When I started writing this piece, I was disheartened by the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country. Then, I realized the one thing that was going to get me through these troubling times:
It’s Lu Dort time in Oklahoma City.
Dort has become a fan favorite in Oklahoma City in his rookie campaign. The team is 16-5 this season with Dort in the starting lineup, and while a lot of fans were looking for Terrance Ferguson to take another jump this season, Dort has filled in well with Ferg in and out of the lineup.
The Dort signing (4-year, $5.4M) was made official just weeks before the NBA season is set to restart its season at Disney World. While most Thunder fans don’t expect OKC to win it all, there’s definitely intrigue as to whether the team can make a run in the playoffs and maybe pull off an upset in the first or second round.
While Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and co. are obviously vital factors for a potential playoff run, they are going to need Dort to continue producing. As the league inches towards the July 30 restart date, I decided to look through some film of the Thunder’s season to determine what the team will need from Dort if they have hopes of a Cinderella season.
1. Spot-up shooting
Dort is not exactly an assassin from beyond the arc. Per Basketball Reference, he’s shooting 22-of-73 (30.1%) from the three-point line this season, continuing the Thunder tradition of having shooting guards who can’t exactly… shoot. As a result of his below-average shooting, many defenders are choosing to ignore him completely, especially when SGA, CP3, or Schroder have the ball.
However, Dort has shown some potential of eventually becoming a solid spot-up shooter. He scored a career-high 23 points against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 29, including a scorching 5 of 6 from downtown. The clips below are two of Dort’s three-pointers from that game.
Both of those three-pointers are the result of Dort’s defender helping on Schroder and CP3 drives, leaving Dort open for a spot-up three. Yes, those threes are completely unguarded, but if the defense is going to leave him that open, he has to step into those threes and shoot with confidence.
Teams will continue to defend Dort like this at Disney until he proves he can hit shots consistently. Here’s another example from a game earlier this year against the Spurs, where Dort has all day to set his feet and pull the trigger.
Dort hitting these threes at a solid rate will open up the offense for SGA, CP3 and Schroeder. He doesn’t have to be Steph Curry, but he needs to hit enough open spot-up threes to keep defenses honest.
2. On-ball defense
Dort has made a name for himself primarily through his defense, especially his on-ball defense against other teams’ best players. His defensive numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page (107.8 defensive rating, per NBA.com), but Thunder fans have likely noticed his ability to bother opposing superstars when they have the ball.
Here are a couple of clips of Dort guarding James Harden from a game against the Rockets on Jan. 20.
The first clip is really important. Dort fights through two Thabo Sefolosha screens (including a very illegal one), and manages to stay in front of Harden. Then, he gets a solid contest on Harden’s lethal step-back jumper.
The second clip shows Dort initially staying in front of Harden before Harden makes his way baseline. However, Dort forces him that way toward legendary rim protector Mike Muscala, who pressures Harden into a kick out that leads to a heave at the end of the shot clock.
A lot has been written about Dort’s defense, so I will stop it here for now. To summarize — once the playoffs begin, it will be very important for Dort to make an impact defensively against the league’s superstars for the Thunder to have a chance.
3. Intangibles and athleticism
Perhaps Dort’s best attribute is his athleticism and how it combines with his sturdy frame (he stands at 6’3 and weighs in at 215 lbs). He may not be the fastest guy in the gym, but his frame and his overall athleticism allows him to impact the game without scoring.
In this clip, he uses his frame to wrestle the offensive board off his own missed shot, which eventually leads to an open SGA three.
Here, he uses his speed and awareness to see the lane and cut for an easy dunk.
While not known for his ability to make plays off the dribble, here Dort uses his frame to power his way through Bodgan Bodganovic for a nice finish at the rim.
We’ve seen all season that CP3, SGA, Schroder and Danillo Gallinari are going to have the ball the majority of the time. It’s important that the Thunder’s role players, including Dort, make an impact without needing the ball. For Dort, that means using his athleticism to pick up second opportunities for his team.
Dort’s not going to blow anybody away with his stat lines. But, he has provided a much-needed spark for a Thunder team that needs a two-guard that can impact the game in limited minutes. For the team to have a chance at making a deep playoff run, they will need Dort to be the best version of himself.
It’s Lu Dort time.