Antonio Blakeney

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

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Justin Holiday shines again

It's pretty evident who the leader of the Bulls is through the preseason. Whether he wanted it or not - and it seems like he did - Justin Holiday is the go-to man in Chicago. He finished his impressive presason with a 17-point outing against the Raptors, including 6-for-12 shooting, four 3-pointers, a steal and a block in 28 minutes. He even added four assists, showing some playmaking to go along with his scoring. He finishes the preseason averaging 17.2 points on 44 percent shooting, 57 percent (!!) from deep and 1.6 steals. He and LaVine will be fun to watch together on the wing.

Lauri Markkanen's jumper stays confident

Lauri Markkanen's NBA career got off to a rough start. But he's more than righted the ship. Gone is the 1-for-9 performance in his first outing, and in is the 11-for-21 he shot in his final two games. That included 7-for-12 from deep, and he even added seven rebounds on Friday against Toronto. Markkanen has plenty of weight to put on before he can hang inside - Toronto's tough interior pushed him around quite a bit in his 29 minutes - but this was another step in the right direction for Markkanen, whose back issues seemed non-existent.

Jerian Grant flirts with a triple-double

Jerian Grant was likely to earn the starting point guard job out of training camp even if Kris Dunn didn't get injured, and tonight would have solidified it. Grant had 10 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 27 efficient minutes. Though Kyle Lowry had his way (17 points in 26 minutes) that was more or less to be expected. But Grant was confident stepping into his shot, played aggressive on defense (two steals, two fouls) and found plenty of open shooters. The Bulls may struggle this season, but Fred Hoiberg has to be happy starting a backcourt of Grant and Holiday.

Bobby Portis: Some good, some really bad

Bobby Portis has had a not-so-great preseason, so it was nice to see him score 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grab four rebounds in his preseason finale. Then again, he played 18 minutes and somehow committed eight turnovers. Between losing balls in traffic, errant passes and some head-scratching decisions, it was tough to call Portis' night a success. He should find time on the second unit, but he needs to show improvement in all areas, not just scoring.

Antonio Blakeney gives it one (nine) last shot(s)

It'd be nice to see a great story like Antonio Blakeney stick on the Bulls' roster, and he made sure he was remembered in his final preseason game. In 20 minutes he took nine shots, hitting three for nine points. He didn't record any other stat but three fouls in his time on the floor, and was a -21 as the Raptors rode away with the win in the fourth quarter. But we're putting him here because there's a chance he can make the Bulls' roster, especially with LaVine out and Zipser potentially needing to miss time.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls open preseason play against Pelicans

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USA TODAY

Five Things to Watch: Bulls open preseason play against Pelicans

1. All the new faces: The Bulls have 12 players in training camp who were not on the team a year ago. The headliners are there in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Nikola Mirotic, but with what should be one of the youngest rosters in the league there are plenty of roster spots up for grabs. Former five-star recruit Diamond Stone, Summer League standout Antonio Blakeney and athletic combo guard David Nwaba are a few names to watch as preseason begins and decisions are made.

2. The return on Jimmy: The Bulls’ rebuild will be clearer after next year’s draft, but fans will always go back to the one trade that sent them into this phase. Trading a top-15 talent in Jimmy Butler must yield a return, and though Zach LaVine won’t play until the leaves change colors the progress of Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen will loom large. Dunn has a pretty clear path to the starting point guard position, while Markkanen could fight for minutes in a sixth man role behind newly paid Nikola Mirotic.

3. Big payday for Big Cris: The Bulls’ first move in free agency this summer was handing Cris Felicio a four-year, $32 million deal.  He’s just 25 years old and has shown steady improvement in each of his first two seasons. At the very least he’s a formidable backup moving forward in the rebuild. But if the Bulls move on from Robin Lopez (potentially sooner than later) it would thrust Felicio into a starting role. If he continues to progress he could be the center of the future. How he fits into Fred Hoiberg’s style is another question, but the Bulls continue to like what they see from him.

4. Feel-good story in Quincy Pondexter: The Bulls traded for Pondexter earlier this month, and it’s going to be difficult not to root for this guy. Multiple knee surgeries cost Pondexter each of the last two seasons. He now appears to be healthy and should see game action in the preseason. When healthy he was a formidable wing, averaging 5.3 points on 42 percent shooting and 2.0 rebounds in 279 career games for New Orleans and Memphis. He’s not going to make fans forget about Jimmy Butler, but it would be a great story if he can make the team and, more importantly, stay healthy.

5. Welcome back, Rajon! The Bulls are going to see more than a few old faces from last year’s team, and they’ll get one on Opening (preseason) Night. After the Bulls bought him out over the summer, Rajon Rondo signed a one-year, $3.3 million deal with the Pelicans. Rondo was a superb teammate and excellent mentor to some of the young Bulls he’ll face on Tuesday, so it’ll be fun to watch him interact with some of those players, including Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Cris Felicio.