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2015-16 New York Knicks Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the New York Knicks’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The New York Knicks had big aspirations last season, only to fall incredibly short. After posting one of the franchise’s worst season in its storied history, the Knicks landed a couple of promising talents in the 2015 NBA Draft and re-stocked the roster with some interesting complementary players. The Knicks’ free agency was far from star-studded, but the players the Knicks added might end up being better fitting long-term pieces than many expected when the floor fell out from under the team last season. If everything works out as expected, the Knicks could find themselves in the hunt again.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 New York Knicks.

Five Thoughts

I’m in a no-win situation as it relates to the New York Knicks. If I give them a prediction that some deem overly optimistic, I will be accused of being a “homer” by some of my fellow scribes. If I am too harsh on them, rowdy and unruly fans that I encounter will give me an earful. What can I do other than speak the truth, then? Here it goes: Phil Jackson wasn’t brought to New York City to sign guys like Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo. Glen Grunwald could have done that and I’m pretty sure Donnie Walsh could have as well. Phil Jackson was brought to New York to get guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe or Draymond Green to buy into and thrive in the triangle. So let’s just be honest here and say that the caliber of the individual pieces that Jackson brought in this summer was “underwhelming,” to say the least. Still, though, that doesn’t mean that the Knicks will be worse off for it. Traditionally, if there is one thing that has haunted this franchise, it has been their propensity to swing for the fences rather than hit a single, bunt a guy to second base and drive him home on another hit. This summer, Jackson and general manager Steve Mills hit a few singles and are hoping for the grand slam next summer. This season will be about restoring the team to respectability, qualifying for the playoffs and beginning to assemble a team and a cast of characters that actually has a chance to compete for something meaningful in the NBA. At the end of the day, whether or not they are successful will depend on Carmelo Anthony and how he has recovered from his ailments. Even if Anthony is less than 100 percent, though, it is difficult to imagine the Knicks winning less than 20 games. And, if things break right—if Kristaps Porzingis is the real deal and if Derrick Williams can find his mojo—I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 wins is realistic. It’s difficult to imagine the Knicks making the playoffs this coming season, but even more difficult imagining the Philadelphia 76ers topping them in the Atlantic Division again, so I’ll put the Knicks in at four.

4th Place – Atlantic Division

– Moke Hamilton

This was a tough summer for New York since they missed on all of the marquee free agents that they were pursuing. With that said, they did add some veterans such as Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams, Sasha Vujacic and Kevin Seraphin along with drafting talented prospects Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant. Getting Carmelo Anthony back at full strength should really help them as well. There’s no question that this team is more talented than last year’s Knicks squad and they will almost certainly improve their win total. But as far as making a huge leap and becoming a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, I just can’t see it happening. The East has a lot of talented teams this year and I don’t think New York can finish in the top eight. I’m excited to see what Porzingis can do and I really loved that draft pick because I think he has star potential, but it’s going to take time for him to become a difference maker since he’s very raw. I think this will be another down year for the Knicks, although I am expecting them to show progress from last year’s awful campaign.

4th Place – Atlantic Division

– Alex Kennedy

Must give credit where it’s due. Knicks team president Phil Jackson had a very respectable summer increasing the talent level in New York. The addition of Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn and Kristaps Porzingis is definitely an upgrade over last year’s supporting cast. But the Knicks’ hopes of leaving the Eastern Conference basement and making a legitimate playoff run rests on the health of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who hobbled through 40 games last season. The playoffs are not out of question for this group, but it’s far from a certainty. The team will need several favorable turns in the road to get there, but for Knicks fans at least there’s the hope of potentially being in the mix at season’s end.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Lang Greene

It probably isn’t a good thing that Knicks fans are talking more about their chances at landing Kevin Durant next summer than they are the actual upcoming season, but that’s a testament to a really cruddy, hangover-inducing 2014-15 season that left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. The team absolutely is better this season, however, thanks in large part to underrated free agency acquisitions like Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, and Carmelo Anthony will be healthy too, which of course is the biggest reason for hope in New York this year. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis was a controversial selection that probably won’t pay immediate dividends but shows real promise long-term, and other additions like Jerian Grant, Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Williams round out an obviously improved roster that should contend for the playoffs again in 2016.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Joel Brigham

The return of a healthy Carmelo Anthony could help dig the Knicks out of the division hole they fell into last season. The addition of first round pick Kristaps Porzingis will give the team more options and versatility. The rookie can spread the floor and also gained weight over the summer to fight for position. After a disappointing 17-win season, there is nowhere for the Knicks to go but up. They could surpass the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in the divisional standings.

