As you’d expect, attending a Windy City Bulls game is like revisiting the ghosts of training camps past.
There’s all the fleeting names that you struggle to remember like Diamond Stone, Jaylen Johnson, Jarell Eddie, Duje Dukan, and Ryan Arcidiacono.
And then there’s the even more obscure names. On the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Windy City Bulls opponent on Friday night, R.J. Hunter made an appearance. Hunter played for the Bulls for a couple months in 2016.
Then there’s the guys that you actually come to see play: Antonio Blakeney, who is on a two-way contract with the Bulls, and big-club roster-occupant Kay Felder who was playing his second GLeague game of the season. Watching those two play in the Windy City Bulls 122-112 loss to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Friday night was worth the price of admission.
As you’d expect, both players scored the ball. Blakeney finished with 31 points on 11-for-26 from the field and Felder added 26 more on an efficient 9-for-16 from the field. In the NBA, being aggressive offensively is their strength, and it just gets accentuated against the lesser competition of the G League.
For Felder, his playmaking stood out. He showed the ability to collapse defenses and draw help that freed up his teammates. His timing, touch, and ability to know where his teammates were on the floor was on display throughout the game.
Here’s one more example of a nice pass from Felder in traffic to his teammate Derick Newton.
Felder went all Jekyll and Hyde tonight. He showed flashes of high-level playmaking, but the turnovers killed him. Felder finished the game with six turnovers. Nonetheless, he can get into the paint on a whim, something that Chicago Bulls point guards haven’t done with any sort of consistency this season. He flashed this skill at the NBA level in his limited playing opportunities this season.
Then there’s Blakeney, who’s in a precarious situation. His production has seesawed at the NBA level and that’s why he is on a two-way contract instead of being in a Chicago Bulls uniform every night. But he’s also obviously too good for the G League. Friday was actually an off night, in his previous three games with the Windy City Bulls he averaged 41.7 points per game on a ridiculous 58 percent from the field.
Like Felder, an impressive aspect of Blakeney’s game was his playmaking. Blakeney, who in his NBA minutes is often criticized as being a volume shooter who is allergic to passing the ball, dished out four assists including finding Arcidiacono in the corner for a 3-point field goal late in the second quarter.
The most impressive pass of the game from Blakeney was a full-court bullet on a line to a streaking Arcidiacono that led to an easy transition layup. Obviously, the caveat with saying that both Felder and Blakeney were impressive as playmakers tonight is that they had the ball in their hands more tonight than they would in an NBA game so the assists totals would naturally be higher. On several occasions, the Windy City Bulls let Blakeney run the offense even with Felder and Arcidiacono in the game. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty as Blakeney was loose with his dribble, especially when double teams came after him. He finished the game with five turnovers.
The playmaking side of his game is something that Blakeney has made a concerted effort to work on during his time in the GLeague. I spoke to a frustrated (as his team lost) Blakeney after the contest:
I’m trying to work on playmaking. Playing on both ends and making winning plays. I’m just getting better down here, down here I get a lot more minutes than up there (in Chicago where) the minutes are limited. I’m just trying to work on everything while I’m down here every time I step on the floor no matter what level I’m playing.
Ultimately, Blakeney’s game is scoring in bunches and being ultra aggressive on offense. At the G-League level he’s been a lethal scorer and that’s where he’ll make his money at the NBA level as well.
In this game, Blakeney was used moving from the corner to the top of the key frequently, using a bunch of screens to create confusion for the defense and get Blakeney into mismatches against big men. There were also mismatches created for Blakeney by running hard in transition before the defense was set. Blakeney’s athleticism, especially his jumping ability in transition, stood out.
Obviously, the talent jump to the NBA doesn’t allow the Chicago Bulls to continually run play after play for Blakeney and he isn’t going to get up 26 shots with Chicago anytime soon. However, he’s confident that there’s a role for him in Chicago as the team navigates the rebuild.
I think it’s a lot of young guys trying to get better. A lot of guys who work hard and are trying to get better everyday. And I think I fit into that because that’s what I’m trying to do.
Where Blakeney fits in with this rebuilding Chicago Bulls team is an interesting question. Right now, David Nwaba and Denzel Valentine are blocking some of his minutes at the NBA level. When Zach LaVine returns from injury in early January, that’s another player ahead of him on the depth chart.
In the meantime, he’s become very comfortable playing in Hoffman Estates:
Me and Kay got good chemistry, but I got good chemistry with all these guys, I was at training camp, I’ve been here probably just as much as I’ve been with the (Chicago) Bulls so my chemistry with these guys is good as well.
But despite a 2 game winning streak and LaVine’s eventual return, the Bulls offensive struggles may put a talented scorer like Blakeney back in an NBA role soon.