Jim Boylen only has one game under his belt as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, but one thing that has carried over from Fred Hoiberg’s final days as coach is the absence of explosive guard Antonio Blakeney in the rotation.
In a story filed by Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, it was stated (from a source close to the team) that Blakeney yelled at Hoiberg in front of the bench during a late November game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Mayberry’s story went on to mention that despite the apparent show of disrespect, Hoiberg later re-inserted Blakeney into that very game.
Blakeney has since denied that this happened:
All respect to you and your sources but never have I once said that to coach Fred ! #FakeNews— Antonio Blakeney (@blakeney96) December 5, 2018
Whether or not the situation went down exactly as detailed in the story, it is clear that something needs to change for Blakeney to get back in favor with this coahing staff.
And when looking strictly at the on-the-court factors, it is clear that he needs to get into the mindset of leveraging his scoring prowess to set up his teammates for good shots. That is why Bulls fans should be encouraged by his mindfulness, which he showed in a recent interview with Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops.
During the interview Blakeney elaborated on what he feels he needs to prove now that he is a legitimate NBA player, rather than a two-way contract overachiever trying to fight his way into the league:
I think just showing my playmaking....
He went on to discuss that despite what most may assume about him as a player, he is very much capable of making plays for others. Blakeney discussed making the simple play, which is something the Bulls—averaging over 15 turnovers per game—could definitely use more of.
Blakeney is lightning quick and has turned into quite the 3-point shooter, knocking down an elite 44 percent of his 2.5 attempts from 3-point range per game. But when you compare the offensive rating of Blakeney—the superior offensive player by the eye test—to Ryan Arcidiacono, you notice that 'Arci' outproduces Blakeney by about 3 points per 100 possessions.
This is important to note because Blakeney is averaging a whopping 18 shot attempts per 36 minutes, a figure that is 3rd on the Bulls behind Markkanen and LaVine.
On top of that, he is averaging less assists (1.1) and more turnovers (1.8) per game than last season. Arcidiacono has a very low usage rate but makes himself a more effective player by focusing strictly on 3-point shooting (over 70 percent of his shot attempts are 3-pointers) and passing (19 percent assist rate).
As a player now proven to be an NBA-level talent, the next step in Blakeney’s development is assessing what his team needs rather than just always relying on his scoring.
The point of combing through these numbers wasn’t to say Blakeney is a bad player. Arcidiacono’s numbers were used as a comparison simply to show that a player who is not shooting the 3-pointer as well as Blakeney and doesn’t have his speed, is playing more effectively.
But Blakeney can catch up by trying to balance his—sometimes reckless—forays to the rim and jumpshots out with passes to open shooters.
All metrics point to Blakeney playing a little bit more selfishly this year. This is to be taken with a grain of salt, as the Bulls have obviously been short on scoring options this season. But through 23 games—tracked by NBA.com—Blakeney has been dead-last in passes made, just as he was last season.
Now that he has made these statements about having serious playmaking ability, he needs to show it. But it is important to remember, Blakeney is just 22-years old and has a ton of time to grow as a player. Bulls fans should be extremely encouraged by the simple fact that he has the mindfulness to know what he needs to work on.
It is not as if he has never shown the ability to facilitate either. He averaged 3.9 assists per game during the 2017-18 NBA G League season in his time with the Windy City Bulls. During that G League stint, he had the ball in his hands an incredible amount. Blakeney led the G League in scoring that season as well. It would seem that he is more comfortable as a passer in a high-usage role, but that is something he cannot expect with the makeup of this current Bulls roster.
The G League version of Blakeney got assists out of the pick-and-roll and kick-outs to open shooters once he blew by his defender. In the NBA, the Bulls stick him in the corner on occasion to take advantage of his 3-point shooting and oftentimes get him going with dribble-handoff plays.
Still sleeping on @blakeney96?— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) November 3, 2018
Though the #Bulls lost another game that went down to the final shot, Antonio Blakeney stayed hot with a career high 22 points on 9-13 shooting, including a huge four-point play to tie the game in the final minute: pic.twitter.com/qGoG7rzO2W
Similar to Jabari Parker, Blakeney has a habit for getting his defender off-balance, only to bail him out with a hurried mid range jump shot. He needs to keep pressing to get into that 0-3 feet from the basket range, where a player with his reputation surely would draw enough attention to free up a teammate for an open look.
Kris Dunn will likely be back soon, shrinking the guard rotation even further. Shaq Harrison, Cam Payne and Arcidiacono all saw playing time over Blakeney (DNP-Coach’s decision) in Boylen’s one game as head coach, showing that he may be comfortable sticking with some form of that rotation once Dunn returns. But if Blakeney can improve his attention to detail and make a real effort to get others involved, Boylen will have a hard time keeping him out of the rotation.