3rd Place – Atlantic Division

– Jessica Camerato

Top of The List

Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony

Not merely the best offensive player on the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony is arguably one of the best offensive players on the planet when healthy. Durability will obviously be a major concern heading into this season, as his 2014-15 campaign was cut short by a major knee survey. However, ‘Melo is already back in the gym practicing, so there is optimism he should be ready to roll by the start of the regular season. Because of the injury and recent struggles by his Knicks, we may forget just how dominant Anthony is when at the top of his game. The all-around, individual numbers Melo posted in 2013-14 were incredibly impressive. Anthony became the first player in over a decade to average at least 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game throughout a full NBA season. He was also remarkably efficient on the offensive end of the floor. In fact, he became just the fourth player in NBA history to average over 27 points a night while shooting above 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 82 percent from the free-throw stripe. The other three members of that incredibly exclusive club are Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.

Top Defensive Player: Robin Lopez

Improving on the defensive end of the floor was clearly a priority for Phil Jackson this summer. The Knicks handed Lopez a $54 million contract in July, making him the second-highest paid player on the team. Not much of an offensive threat, New York is paying Lopez to clog the paint and protect the rim. During his two years in Portland, his defense at the rim was stellar (in 2013-14, only Roy Hibbert held opponents to a lower field goal percentage on shots attempted within three feet of the basket). The Knicks ranked second-to-last in rebounding last season, so they will rely on Lopez to clean up on the defensive backboards as well. Lopez is known for his aggressive box-outs and physical play, which have been sorely lacking in New York.

 Top Playmaker: Jerian Grant

Phil Jackson assumed he had adequately addressed the Knicks’ need at point guard in his first major move as team president, when he traded Tyson Chandler to Dallas and got back Jose Calderon. However, Calderon struggled mightily last season (due in large part to nagging injuries) and his numbers – including his assist totals – dipped significantly. This past June, the Knicks traded back into the first round in order to acquire Jerian Grant out of Notre Dame. Grant is a big (6’4 with a 6’7.5 wingspan) and athletic guard that should be able to contribute immediately on both sides of the ball. In addition to being a solid scorer, Grant is also a gifted passer with impressive court vision. Grant spent a five years in college and dished out a total of 690 assists during his Notre Dame career, which was more NCAA assists than the first 15 picks in the 2015 draft combined. Asking him to play heavy minutes early on may be asking too much too soon, but if Calderon can’t return to form, New York will have to rely on Grant to effectively facilitate the offense.

Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony

Excluding games ‘Melo missed due to injury, one would be hard-pressed to find a single ‘clutch’ FG attempted by a Knicks player other than Carmelo Anthony since the day he arrived in New York. Throughout most of his career, Anthony had been one of the NBA’s better clutch scorers. And during his first couple of seasons as a Knick, Anthony knocked down a number of game-winners. However, Melo was remarkably ineffective in big spots in 2013-14 (he was 0-for-8 on shots with 10 seconds or less in the fourth quarter or overtime when trailing by one possession or tied) and misfired late in games last season as well. It was commonly believed that Anthony was worn down by the massive minutes he was forced to play, and had little left in his legs in fourth quarters. The hope is that fewer minutes and more creative offensive sets will allow ‘Melo to regain his reputation as one of the NBA’s best closers.

