Every summer, the Basketball Insiders team calls dibs on their home markets and goes through the draft one pick at a time to get a sense of how the first round of the draft may actually play out. This mock is different in that it represents many ideas and many voices instead of just the thoughts of a lone individual trying to think for all 30 teams. The actual draft is this Thursday, but this should help hold readers over until then. Enjoy!
1. With the 1st pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz, a point guard from the University of Washington.
“The Sixers address their biggest area of need with the best player available. Adding Fultz gives them a legitimate scoring guard who can play off the ball, pairing perfectly with 6-foot-10 point guard Ben Simmons.” – Dennis Chambers
2. With the 2nd pick in the pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the L.A. Lakers select Lonzo Ball, a point guard from UCLA.
“Lonzo potentially represents what the Lakers have been desperate for: a star that fans get excited for, makes the team better and returns the Lakers to past glory. Magic 2.0? Great vision, good feel for the game and outstanding passing help Lonzo stand out. Substantive criticisms of his game include an unorthodox jump shot, average defense and, so far at least, an unwillingness or inability to get to the rim, but for now he’s the Lakers’ best bet at pick number two.” – James Blancarte
3. With the 3rd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Boston Celtics select Josh Jackson, a forward from the University of Kansas.
“The Celtics made the trade to get the guy that most embodies the Celtics’ DNA. He’s tough. He is gritty. He is a good team guy and he has exactly the kinds of tools the Celtics gravitate toward. In time, he could be one of the brightest of the bunch, but from day one he fits a team that almost won the East.” – Steve Kyler
4. With the 4th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Phoenix Suns select De’Aaron Fox, a point guard from the University of Kentucky.
“The Phoenix Suns have had multiple starting-caliber point guards in recent seasons but are still in search of their point guard of the future. De’Aaron Fox has a nice combination of length, skill, athleticism and upside. He may not have all of the tools that Markelle Fultz has or the hype of Lonzo Ball, but he is a talented prospect who could develop into the Suns’ franchise point guard. However, he needs to work on his jumper and grow into his frame sooner rather than later if he is to have any real impact in his first few seasons in the league.” – Jesse Blancarte
5. With the 5th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Malik Monk, a guard from the University of Kentucky.
“Once upon a time, Eric Bledsoe lived in the shadow of John Wall, the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Bledsoe went 18th to OKC, and joined Avery Bradley as the only players picked in the second half of 2010’s first round that remain significant rotation players. Like Bledsoe, Malik Monk had to sacrifice to play a role complementary to a more highly-touted guard prospect. Like Bledsoe, the NBA will give Monk the platform to emerge from that shadow.” – Buddy Grizzard
6. With the 6th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Orlando Magic select Dennis Smith, a guard from North Carolina State University.
“New Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said recently that the team will be looking to draft the best available player on Thursday night, rather than draft based on need. If Smith is available, he could check both boxes for the Magic. Smith could be the best player available for the Magic when they make their first of four selections on draft night and he figures to be able to immediately come in and give the team a boost at the point guard position. The team has sorely lacked an offensive-minded point guard and Smith could be that guy for the Magic.” – Cody Taylor
7. With the 7th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select Frank Ntilikina, a point guard from Strasbourg, France.
“I’ve got the first reach! Because they really already have loads of talent, the Minnesota Timberwolves in my opinion will trade this pick if they can. But if they keep the pick, there’s no immediate need for polished talent with an up-and-coming roster like theirs. With Ricky Rubio’s difficultly fitting into Tom Thibedoau’s system and Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones still learning the ropes, the organization takes a stab at correcting the point guard position with Frank Ntkilina.” – Spencer Davies
8. With the 8th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the New York Knicks select Jayson Tatum, a forward from Duke University.
“I certainly did not expect Jayson Tatum to be on the board at No. 8. As a result, this was an extremely easy choice. The worst-kept secret in New York is that Phil Jackson and the Knicks desperately want to trade Carmelo Anthony. In Tatum, they get a player that many pundits agree is the closest facsimile to Melo in the 2017 draft. Tatum, like Melo, is 6-foot-8 and is known for his polished offensive game. Like Anthony, he excels in isolation due to his array of moves and rare combination of size, strength and skill. His defense needs work, but he has the physical attributes to be a plus-defender. New York can search for its point guard of the future in free agency or in subsequent drafts because with Tatum in tow, the Knicks now have two solid foundation pieces they can build around. Today, Phil and company celebrate Tatum landing in their lap. Tomorrow they go point guard hunting.” – Tommy Beer
9. With the 9th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select Lauri Markkanen, a forward from the University of Arizona.
