Try telling Antonio Blakeney that Summer League doesn't matter.
The guard's strong play in Las Vegas over the last week earned him a Two-Way contract with the Bulls, meaning he can play for both the G League's Windy City Bulls and in the NBA.
Blakeney, 20, has appeared in four Summer League games, averaging 16.8 points, five rebounds and just under one steal per contest. It's pretty safe to say that he's been one of the squad's few bright spots in Sin City. While fellow guard Denzel Valentine has struggled to find his shooting rhythm, connecting on under 30 percent from the field this summer, Blakeney has shot 43.8 percent.
He didn't come out of nowhere, though. Blakeney had tons of hype out of Oak Ridge High School in Florida and was selected to play in the McDonald's All-American Game before taking his talents to LSU, where joining forced with 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. That experiment didn't quite work out for Blakeney, who failed to reach the NCAA Tournament in both seasons and went undrafted in 2017.
For the Bulls, it's a chance to take a flyer on a young, athletic guard who proved he can shoot in college.
It also gives fans more chances to catch his absolutely nasty dunks, whether it's in Hoffman Estates or at the United Center.
That's just ridiculous.
On Friday, Coby White will find out if he makes the Rising Stars Challenge as part of All-Star weekend in Chicago.
“It would mean a lot,” White said Tuesday. “Hopefully, I’ll be one of the ones selected. But like I always say, if not, it's not the end of the world for me. I won't let it define who I am. But to represent Chicago in Chicago for All-Star weekend, it would be a big deal for me. It would be a blessing for sure.”
White said he hasn’t spoken to Lauri Markkanen or Kris Dunn about the experience, which pits prominent first- and second-year players in a Team USA vs. Team World format. Both of those Bulls have played in the contest, which is scheduled for Feb. 14.
“We’re just trying to focus on winning right now,” White said.
White has produced several memorable scoring binges this season, although the Bulls drafted him with the No. 7 pick in last June’s draft to eventually play a lead guard role. Coach Jim Boylen said White’s decision-making is “developing,” which is typical for young players.
“I’ve seen some terrific improvement from Coby in his decision-making, his ability to get us organized,” Boylen said. “We all know that he knows he has room to grow there. But he has focused on it, he’s been pounding the film. He watches the film with the assistant coaches and then he watches film with me before every game. We have about a 20-minute spot on game day that him and I sit and watch film, talk about situations.’’
One year and six days after rupturing his right quad tendon, Victor Oladipo is scheduled to make his return Wednesday against the Bulls.
The Pacers All-Star guard was averaging 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists when he went down.
“I'm very happy for him. He's a terrific kid, a terrific guy. That injury he had was a really tough one. I'm sure he's worked as hard as anybody, from what I know of him,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “As I've said before, injuries in this league are heartbreaking. But he's a competitive guy and it's good for the league that he's back.”
The Pacers not only surprisingly weathered the storm of losing Oladipo to win 48 games and qualify for last season’s playoffs, they currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference at 30-17.
The Bulls, who are vying for their first three-game win streak of the season, are two games out of the playoffs as they begin a three-game trip.
“We had a moment in Orlando where we were playing a team that was close to us in the standings, that we were trying to catch, and we fell short in that moment,” Boylen said of a Dec. 23 road loss. “Now we're going to be in another situation where, first we've got a division opponent, then we have a team that we're chasing in the standings. So we'll see how we handle those situations.
“The beauty of this is we have a young group that's going to play some meaningful game. That's what we hoped for, that's the situation we're in and we'll see how we handle it. I expect this group to play hard and play together and we'll see what happens.”
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