 The Unheralded Player: Kyle O’Quinn

The signing of O’Quinn didn’t garner much buzz in NYC, but the under-the-radar acquisition could pay dividends in both the short- and long-term. A native New Yorker (born and raised in Queens), O’Quinn was a second-round pick by the Orlando Magic in 2012. Coming out of Norfolk State, he played sporadically over his first three NBA seasons in Orlando, but performed relatively well when given extended minutes. O’Quinn’s career per-36 minute averages (13 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks) suggest he has a chance to be a valuable rotation player. He is versatile enough to give the Knicks minutes at both the power forward and center spots. He possesses limited athleticism in his bulky frame, but has a high-intensity motor and brings relentless energy on a nightly basis.

Best New Addition: Kristaps Porzingis

The Knicks hadn’t had a draft pick inside the top-five since they selected Kenny “Sky” Walker in 1986. And with next year’s draft pick already traded away, the Knicks simply had to hit on their 2015 lottery pick. While the selection of Porzingis is undeniably risky due to the scary downside inherent in taking a skinny, unproven, foreign-born player, the vast upside is also irrefutable. Porzingis possesses an incredibly rare skill set for someone his size. He moves remarkably well and fluidly from baseline-to-baseline. This is noteworthy because lateral quickness is imperative for big men hoping to survive defensively in today’s pick-and-roll heavy NBA. Offensively, he dunks forcefully, yet makes it seems effortless. Still, the most impressive skill Porzingis brings to the table is his feathery touch from the perimeter. Kristaps has a flawless form that would be impressive from a shooting guard, let alone a guy measuring in at 7’1. At his size, he’ll be able to effortlessly launch uncontested jumpers from all over the floor. At just 19 years old, he hasn’t yet even scratched the surface of his vast potential. If the Knicks are going to return to respectability at some point in the future, it will be because Porzingis develops into a star.

– Tommy Beer

Who We Like:

1. Phil Jackson – Jackson’s first year on the job was a disaster. The Chandler/Calderon trade backfired and the Knicks’ 2014-15 campaign was epically, historically awful, as the Knicks lost a franchise record 65 games. However, Phil bounced back with a solid offseason this past summer. He avoided chasing a “quick fix” approach and seems to be content to patiently and prudently re-build the roster. He didn’t land a stud free-agent, but he also didn’t clog the Knicks’ cap, allowing the franchise to remain flexible going forward.

2. Kevin Seraphin – Like Robin Lopez, Seraphin will supply the Knicks with some needed rim-protection. Seraphin also possesses a promising offensive arsenal. In today’s changing NBA, he’s one of the NBA’s rare big men who look to score on the low block with his back to the basket. Like Kyle O’Quinn, Seraphin has posted impressive per-minute averages in his brief NBA career. Over his last two seasons, Seraphin averaged 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per-36 minutes. He’s still a bit raw, and a propensity to foul too frequently has been a hindrance, but the upside is promising.

3. Lance Thomas/ Lou Amundson – Very little went right for the Knicks last season, but Jackson and coach Derek Fisher were very happy with the effort and attitude that these two journeymen brought to the team when they were added to the roster in February. Fisher and Jackson have emphasized the importance of changing the culture within the organization. Amundson and Thomas both obviously made a very positive impression on the Knicks’ coach and front office, as both were re-signed and brought back into the fold. These two role players may not see much playing time during the regular season, but they can still certainly have a positive impact on the team by the way they practice and prepare on a daily basis. With an infusion of youth on the roster, it is important to surround those youngsters with veterans who can teach rookies how to be pros.

4. Kyle O’Quinn – The Knicks’ best value signing of the summer will likely end up being O’Quinn. The best aspect of the deal from a New York perspective is that the Knicks were able to lock-up O’Quinn for the next four seasons. With the salary cap set to spike upwards of $90 million by next season, being able to sign quality contributors to affordable contracts that extend four years into the future is how smart teams maximize value. This will likely be viewed as a smart gamble by Phil Jackson, as there is potentially a terrific payoff, yet very little risk involved. Consider this: In 2017-18, when the salary cap will purportedly jump up to $108 million, O’Quinn (who will then be 27 years old) will account for just 3.7 percent of the Knicks total cap space. If O’Quinn becomes even a decent role player in New York, that contract will return astonishing value.