“Markkanen is a great shooter. He’s long and at 7-feet tall he can get up and shoot over almost anyone. He’ll make for a nice frontcourt addition with Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel (if they re-sign him). Once Dirk retires, Markkanen could step into his role of the shooting/scoring PF/C almost immediately, with high upside on the defensive end as well. And, obviously, he’ll be or has already been compared to Dirk, so why not have him learn from Dirk?” – Shane Rhodes
10. With the 10th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Jonathan Isaac, a forward from Florida State University.
“Due to health concerns, Skal Labissiere fell all the way to 28th and became the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft. The Kings weren’t expecting to be so lucky as to have Jonathan Isaac fall to 10th this year. Isaac is built for the modern NBA, and his perimeter skills make him the perfect third big to add to Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein.” – Buddy Grizzard
11. With the 11th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select Luke Kennard, a guard out of Duke University.
“As the lottery selections wind down Charlotte adds arguably the best shooter in the draft to pair in the back court with All-Star caliber point guard Kemba Walker. This duo projects as a high scoring pairing for years to come.” – Dennis Chambers
12. With the 12th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Detroit Pistons select John Collins, a forward out of Wake Forest.
“Detroit, not sold on Reggie Jackson, but with the elite point guards of the draft off the board, selects John Collins. Head coach Stan Van Gundy loves high motor physical frontcourt players, and Collins has the tools to etch out a nightly role as a rookie in a Pistons rotation needing more depth.” – Lang Greene
13. With the 13th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Denver Nuggets select Donovan Mitchell, a guard from the University of Louisville.
“The Nuggets have high-level prospects at every position, so there’s no significant area of need. Mitchell is the best player left on the board, with great upside on both sides of the ball.” – Ben Dowsett
14. With the 14th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Miami HEAT select Zach Collins, a center from Gonzaga University.
“Somehow, Collins dropped to No. 14 in our mock draft, so selecting him on behalf of the Miami HEAT is a no-brainer. The HEAT could be looking for a big man with their lone draft pick come Thursday, and Collins would be a great pick should he fall in their lap. He’s projected by most to be taken in the 10-12 range so there’s a chance he’ll be off the board by the time the HEAT select. Collins could give the HEAT insurance at the backup center position should they lose Willie Reed in free agency. Collins looks to be a good fit in the HEAT’s system with his ability to impact a game on the defensive end.” – Cody Taylor
15. With the 15th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Jarrett Allen, a center from the University of Texas.
“The Portland Trail Blazers have a nice mix of young, versatile talent. However, they also have limited cap flexibility, so bringing in prospects who fill an area of need is essential. Jarrett Allen may not be ready to be a rotation player on day one, but he gives the Trail Blazers a long, physically gifted athlete at center. Jusuf Nurkic anchors the middle for Portland, but Allen is a springy athlete who can run the floor and finish lobs. He isn’t a perfect fit, but his athletic abilities and upside make him a nice addition to Portland’s frontcourt.” – Jesse Blancarte
16. With the 16th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Chicago Bulls select OG Anunoby, a forward from the University of Indiana.
“While it stinks that Anunoby probably won’t play until 2018 because of his ACL rehab, he would have been a sure-fire lottery pick if he were healthy, and the Bulls do love a good value pick regardless of where they are drafting. Anunoby is a complete player on both ends and would have been one of the most physically and mentally prepared players in this draft. The Bulls just have to wait a bit to actually see how he fits.” – Joel Brigham
17. With the 17th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select T.J. Leaf, a forward from UCLA.
“The Bucks are kind of loaded at every position and may be creating something of a logjam at the forward positions, so I decided to add a stretch big to the group in UCLA forward T.J. Leaf. He can shoot and score, which always is a plus for a younger team like the Bucks.” – Moke Hamilton
18. With the 18th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Indiana Pacers select Ike Anigbogu, a center from UCLA.
“The Pacers need to go into full rebuild mode, and Anigbogu, with his other-worldly athleticism and sky-high defensive potential, could be a really fun fit alongside Myles Turner. Anigbogu is the youngest player in the draft, so there could be some waiting on him, but you’ve got to love the kid’s ceiling.” – Joel Brigham
19. With the 19th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Atlanta Hawks select Derrick White from the University of Colorado.
“Although it was tempting to grab Harry Giles here, the injury concerns were hard to ignore (i.e. Leon Powe). At 6-foot-5, Derrick White offers the versatility to play multiple positions and possesses the playmaking traits that new Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk looks to add, similar to the Golden State blueprint where he spent 12 seasons.” – Lang Greene
20. With the 20th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Terrence Ferguson, a guard from Adelaide in Australia.
