While much of the fan and media focus at NBA Summer League was understandably on the progress of well-known, high-lottery picks such as Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton and Atlanta’s Trae Young, one of the best individual stories in Las Vegas took place far beneath the radar. Undrafted rookie shooting guard Trevon Bluiett wasn’t even a lock to be in the New Orleans rotation when summer training camp commenced July 2, but a week later, Bluiett and his agent were already in contract talks with the Pelicans. The Xavier (Ohio) product officially signed a two-way deal Tuesday, partly the result of him averaging 18.3 points over four games with the summer squad. He shot 53.6 percent from three-point range – sinking six treys apiece in wins over Toronto and Miami – while averaging 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists in just 25.7 minutes per game. Bluiett produced those numbers despite coming off the bench three times in his four appearances.
“It does feel good,” Bluiett said in Las Vegas of signing his two-way contract. “For GMs to see that I have a place in the NBA, that I bring many assets to a team, rather than just shooting. In college, people may have questioned whether there was room for me in the league. Coming out here and experiencing it, it makes me feel better about having a place in the league.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder was available for any NBA team to sign after he was not selected in the June 21 draft. He opted to join New Orleans’ summer league squad, hoping to get an initial chance to prove himself as a pro. Bluiett – who averaged 19.3 points as a senior for a Xavier team that went 29-6 and earned first place in the Big East – was disappointed to go undrafted, but vowed to not let that deter him from his ultimate goal of becoming an NBA player.
“I did expect my name to get called, just from how I felt workouts went and what I talked about with teams,” Bluiett said of his pre-draft experience. “But at the end of the day, stuff like that happens. It was disappointing, but I never wavered. I really didn’t think too much about it; I thought the next thing coming up is summer league. I’d say it actually kind of helped me, to fuel the fire and come out here to get a contract. Instead of sitting around blaming everyone and making excuses, I just moved on to the next opportunity and tried to focus on that.”
New Orleans coaches immediately noticed his shot-making ability during the summer team’s four-day minicamp in Metairie, which Bluiett carried over to games in Las Vegas. He scored 24 and 26 points, respectively, in his first-ever pro contests, helping lead the Pelicans to one-sided wins over the Raptors and Heat. In the following games vs. Detroit and a rematch with Miami, defenses paid much closer attention to the red-hot shooter, which created additional room for teammates.
“The first two games he was obviously tremendous,” Pelicans three-year head coach Alvin Gentry said. “I told him when you shoot the ball that well, (opposing) teams have a tendency to say, ‘Hmm, we better guard him.’ So everything changes from there. It’s something where he’ll have to learn other facets of his game he can go to, and learn that he doesn’t have to just be a scorer to be a good player.”
Gentry added that Bluiett has already demonstrated the ability to do that.
“He’s shown in the games this summer that he’s not just a shooter, that he can be a playmaker, and I like his defense,” Gentry said. “He’s way ahead of where guys would normally be at this stage. He’s a good addition to our team, and has an opportunity to make our team and be a huge factor.”
Bluiett, who launched nearly six three-pointers per game over 142 total contests in college, fired 28 of them in his four games in Las Vegas. The 23-year-old Indianapolis native indicated that long-distance prowess has always been a staple of his game, partly out of necessity when he was a youngster.
“I’ve always been a shooter, ever since I was a little kid,” he said, smiling. “I was kind of an out-of-shape, chubby little kid, so that was really all I could do. I feel comfortable at the NBA three-point line. Any time I’m open, I feel like it’s a good shot. When you play at the NBA level, you realize that there is a lot more space, a lot more opportunity to create plays. In college, you have to do a little bit more, sometimes play outside of your toolbox, out of your specialties, just to help your team win.”
When news spread that Bluiett was signing a contract with the Pelicans, he heard from many friends and acquaintances who wanted to congratulate him on the life-changing achievement. Bluiett also thought about the message he received from those who emphasized that his two-way deal is merely a first step to success in the NBA.
“They’re all excited. I got a lot of congratulations and proud of yous,” Bluiett said of the immediate reaction. “I also got some people congratulating, but saying ‘Don’t take the gas pedal off.’ I know that a two-way is a big deal for me, but that it’s just a foot in the door. It’s not my stopping point. I’ve got to keep my head down and go to work.”