– Tommy Beer

Strengths:

It’s hard to find a substantial strength on a team that went 17-65 last year. The good news is the team should be significantly better next season. Hopefully, Carmelo Anthony, the face of their franchise, will return at full strength. And, as noted above, Jackson did a solid job of rounding out the roster by bringing in an exciting and promising mix of young talent and proven commodities. This summer, New York added four players who are 25 or younger and measure in at least 6’8. The Knicks didn’t have any such young bigs on their roster last season. It may take some time for the team to mesh and for chemistry to develop, but if ‘Melo can play to his capabilities and the new pieces perform up to expectations, New York has the talent to at least stay in the playoff race for most of the season.

– Tommy Beer

Weakness:

There are obviously major issues on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed. The Knicks were at or near the bottom of the barrel in a wide variety of statistical categories last season. New York finished 29th in the league in Offensive Efficiency (they scored the fewest points in the league) and 28th in Defensive Efficiency. They were also 29th in rebound rate. And while the lack of talent was certainly the primary culprit, Derek Fisher appeared in over his head at times during his first season as coach. This year he’ll have to prove he can develop into a quality NBA head coach.

– Tommy Beer

The Burning Question:

Can the Knicks compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference?

Despite having upwards of $28 million to spend on free agents this past summer, Phil Jackson and the Knicks failed to lure a superstar to NYC. Yet, due to the salary cap spiking next year, the Knicks will once again have plenty of cap space for Phil to spend in order to secure a superstar. Eventually, signing role players will only get the organization so far. In order to take that next step, they need to bring in max-level talent. And in order to greatly improve their chances of convincing an elite superstar to sign, the Knicks have to show they are on the cusp of turning the corner. Would a significant step forward in 2015-16 entice a top-tier FA to come to NYC?

On the flip side of the coin, if the Knicks struggle mightily again in this upcoming campaign, might Jackson and company consider committing to a full and complete rebuild, which would involve trading Carmelo Anthony at the February trade deadline or the following offseason? This upcoming season could determine which direction the franchise ultimately heads in going forward.

– Tommy Beer

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NBA Daily: What Is The Hurry To Deal Leonard?

The San Antonio Spurs don’t seem any closer to a Kawhi Leonard trade than they were in mid-June. The real question is, what is the rush to make a deal?

Steve Kyler

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What’s The Hurry?

The San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard don’t seem any closer to a resolution today than they were back in mid-June when ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bomb that Leonard no longer trusted the Spurs and wanted out.

While it seems fairly clear that Leonard is going to be dealt, the artificial sense of urgency from the outside doesn’t seem to be bothering the Spurs, as word in NBA circles is they continue to listen to offers but don’t seem anywhere close to making a decision. That can always change.

There are a few things that have started to leak out about the situation worth talking about, and some of it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Kawhi Wants His Own Team

It is a common belief among fans that players should covet the chance to compete for a championship even if it means checking their own egos at the door. What’s become clear in this Leonard saga is that he has way more ego and bigger individual goals than anyone might have thought a year ago.

According to a source close to Leonard for a number of years, Leonard has always coveted his own team. He wants the chance to be the focal point on a group built around him. The idea that Leonard would openly welcome being second or third fiddle seemed unlikely to this source, which brings into question how seriously Leonard would pursue the chance to play with LeBron James in LA as a Laker.

There have been reports already suggesting that Leonard may not want the sidekick role with the Lakers, and that seems to line up with things sources were saying in Las Vegas last week.

If Leonard truly doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a bigger star, that could make this whole process a lot more interesting.

Kawhi Is Leaving A Lot of Guaranteed Money

Leonard became extension-eligible yesterday, reaching the third-year anniversary of his current contract. Because Leonard has made All-NBA in two of the past three seasons, he became eligible for what’s been commonly dubbed the “Supermax” contract extension, which would allow him to jump into the 35 percent of the salary cap max contract tier.

