The Bulls showed their commitment to Antonio Blakeney this offseason by signing the young guard to a guaranteed two-year deal. And so far it looks like their investment has definitely paid off.

When discussing the second-year guard during practice Fred Hoiberg said “He’s got a swagger to him. He’s never going to be afraid of the moment.”

Blakeney’s aggressiveness on offense has made life easier for him, as Hoiberg ries to encourage this inexperienced squad to play fast while also still taking smart shots. Blakeney has (obviously) not yet mastered the delicate balance between the two but he has made tremendous strides for a player with such a small amount of NBA experience.

Last season Blakeney took 16 shots per 36 minutes and that number has only risen slightly this season to 17 field goal attempts per 36 minutes in 2018-19. Similar to Zach LaVine, Blakeney’s improvement this season has come from his incredible leap in efficiency. Games like Friday’s two-point loss to Indiana show this, as Blakeney shot 9-13 from the field (69.2 percent), which included going 3-5 from the 3-point line.

Overall Blakeney is shooting over 50 percent from the field this season and while this exact figure may not be sustainable, the specific areas in which he has improved in offers some hope.

Even dating back to college Blakeney has been an average 3-point shooter and has always been more comfortable getting to his lightning-quick pullup jump shot. And this season he is knocking down the midrange shot at a rate that would be comparable to Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant.

To be exact, Blakeney is shooting an astonishing 71 percent on shots 3-to-10 feet from the basket after hitting only 17 percent of these same shots in 2017-18. He is taking 20 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet and hitting 46 percent of those shots, up 5 percent from last year.

Modern NBA defenses are taught to run teams off the 3-point line so they can give up the more favorable for the defense, long two-point shot. But the fact that Blakeney is both proficient in that shot and aggressive in taking it makes defensive matchup thinks twice about their instructions.

LaVine’s immense offensive talent makes him the best option this side of Lauri Markkanen to close games. But the fact that Blakeney has started to gain respect from opposing defenses makes him a strong piece to have on the floor in crunch time. As mentioned above, Blakeney is shooting the ball so well right now, defenses have to play up on him to close his air space. When they play up on him that tight, this opens up more opportunities to get to the free throw line, as Blakeney showed during his huge 4-point play against the Pacers:

In the last three games, Blakeney is scoring 19.3 points per game and shooting 61.8 percent from the field, which includes 11 3-point makes. With the Bulls searching for answers until they have their full complement of players, get used to seeing more big nights from “breakout” Blakeney.