Marqus Blakely Stepping Up For NBA D-League's Iowa Energy

Marqus Blakely hasn't been handed anything during his young professional career, but when given even the smallest window of opportunity, has been able to take advantage of it.

Most recently, that window of opportunity has come with the Iowa Energy this past weekend following the call-up of Othyus Jeffers to the Washington Wizards along with the overseas departures of Courtney Sims (China) and Mike Taylor (Italy). Coming off the bench as the sixth man for Nick Nurse's squad, Blakely was largely responsible for helping the Energy to back-to-back wins despite the fact that the team was missing three starters.

On Friday night, Blakely made 14 of his 18 shot attempts to finish the game with 31 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 36 minutes as Iowa defeated the Sioux Falls Skyforce 109-103 at the Wells Fargo Arena (Read a bit more about that appearance here). To follow that up, Blakely made 10-of-11 from the field and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe on his way to 28 points and added 10 rebounds in 30 minutes of playing time in 104-97 victory over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants on Sunday. 

The 6-foot-5 former college power forward (transitioning now into a small/combo forward), aside from showing that he can step up and score when needed in the absence of Jeffers, Taylor and Sims, showed that he was pretty versatile in the ways that he can score as well. While the chemistry between he and Stinson in the pick-and-roll showed through the most, Blakely also showed off some advanced post moves when playing down low as well as a knack for being in the right place at the right time as teammates cut to the basket.

This weekend wasn't the first time Blakely took advantage of an opportunity afforded him, though.

Blakely averaged 17.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.9 blocks as a 6-foot-5 power forward during his senior season at the University of Vermont to cap off a career that included his being named a two-time Conference Player of the Year, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, the 2010 AEC Tournament MVP as well a spot on the Associated Press's All-American Honorable Mention list. Despite all of the those accolades, however, he wasn't talked about as an NBA Draft candidate and instead had to prove himself at the Portsmouth Invitational.

At Portsmouth -- a type of tournament  where the top 64 "on the fringe" seniors are invited to showcase their talents in front of NBA decision makers -- Blakely stood out enough to catch the eye of Draft Express but not enough to earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

Following Portsmouth, Blakely had pre-draft workouts with the Blazers, Bucks, Celtics, Clippers, Grizzlies, Nets, Rockets, Warriors and Wizards, but apparently didn't impress any of them enough to be drafted.

He caught the eye of one of the teams, however, as the Clippers extended an invitation to Blakely to play for the team's Vegas Summer League entry in hopes of him separating himself from D-League standouts Trey Johnson and Jeremy Richardson, second round pick Willie Warren as well as veterans Ryan Ayers and Nik Caner-Medley (in other words, he was probably a bit of a long shot). In the end, Blakely's play with the Clippers' Summer League team wasn't impressive in the box score as he averaged 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while shooting an uber-efficient 65% from the field over four games in Vegas, but I did note the following about him at the time:

He's aggressive, active on defense, raw on offense and will hustle his ass off. With the Clippers' Summer League entry, Blakely was at his best when cutting to the basket and finishing the easy bucket in transition. His offensive rebounding was very good, but he was often unable to get the putback to go in because he had trouble getting the ball over the taller defender - even if that defender was Trent Plaisted.

With his spirited Summer League play, Blakely earned an immediate invite (and a guaranteed $35,000) to join the Clippers' preseason roster where he'd appear in two games for a total of 18 minutes before being unceremoniously released (as was probably expected as the Clippers had quite a few guaranteed contracts already).

After his time with the Clippers, Blakely joined up with their D-League affiliate Bakersfield Jam but was stuck behind former NBA players Trey Johnson, Brandon Wallace and Derrick Byars. He produced when called upon, though, showing enough promise that Iowa sent its first round pick to Bakersfield next season to acquire Blakely. The Energy didn't really need him at the time, but Coach Nurse was obviously aware that the call-ups and buyouts would come eventually and he wanted Blakely to be available to him when they did.

After seeing Blakely's performance this weekend, it seems like the Energy knew what they were doing.

Despite all of the setbacks -- and his subsequent ability to overcome them -- Blakely's shown that he can produce whenever he's given the opportunity to get on the court. Now one has to wonder when an NBA team's going to give him that chance at the next level -- from what I'm hearing, it might not be long.

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