Based on the current cap, that extension could be worth as much as $221 million if he signs this summer. That money is only available to Leonard if he stays with the Spurs and gives him almost $30 million more money than he could receive becoming a free agent in July, even if he is traded to a new team that could obtain his Bird Rights.

While some have suggested that Leonard could make up some of that money being in a bigger market, it’s hard to imagine that he’s gaining $30 million more than his current marketing value, especially given his reclusive personality.

If by some miracle the Spurs and Leonard do reach an extension agreement, he would be untradable for one year from the date of his extension, so the idea of giving it one more year in order to salvage the contract money isn’t out of the question. The question becomes, would the Spurs do it without a full-throated pledged to be a Spur for the duration of the deal?

Lakers And Sixers Seem To Have Lost Interest

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on a recent ESPN podcast, suggested that the Lakers and the Sixers may have taken themselves out of the race for Leonard after making what most insiders believe was their best efforts to secure Leonard in trade. According to sources near both situations, the Spurs simply listened and didn’t really openly engage in negotiations sort of ended things where they started.

That’s not to say either team couldn’t jump back into the fray; there is a sense in NBA circles that the Lakers simply won’t give away the farm for Leonard, knowing they could be the favorite to sign him outright next July, so why give up too much?

The 76ers pursuit of Leonard was more about going all in, but only to a point. The 76ers were said to be reluctant to include Markell Fultz in a deal for Leonard, and that they were equally unwilling to let trade talks derail their upcoming season.

Are The Raptors The front Runners?

In the same podcast, Windhorst suggested that with the Lakers and Sixers likely bowing out, the Toronto Raptors may have jumped into the driver’s seat on a Leonard trade.

That would line up with the notion of the Raptors wanting to do something aggressive to better match up with Boston, and potentially clear some cap space should it not work out. It’s unclear exactly what the Raptors would be offering San Antonio to cement a deal, but they have no shortage of young promising players and a few proven All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry that could be the centerpiece of a deal.

League sources said as many as eight teams started doing due diligence on Leonard after the NBA draft, and there was a growing sense that teams other than the Lakers were willing to pony up for a shot at Leonard, even in a rental.

The hope on a Leonard trade is similar to what played out in Oklahoma City with Paul George: that Leonard lands in a new environment and falls in love with the situation enough to commit long-term. There is clearly a risk in that thinking, but it seems several teams were at least open to the idea.

Training Camp Is The Real Deadline

While most of the basketball world has “Kawhi Fatigue” and simply wants it over already, the truth is the Spurs have a much longer runway.

The next milestone opens next week when Team USA opens mini-camp in Las Vegas. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is set to coach the men’s Senior Nation Team, and Leonard is among the 35 players selected to compete for a shot at the 2020 Olympic squad.

There has been talk that Leonard may opt not to attend until his situation is resolved, which would make the optics of the situation that much worse. There are many in the NBA that believe the Spurs are waiting to see if time together in Las Vegas might bridge the gaps between Popovich and Leonard, so how both handle the Team USA camp is worth watching.

While the outcome of a few days in Las Vegas likely won’t seal a deal, either way, the real window for a deal is the week of training camp in late September. That’s when things will start to get ugly and real for both the Spurs and Leonard. Neither are going to want to open camp with this situation hanging over their heads, so that’s the real date to watch.

The New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony had a similar situation last year; it came to a resolution literally the day training camp opened, despite weeks and weeks of trade talks.

It may take exactly that long for the Spurs to finally agree to their own deal, so don’t expect closure quickly. There isn’t anything motivating a decision, beyond everyone being ready for it to be over already.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes

Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.

Spencer Davies

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Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.

Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.

We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.

It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.

“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”

You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.

In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.

So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?

“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”

Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.

“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”

Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.

Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.

“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.

“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”

As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.

But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.

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NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year

After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.

David Yapkowitz

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The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.

But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.

This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.

“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”

Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.

His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.

“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.

“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”

It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.

He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.

“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”

While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.

For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.

“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”

And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.

“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”

He’s certainly off to a good start.

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