part documentary about Antonio Blakeney. I found it on the Home Team Hoops YouTube channel. It was made by Ryan Currie and is titled “Be Great.”
I used a quote from Blakeney’s trainer, Mark Edwards, in episode 1 of the documentary for the title of this post “We getting right to the basket and finishing. No spin moves here, homie!” It’s the best way to describe how Antonio Blakeney plays. No wasted effort. Everything done with a purpose. No spin moves here.
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