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NBA PM: Don’t Ignore The Potential Of Lu Dort

While the Thunder continue to rebuild following the departures of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Lu Dort has stood out as a second-year player out of Arizona State.

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If you’re looking for a player who will give it his all every time he touches the hardwood, look no further than Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Luguentz Dort. 

While he may be a more well-known name on a small-market team, Dort has made a decent reputation for himself in a short amount of time. Before looking at how he’s doing currently, take a step back and look at how he got to the NBA.

As a five-star high school player out of Canada, Dort did not make his way into the NBA in the most conventional of ways as he went undrafted out of Arizona State in 2019. 

At Arizona State, Dort was a star, leading the team in scoring alongside a strong scorer himself, Remy Martin. The Sun Devils went 23-11 in the lone season with Dort on the roster but lost in the Round of 64 during the NCAA Tournament to the University of Buffalo. Following the loss, Dort announced that he would be testing the waters and entered the draft. He would finish his short stint at Arizona State with averages of 16.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. 

Leading up to the draft, many mock drafts and analysts around the league had the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year penciled in as a second-round pick. The relentless defense Dort brings to the floor on-ball, closing out lanes and causing havoc for ballhandlers, as well as his off-ball ability to jump passing lanes and create pressure, were very intriguing attributes for the prospect, per NBADraft.net. His potential, along with the length and athleticism he brings to the floor, was what had him going in the second round – but Dort and his 6-foot-8 wingspan were ultimately passed up on draft night as his name was never called. 

Facing an uphill battle to get to the league, he signed a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder had just seen their two superstars, Paul George and Russell Westbrook, leave and were in rebuild mode with Chris Paul acting as the older outlier on the roster. Dort played in 36 regular season games total with the NBA squad and was signed from the Thunder’s G League roster in July. Over those 36 games, Dort only averaged 6.8 points per game with a 39.4 field goal percentage, but it was in the Thunder’s playoff appearance in which he made his mark.

In a first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets, Dort was assigned the tough task of guarding a former MVP in James Harden. Most guards struggle to stay with Harden on defense as he is constantly spacing himself from his defenders with dribble and stepback moves, but Dort was a different story. After giving Harden and the Rockets trouble the whole series, the Thunder were able to take them to a winner-take-all Game 7. 

This game would be known as The Lu Dort Breakout Game as he vaulted himself into the spotlight. Dort went off with 30 points while holding Harden to only 17 points. With Dort on him, Harden was visibly frustrated, unable to find room to drive toward the hoop. Dort was right there with him on every crossover, stepback, you name it – Harden finished the game shooting abysmal 4-for-15 from the field and 1-for-9 from three. While the Rockets may have won the game and series, the Thunder were very excited to learn that they found another gem. 

After completely blowing up the roster, the Thunder promoted Dort to the starting shooting guard role alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. While SGA has been out since March with a right foot injury, Dort has been on-and-off the court with ailments of his own. The Thunder have lost 13 straight without the tandem together on the floor, but losing streaks like this are expected when the team is in a full rebuild. And even though they have been losing games, Dort has continued to impress. 

Over his last five games, Dort has been unbelievable as the Thunders’ go-to option without SGA. Particularly, in an Apr. 13 matchup with the Jazz, he erupted for 42 points on 16-of-31 from the floor and 7-of-11 from the three-point range. During such streak, Dort has shot the ball at 48.8 percent from the field while averaging 26 points and 6 rebounds per game. 

Already being known as an elite defender while improving offensively as time passes, Lu Dort has a very bright future ahead of him. He may never live up to an All-Star-level potential, but he has the tools to be a productive yearly 20+ scorer and a defensive nightmare if he doesn’t.

He’s only 22 years old and if the Thunder can develop him in the way they have developed their young stars in the past, why couldn’t he become an All-Star someday?

Watch out for Dort as the season continues to dwindle toward the end. If he stays as hot as he has been of late, he could earn himself a larger role within the team and more recognition around the league.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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