“The young shooting guard is not ready to be a contributor at the NBA level, but with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner already on the roster, that’s not a huge issue. Ferguson has talent and potential on both sides of the ball. His biggest issue is his thin frame, but a season or two of training should help there. Should a player like Crabbe or Turner be moved in the near future, Ferguson will be there to step in and show what he can do.” – Jesse Blancarte
21. With the 21st pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Semi Ojeleye, a forward from Southern Methodist University.
“In need of another playmaker alongside Russell Westbrook, as well as somebody that can shoot the basketball from deep, the Oklahoma City Thunder nab Semi Ojeyele from SMU. His size and versatility will do wonders as both an athletic small forward and in some cases, as a stretch four.” – Spencer Davies
22. With the 22nd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select Harry Giles, a center from Duke University.
“For the Nets, there may be no lottery ticket better than Harry Giles. Despite his serious injury history, Giles firmly represents the type of prospect the Nets should take a swing on — particularly so without a first round pick in next year’s draft. With Brook Lopez set to enter unrestricted free agency in 2018 as well, selecting the risky Giles makes sense across the board.” – Ben Nadeau
23. With the 23rd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Bam Adebayo, a center from the University of Kentucky.
“Bam Adebayo is one of those project players that can eventually yield a big payoff. An athletic defensive presence, he could end up being the type of big man Dwayne Casey covets if/when the Raptors move on from Jonas Valanciunas.” – David Yapkowitz
24. With the 24th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Utah Jazz select Justin Jackson, a forward from the University of North Carolina.
“While the Jazz don’t feel like Jackson is a legitimate possible replacement for a player as good as Gordon Hayward, he does offer another modest-upside prospect on the wing in case Hayward does go elsewhere over the summer.” – Ben Dowsett
25. With the 25th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Orlando Magic select Justin Patton.
“Selecting Patton at No. 25 definitely fits the bill as drafting the best player available. It remains to be seen if he’ll ultimately drop this low on draft night, but Patton has perhaps the highest upside of any player left in the draft. Measuring in at 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Patton has great athleticism for his size. He possesses great skills on the offensive end and proved to be an efficient scorer during his one season at Creighton. With other big men on the roster in Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo, Patton may not be needed to come in and make an immediate impact, which could allow him to develop at his own pace and learn from the two guys ahead of him” – Cody Taylor
26. With the 26th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select D.J. Wilson, a forward from the University of Michigan.
“Portland has a few versatile forwards who can stretch the floor but none has all of the physical tools and upside of Wilson. He is nowhere near ready to be a regular contributor, but if all goes right in his development, he could be a valuable stretch big with versatility on both ends of the court. That would be a pretty nice addition for the capped-out Blazers, especially this late in the first round.” – Jesse Blancarte
27. With the 27th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select Isaiah Hartenstein, a center from Zalgiris Kaunas of the Lithuanian Basketball League.
“Isaiah Hartenstein has dropped down draft boards as of late, but the Nets are more than happy to scoop him up at No. 27. His potential as a floor-stretching center is a perfect fit for Kenny Atkinson’s trigger-happy three-point shooting side. He may not come to the NBA immediately, but the Nets are in no rush. Alongside Giles, Hartenstein would give the Nets a much-needed boost of young talent in the frontcourt.” – Ben Nadeau
28. With the 28th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select Tyler Lydon, a forward out of Syracuse University.
“Lydon is a capable prospect with a variety of talents on the offensive end. He finds various ways to score, which are rooted in his notable shooting abilities. Place Lydon on a ball movement-based offense that coach Luke Walton wants to build and he will likely find a way to be a positive contributor. This should be a fairly reliable, modest upside pick for the Lakers.” – James Blancarte
29. With the 29th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Jawun Evans, a point guard out of Oklahoma State University.
“Evans is a good fit for the Spurs given the clouds surrounding Tony Parker and the uncertainty of Patty Mills returning. He is a great playmaker who can run the pick and roll and at least fill Mills old role off the bench. He is also pesky on defense and one of the quickest players in the draft as well.” – Shane Rhodes
30. With the 30th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Utah Jazz select Frank Jackson.
“The former local high school standout shows immense promise on both ends, and while Jackson needs work as a full-time ball-handler, his shot-making could be a valuable asset down the line for a Jazz team always in need of spacing.” – Ben Dowsett
What did you think of your team’s pick? Reach out to our writers on Twitter and of course be sure to check out the actual draft this Thursday. Stay plugged into Basketball Insiders for all the latest news and rumors in the last couple of days leading up to it!
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?
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.