Antonio Blakeney

Bulls set to release guard Antonio Blakeney, according to a report

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USA TODAY

Bulls set to release guard Antonio Blakeney, according to a report

The Antonio Blakeney era in Chicago appears to be over.

Saturday, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that the Bulls are planning to release Blakeney.

Blakeney joined the Bulls as an undrafted free agent in the 2017 Summer League. The LSU product signed a two-way deal with the Bulls after his summer performance, eventually landing an NBA contract in July 2018. He averaged a combined 7.5 points per game in two seasons with the Bulls, playing in 19 games in 2017-18 and 57 last season. However, his minutes dropped from 16.5 to 14.5 per game over that span. 

The Bulls had 16 guaranteed contracts (NBA allows a maximum of 15) before Blakeney's release, and considering his salary, cutting him loose was the easiest move to make.

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Antonio Blakeney is one of the NBA's best on corner 3-pointers

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USA TODAY

Antonio Blakeney is one of the NBA's best on corner 3-pointers

ESPN NBA analyst Kirk Goldsberry released his list of leading scorers in the NBA by zones, with the Bulls making an unexpected appearance on the list.

In Goldsberry’s “Leading Scorers By Zone, 2018-19” list, names like Kemba Walker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant are joined by an unlikely candidate for this type of list, none other than Bulls’  second-year guard Antonio Blakeney.

And on social media, the explosive guard got some love from the NBA G League, as well as one of his former coaches.


Blakeney’s proficiency from the corner isn’t new if you followed the his progress last season. He was 41 percent on corner 3-pointers in 2017-18 and is shooting a scorching 60 percent on corner 3-pointers through 21 games in the 2018-19 season. Despite his steadily improving 3-point shot, the Bulls offense is dead-last in the league in terms of offensive rating, something that can’t be judged too harshly considering they are without three of their most important players.

But with Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn getting closer to returning, the offense will improve and Blakeney could be a major reason why if he meshes well with the full complement of players.

The only thing that has kept him off the floor this season is his sometimes questionable shot selection. Compared to last season, Blakeney is still taking less of shots from 3-point range and the free throw line. If he isn’t driving all the way to the basket, it would be better for the offense if Blakeney takes an off the-dribble 3-pointer as opposed to his preferred long midrange shots.

On the season Blakeney is shooting a remarkable 40 percent on pull-up 3-point shots, yet he is taking less of them than Jabari Parker and Ryan Arcidiacono, much less capable off-the-dribble shooters.

As the Bulls work in all of their returning players, Fred Hoiberg is likely to take the ball out of Blakeney’s hands more than he already has to this point. His 26 percent usage rate is second only to Zach LaVine, and that figure can not stay that high for the Bulls offense to get better. But just because his usage rate goes down does not mean that he has to score less. If Hoiberg plays Blakeney more and continues to stations him in the corners, he can feast on quick catch-and-shoot opportunities.

There will be more catch-and-shoot opportunities available for everyone with the attention Markkanen demands in the pick-and-roll. And as he, Carter and LaVine get familiar with each other, Hoiberg will start to implement more actions that use all three players together, further opening up cutting action and off-ball shots for Blakeney.

Through his entire career—and this injury-laden stretch for the Bulls—Blakeney has been used to creating offense for himself, forcing the action. But this iteration of the Bulls needs him to let the game come to him. 80 percent of his 3-point attempts are assisted, which is up from 66 percent last season. His 2-point shots are a different story, with only 25 percent of his 2-point offense being assisted compared to 50 percent last season. All this goes to show that he is doing too much with the ball in his hands. The return of the calvary for Chicago gives Blakeney the opportunity to turn himself into a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate, he has to simply get back to “sniping it.”

Antonio Blakeney reminds everyone of the chip on his shoulder        

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USA TODAY

Antonio Blakeney reminds everyone of the chip on his shoulder        

Antonio Blakeney has been one of the more exciting developments in what has already been an intriguing Bulls season, despite the losses piling up. He has come a long way and seems to be finiding his groove as a combo guard with the Bulls.

In Blakeney’s freshman year at LSU, he played well as a secondary scoring option but did not do enough to distinguish himself from similar score-first players like Tim Quarterman and Craig Victor. That season Blakeney also played with (then) fellow freshman Ben Simmons, whose potential once-in-a-generation skill set makes it hard to properly evaluate the other guys on his team.


Determined to prove he could a leading man, Blakeney came back for his sophomore season and improved considerably. He led the team with 17 points per game on a solid 55 percent true shooting percentage but struggled mightily trying to take over the playmaking duties.

All of this led to him acquiring the dreaded “gunner” label from scouts--used to categorize inefficient, high-volume scorers--and going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft. But he didn’t let that shut down his NBA hopes.


While still possessing some of the same flaws, things have (mostly) changed for the better for Blakeney in the pro ranks. He  has been absolutely “sniping it” from 3-point range, hitting an astonishing 45.9 percent of his 3-pointers. It is astonishing not because Blakeney is a bad shooter but because of the sheer difficulty of some his field goal attempts.


Overall his scoring profile has shown enough to prove that his hot start to the season is much more than a flash in a pan. Perimeter shooting numbers can be volatile, so the fact that he went from under 30 percent to over 40 percent as a 3-point shooter definitely should be taken with a grain of salt. Some regression is expected in this area. But despite shooting so well from 3-point range, Blakeney is actually taking less of his shots from deep. The biggest reason for the improvement of his offensive efficiency has been his finishing around the basket.


Blakeney converted a paltry 17 percent of his shots between 3-to-10 feet from the basket in 2017-18. So far in the 2018-19 season, he is converting on 75 percent of his shots in the 3--to-10 foot range. The dramatic 58 percent improvement in field goal percentage on these short range shots are a reflection of all the work that Blakeney put in over the summer.

Going into every game, Blakeney stated that “no matter how good I do the game before or how bad. I gotta prove myself every time.” And if he keeps that chip on his shoulder throughout the season, he will definitely get to prove himself more often.