Bulls

Season in Review: Antonio Blakeney had the Mamba Mentality

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Antonio Blakeney had the Mamba Mentality

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter  | Wayne Selden | Zach LaVine

Preseason expectations: Like most of the end-of-the-bench Bulls, Antonio Blakeney’s role became much larger with the injuries to Denzel Valentine, Kris Dunn and even Bobby Portis. It moved everyone up on the depth chart across the board, and that included Blakeney.

The expectations were simple because of what Blakeney is: a scorer. Good nights would include games where his midrange jumper was falling, and bad ones would be obvious quickly. Then again, the Bulls liked what they saw in his impressive Summer League by giving him guaranteed money on a two-year deal.

What went right: Well, he did provide a scoring punch on occasion. Blakeney topped the 14-point mark eight different times in 2019 and did so in pretty efficient fashion – he shot 50 percent or better in six of those eight games. Blakeney had a knack for reeling off a few makes in a row to help the Bulls in spurts. Of course they happened few and far between, but we’d be remiss not to mention that a hot Blakeney was a really good Blakeney.

What went wrong: A whole lot. On the surface you’ll see that Blakeney shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. In reality, much of that damage came early in the season. In a five-game stretch in late October he made 14 of 22 triples. The rest of the season he was 22 of 69 (31.8%) and just 15.8 percent from March 1 until the end of the season. He couldn’t top 42 percent from the field and provided very little in the way of passing, rebounding or defense. The Bulls needed Blakeney to provide a scoring punch, and in early November it looked like he might be a surprise. It was a mirage.

The Stat:  432 to 396

It was something we followed all season long but Blakeney ultimately finished the year with more passes (432) than field goal attempts (396). But only barely.

2019-20 Expectations: If the Bulls opt to keep Blakeney and his guaranteed money, he’ll be an end-of-the-bench player without much of a role. Denzel Valentine will be back, the Bulls should add another backcourt player in the draft – with either pick – and Chandler Hutchison will be healthy to give the Bulls more depth. This was Blakeney’s best shot to prove he belongs in the NBA and he did very little with the opportunity.

Zion Williamson's injury is devastating news for NBA fans of every allegiance, but there is a silver lining for Bulls fans

Zion Williamson's injury is devastating news for NBA fans of every allegiance, but there is a silver lining for Bulls fans

Monday afternoon, news broke that Pelicans rookie, awe-inspiring phenom and the subject of numerous long-forgotten basketball prophecies, Zion Williamson, will miss the first 6-8 weeks of the NBA season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right meniscus. No reaction to this news is complete or legitimate without first acknowledging that this is a devastating development for anyone who loves this league and, of course, for Zion himself (human to human, injuries are brutal and we wish him the best). On a basketball note, Williamson looked every bit as exceptional as advertised this preseason, and the Pelicans are primed to be one of the most fun young teams the NBA has seen in a long while — a League Pass must-watch of the highest caliber.

But, unfortunately, the show will have to go on in New Orleans without their No. 1 overall pick, at least for the time being. In the wake of the initial report, NBA Twitter was ablaze with reactions, as one might expect. Among the highlights…

Historical comparisons were pondered:

 

 

 

Meniscuses (menisci?) were offered up:

 

Odds swung:

 

(Hi, Coby) 

Bandwagons tipped:

 

There is a silver lining for Bulls fans in all of this, though. Right now, barring a highly improbable (to put it lightly) NBA Finals matchup, the Bulls and Pelicans are slated to face off twice in the regular season, the first meeting of which will be on January 8 in New Orleans. According to the reported 6-8 week recovery timetable for Williamson, he should be set to return some time in between late November and mid-December. That means there’s a good chance Williamson will suit up for both games against the Bulls this season — unless, of course, nagging injuries plague his rookie campaign (please no). 

The city of Chicago got a taste of the legend of Zion this preseason, when the Pelicans visited the United Center on October 9. Williamson was exquisite in that contest, tallying 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes of game action, accumulating a number of highlight-reel plays along the way:

Now, let us all come together and pray to the basketball gods for a speedy recovery and a long and healthy career for the Duke product. No matter your allegiances, there’s no doubt the NBA is better and more exciting league with him in it.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device. 

Bulls exercise options on Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison

Bulls exercise options on Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison

On a day that saw a number of young stars across the league secure bags large and larger, the Bulls made some ripples of their own, exercising the fourth-year option on Lauri Markkanen, and third-year options on Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. 

These moves are a formality. Markkanen and Carter are each poised for statistical jumps this season and are already unquestioned centerpieces of an exciting young core in Chicago. Hutchison, when healthy, has also showed flashes of being an intriguing piece on a team strapped for defense-minded wings.

Still, it’s a nice bit of reassurance that these guys are around for the long haul (Markkanen and Carter, at least). Even when/if Markkanen hits restricted free agency two offseasons from now, the Bulls will be able to match any offer sheet he might sign with another team. The same is true for Carter in three years, provided they extend qualifying offers to each of them (at this point, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t).

For now, having already productive NBA players with enormous potential on team-friendly deals is a big reason to get excited about the direction the Bulls are heading in. Now, buckle up for the season-opener this Wednesday in Charlotte.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.