Pelican fans were treated to back-to-back appearances on ESPN (called by Doris Burke!) this weekend and yet Saturday night carried far less shine than its predecessor.
Friday night was loaded with all the pomp and circumstance of a summer league rock concert, with celebrities and A-List athletes sitting courtside to catch a glimpse of former Blue Devil and the NBA’s number one overall pick, Zion Williamson.
Zion finally emerged into the spotlight, but a knee collision and Ridgecrest Quake put a stop to his action, finishing his night with 11 points and three rebounds in nine minutes.
After announcing his departure from the summer league roster for the remainder of the team’s trip, fans still yearned for another splashy performance from Friday night’s 30-point scorer, Frank Jackson.
Jackson would not suit up for the contest and neither would Christian Wood, last year’s late-season surprise. But surely, Pelican fans would get a glance of the other first-round picks this season, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker?
The Lakers trade wouldn’t come to fruition until midway through the third quarter of game 2. However, not all was lost as a couple of players stepped up and played well. Kavell Bigby-Williams was one and the other was sharpshooter, and last season’s summer league sensation, Trevon Bluiett.
Bluiett flashed the similar precision one year ago: an above average shooting stroke that ultimately earned him a two-way deal with the Pelicans.
You may remember Bluiett’s first two contests one season ago in which he scored 50 points on 12-of-17 from 3-point range. From then on teams began to even target the 23-year old rookie in summer league!
“Their goal was obviously to take his shots away,” Pelicans assistant Kevin Hanson said following game three against Detroit. “They game-planned for him more than he’d seen in the first two games, but he got it going in the second half.”
So with the Pelicans’ playmakers all sidelined, Bluiett went back to work doing what he does best a few days ago.
On this early-game possession on Saturday night (pictured above), Bluiett scans the floor and analyzes the defender’s reaction while Kavell Bigby-Williams sets the pick, weighing whether to drive or dish. What Bluiett finds is confusion on the part of his opponent, who mistakenly anticipates the drive (or miscommunicates the switch) and fights over the screen giving Blueitt just enough space for a single dribble to set his feet and confidently drain the triple.
Bluiett is an excellent spot up shooter in the half court — similar in the vein of an E’Twaun Moore, but he can also manage his form and stroke in transition which could complement Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo offense.
Here we see Bluiett race up the floor, catch the ball in stride and quickly set his feet as he rises for what appears to be a much easier triple than it actually is as his momentum carries him forward as he releases.
This is the ‘Nikola Mirotic special’ and it's the shot Bluiett will need to continue to demonstrate should he aim to earn NBA minutes sooner rather than later. Bluiett catches it near the corner closely contested by his defender, but calmly rises above and converts using his size as his advantage (6’8 wingspan).
The degree of difficulty is strong in that vision is minimal, but Bluiett relies on his form to convert three of his 12 fourth quarter points in the following video.
Again we see Bluiett in transition where he accepts a crosscourt bullet and releases his shot with lightning-quick reflexes — another NBA-level skill.
“The coaches were telling me to be aggressive and play my game,” said Bluiett, who bounced back from his four-point, 2/9 from the floor outing Friday. “Last game I was a little hesitant and was thinking a lot. They told me to play the way I play and that’s what I did.”
Bluiett would finish the contest with 23 points with six converted three-point makes, nearly leading the Pelicans to victory over the Wizards.
We’ve highlighted Bluiett’s primary and possibly elite-level skill of deep-range shooting, but Bluiett demonstrated quite a few NBA ready talents this weekend. Bluiett is a willing and able defender with lower-body strength (210 pounds) and size (6’6) to guard 2-4 positions in the NBA. He attacks the ball in the air, rebounding fairly adeptly for a player of his size and position. In addition, Bluiett can manage the ball as a secondary playmaker and made several heady decisions with the ball.
The Las Vegas Summer League isn’t exclusive to Bluiett’s long range bombs as he managed to shoot 37.5 percent from three on 5.7 shots per game in seven G-League contests last season — even while much of his effectiveness was limited due to a back injury that sidelined him for much of the season. If you may recall his time at Xavier University, Bluiett averaged 38.4 percent from the college stripe, including 41.7 percent as a senior.
Bluiett ultimately will not have a chance to land a spot on the 15-man roster with the Pelicans, and at 24 years of age, he doesn’t carry the appeal of development as much as some of his teammates do (going undrafted doesn’t help either). He will likely have to battle just to earn back his two-way contact, perhaps from fellow SL teammate, Bigby-Williams.
“He’s good,” Bluiett said of Williams. “I feel like he has a lot of potential. Obviously there are still some things he can work on, but you can’t teach high energy.”
The New Orleans Pelicans have renounced free agents Trevon Bluiett and Ian Clark.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) July 7, 2019
Bluiett has a high bar to meet in order to catch minutes as a Pelicans in 2019-20, but he’s already demonstrated more than enough ability for the opportunity elsewhere if he can’t ultimately find it in New Orleans. His combination of size and shooting alone should give him an opportunity over mainstays like E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller, who may become victims of the David Griffin regime change and altered timeline with Anthony Davis now in Los Angeles.
Should the opportunity arise in whatever fashion, Bluiett has exhibited the tools to make his mark and make it quickly.