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.”