Article By: Ben Creider
If I were to tell you one year ago that Luguentz Dort, who was a two-way player with the Blue at the time, would lock up James Harden in a seven-game playoff series and be one of the biggest pieces on the Thunder… you’d probably laugh in my face. Dort had to start from nothing last year, having to fight over every single opportunity he received with the Thunder. Now Dort at only age 21, he is expected to be one of the core members of our starting unit, and with his already elite skillset to build off of the future is bright.
Let’s start with the obvious, Luguentz Dort was one of, if not the best defender in his rookie class last season. The only name that you could mention without being scolded has to be Matisse Thybulle, who finished the season leading rookies in steals (94), and placing fourth in blocks (47.) The obvious asterisk with these numbers are that Dort, unlike Thybulle, was bouncing around from the Oklahoma City Blue and the Thunder for months, and it took him 20 games before he got a chance with the team, on game 21 against the Timberwolves, he already proved his worth in a matter of seven minutes.
Here are his highlights from Dort’s first career NBA game, a full out assault on defense, highlighted by his tenacious effort to dive for the lose ball with the game on the line.
This play was a game defining moment, as which he had many moments of the caliber last season, the play subsequently led to a time out and set up Chris Paul to snitch on Jordan Bell for his untucked. After a touchdown pass from Adams-Schroder to push things into OT, they handedly won 139-127.
This same energy we saw from Dort carried on throughout the entire season. Working himself from what was close to an emergency backup role, filling in for injured players, to starting against James Harden in the playoffs. Needless to say he crushed it.
Harden had zero breathing room against Dort, the Rockets used everything in the book to try to make Harden successful vs. Dort, none of it worked. Isolation, P&R’s, screens set at half court, jumping and flailing his arms into Dort, nothing was working.
James Harden had to hunt for all the “superstar bail-out moves” when Dort was matched up on him:
- Jumping into defenders
- And my favorite: Hook hunting Dort’s arm off screens
Watching James Harden struggle to find any success hooking Dort off screens was one of my favorite moments watching OKC basketball, with KD”s game winner vs. the Mavericks and Westbrook’s game winner vs. Denver being the only moments that stand out more to me.
If you do not remember, let this video refresh your memory on the last time Houston played us in the playoffs. Lots and lots of arm hooking… (I apologize for the language in the video, I am working on making my own clips for it.)
What was learned from the playoff series was Dort’s knack for things on the defensive side of the ball was elite, rookie or not. In terms of perimeter defense, the discipline showed from Dort was uncanny for any player, rookie or not. On isolation plays, he leaves his hands to side, not giving the opposing player to get any quick foul call, and if you believe in the saying “hand down man down”, it doesn’t apply to Dort. He is able to go from having his hands down feet away to stepping up to the defender, staying grounded, extending his arms out before the shooter gets to the top of his release. His 6’3″ 215 lb. with unprecedented upper body strength for his size makes him hard to pass by to get a layup.
On screens, if he decides to go over them, his arms remain on his sides and once he breaks off the screen everything is back to normal. If he goes under the screen, he will immediately pounce right back on his man.
When it comes to playing interior defense, due to the sheer strength in his upper body, he can take a beating or two from a big guy down low and still contest the shot. He will fly in from nowhere to swat a shot, and he will force you to play physical down low. One thing with Dort is that right when the defender least expects it, he will step out of the restricted zone, and put his body on the line for the sole purpose of helping the team.
When it comes to Dort’s defense, it’s always the little things that make him so good, the use of his hands, his ability to handle screens, diving for the lose ball, just to name a few. His stats on the box score will never tell you the full story of how good he is, but everyone watching knows how big of an X-Factor he is.
On the offensive side of things, Dort did show alot of promise. His slashing ability is surprisingly really good, he will often time run right at the defender and absorb the contact on his shot. When given an opportunity to drive, Dort will use a simple yet deadly crossover to free himself up for a shot, and if he has to deal with a second level of defenders, a simple shot fake to get them in the air was all the was needed most of the time, giving him an easy two points.
If he truly wants to establish himself all around he needs to tighten up from distance. His shooting performances had always been inconsistent in the regular season, but that was amplified in the playoffs. Even though without him on the floor we would’ve went home to Houston in 5, his shooting outings in game’s 2-6 made you wonder how many points did we leave on the board, and what would the difference be if we threw a shooter in instead of him.
His 3PT% from games 2-6 Are as follows:
Pretty abysmal, but his 30 point performance on Game 7 in which he shot (6-12) shows alot of hope that Dort can grow into becoming a good shooter.
If Dort is able to become a consistent shooter with the team this season, he instantly becomes one of the most valuable 2-way players in the entire league, and one of the brightest young players in the NBA. Even on defense, despite the fact he already has almost everything you’d want in a defender, he has so much more potential yet to be tapped.
Dort leaped from a little known 2-Way project to now being one of the teams brightest players in the span of a year. One can only imagine what kind of a jump he makes this year.