Analysis

Bulls: Recapping the Summer League and Recent Signings

Five days ago, I included Antonio Blakeney in the “Who’s Not” portion of a “Who’s Hot, Who’s Not” tidbit in my summer league update. Now, the Bulls have decided to sign Blakeney, an undrafted rookie from LSU, to a two-way contract. Here’s why:

In the official press release covering the signing Friday, the Bulls labeled Blakeney as a guard, with no specification as to if he’s a 1 or a 2. Technically he’s a point guard, but considering he only averaged 0.5 assists per game in the Summer League, he projects more as a shooting guard. Though the Bulls highlighted Blakeney’s rim-attacking abilities in the video, Blakeney impressed from beyond the arc, draining 9 of 13 three-point attempts over four contests. Overall, he shot 43.8% from the field. His 6’4″, 197 lb frame and aggressiveness enabled him to notch a decent (for a guard) 5 rebounds per game.

Blakeney’s most dazzling showcase came against the Blazers, as he poured in 27 points, 11 of which came from the charity stripe. Though he didn’t attempt a lot of free throws during his time with the Tigers, the aggressiveness he exhibited during the Summer League points to a Jimmy Butler-esque increase in drawing fouls. Indeed, his Summer League statistics are suspiciously superior to his marks at LSU, but I like this signing. Blakeney showed promise both near the rim and beyond the arc, and in rebuilding mode, Gar Forman might as well give him a chance. Under NBA rules, Blakeney’s two-way contract permits him to spend up to 45 days with the Chicago Bulls, and the rest of the Windy City Bulls, the G-League affiliate in Hoffman Estates.

Other Signings 

On July 10, the Bulls announced the acquisition of Justin Holiday. Holiday is a four-year veteran who played minimally with the Bulls two seasons ago before being traded to the Knicks along with Derrick Rose. Holiday is a shooting guard who has averaged 7.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 20 minutes in a full 82 games last season. Despite being a shooting guard, Holiday lacks a three-point game, shooting 34.2% from distance for his career. Expect him to come off the bench behind Dwyane Wade next season.

ATTENTION EDITOR: Your choice, just don’t want too much text, maybe you could put a PICTURE of Justin Holiday here.

Additionally, the Bulls claimed shooting guard David Nwaba off waivers from the Los Angeles Lakers Friday. Nwaba impressed the Lakers with his D-League play last season, and consequently, LA inked him to two 10-day deals and a longer deal to finish off the 2017 season. In 20 contests in the NBA, Nwaba averaged 6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 19.9 minutes. This will be his second year in the league after going undrafted out of Cal Poly. Yet to sign a contract, Nwaba hopes to overtake Holiday for the backup shooting guard position next season.

Back to the Summer League

The Bulls team rebounded slightly from a disappointing start to the brief Summer League campaign. Their final record was 2-3 after they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in a consolation game to end the season. Oddly similar to what happened to Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne left the summer league due to “family reasons” after two contests. After being traded from Oklahoma City last season and getting almost no NBA minutes, Payne didn’t show much off in his two subpar performances.

Clearly, the most important player to keep an eye on this summer was Lauri Markkanen, the seven-footer the Bulls chose seventh overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Aside from a putrid second game where he shot 0-10 from three, Markkanen played adequately. He recovered his stroke somewhat in his third and final game, knocking down 4-10 three-point attempts and shooting 35.3% overall. Markkanen’s main criticism is he doesn’t rebound enough for a seven-footer. Of course, that number is bogged down by his three-point capabilities, but Markkanen still rebounded pretty well, averaging 9 boards per game.

Though his totals don’t look pretty (29.3% shooting in 32.7 minutes per game) because of his awful second contest, he displayed his versatility and did fine in his other two games. A perfect example of that versatility is his only two points from the second match:

Markkanen’s shooting ability draws two defenders, clearing the lane for him to use his 7-foot frame to slam home a dunk. You really can’t get a better example of his versatility.

Aside from Markkanen, there were some other positives. Despite shooting the ball poorly overall, Denzel Valentine led the team, along with Brady Heslip, to the win over the 76ers with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. He seems to have gotten my memo that he should be leading the efforts after spending a year in the NBA. Heslip shined that game, racking up 28 points on 55.6% shooting. However, it wasn’t enough to earn him a contract at this point.

Overall, the Summer League was a bit disappointing in a couple ways. First, fans didn’t get to see much out of the promising sophomore Kris Dunn, or Cameron Payne for that matter. Secondly, I highlighted some positives from Valentine and Markkanen, but in the end, their totals weren’t good.

Yet Bulls fans should still take solace in the positives that I depicted, because after all, these are young players. Their development takes time, and until consistency forms, it’s completely acceptable to appreciate Markkanen’s versatility or Blakeney’s rise. Rebuilds are about hope for the future, not pessimism towards the present.

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