It’s official: Lu Dort finally got his NBA contract. It wasn’t really a matter of if, but when it was going to happen.
The details of his deal: four years, $5.4 million. Year one at $155,647; the 2020-21 season is fully guaranteed at $1.57 million; 21-22 is at $1.78 with 300k guaranteed; 22-23 is $1.93 with 325k guaranteed.
In short, a steal.
The undrafted gem came onto the scene mid-season this year, and instantly became a fan favorite. His effort on defense, and the flashes on offense were enough to win over an entire fanbase. Quickly, all the die-hard fans were tweeting about his play and gushing over his tenacity. Daily Thunder’s own Brandon Rahbar had to get in on the Lu fun:
Though the long term deal is a sigh of relief for the Thunder, I wonder just how Dort will fit in with a rebuilding Thunder team a year or two from now. It’s easy to see the glimpses of potential when there is a hall of fame point guard (Chris Paul) conducting the show, but when the Thunder inevitably get younger, just how good will Dort be?
Dort’s per-game numbers this season
Overall the Thunder are 22-7 when Dort plays. In games where he scores 10 or more points, they are 4-0. He is a perfect role player for the team Presti currently has constructed. Dort seems to be the guy that has the defensive potential to be an Andre Roberson level disruptor, while also not being a zero on offense.
In over 600 minutes this season, Dort has played 162 with starters Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s played a whopping 538 of his minutes alongside at least two of OKC point guards Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, or Dennis Schröder.
In the position Dort is in, he hasn’t had to create his own offense. He thrives off of passes from guys like CP3 or SGA on spot-up triples or cuts to the rim. And in 23 of 29 games, more than half of his field goals made came from an assist, according to NBA.com.
In 13 of those 23 games, all his makes came off an assist. He hasn’t been a guy that Billy Donovan relies on to create offense. They have him out there to bother the other team’s best perimeter creator. If he gives the team offense, great.
This is why the game against the Spurs in February came as a surprise. He is often the last option on offense. And seems to not mind it at all.
Again, he is perfect for this iteration of the Thunder, if Presti chooses to keep this core together. However, that is very unlikely at this point.
Why does that matter? In the NBA fit is everything. Dort is a young and exciting player who has shown great versatility on the wing, a position the Thunder have sorely lacked all season. His lack of offensive creation isn’t necessarily troubling, but it could mean that though the rookie is a great fit for the current veteran-heavy Thunder, he might not be a great fit for the younger rebuilding OKC team that is right around the corner. On a younger Thunder team without the playmaking from Schröder, Paul, and even Gallinari or Adams, the lack of offensive creation will be a problem.
If he isn’t a threat on offense, with an already barren roster, defenses will key in on offensive threats like SGA. He could become difficult to play no matter how great his defense is because floor spacing will be a real issue. The goal is to prevent another Roberson situation, where this guy is a stellar defender but makes life so difficult on the main offensive playmaker because defenses can ignore him. I yelled “If only Roberson could shoot!” far too long to see the Thunder create Robes 2.0 on offense.
In the 2019 summer league there were glimpses of what a more aggressive offensive Dort might look like. But again, it’s summer league, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. If Dort can find a way to blend this summer league level of confidence into the NBA game with an improved shooting touch, he will survive well on a rebuilding Thunder team. If he can’t, I am not sure he will be on the roster at the end of his four-year deal.
This is Dort’s calling card, and It was a surprise to see how ready he was to play NBA level defense. He’s a consistent pest on the floor, playing aggressive with many ball-handlers while using his strength and positioning to nudge and knock them off their spots. Cue up the Dort vs. James Harden video, in Dort’s first career start, to make the Houston fans in your life mad.
Defense is a difficult aspect of the game to quantify with statistics. Often bad team defense skews individual defensive numbers. FCurrently, with 29 games under his belt Dort sits at a defensive rating of 112, and a defensive plus-minus of .8, according to Basketball Reference.
On paper, those numbers won’t wow you. However, watching his effort nightly will. The poise, readiness, and position are incredible. Especially for a player so young.
This is the aspect of his game I am sure can translate moving forward in the direction of a younger Thunder team. He has the moxie, courage, and presence to be a true defensive captain on that side of the floor, something Oklahoma City has missed since losing Dre two seasons ago.
Dort’s weakness on offense is a real worry, but he isn’t at Terrance Ferguson levels of concern, just yet. Game speed reps are a necessity of offensive development, and he’ll get more of those. What you want to see with younger players is a fearlessness to try different things on the floor to expand their game. A bright spot has been Dort’s willingness to shoot, even when it’s not falling. And if he can work on creating more offense off of the bounce, it can help unlock an aspect of his potential with a younger Thunder team.
His defensive potential is not even a question. He is already a really good NBA defender, making him a perfect fit for this year’s iteration of the OKC Thunder. And if this team manages to stay together through his four-year contract, Dort has a real possibility of playing his way into even more money.
Again, in the NBA fit is everything. Though I love the Dort signing now, I question his fit on a non-playoff Thunder team full of athletic non-shooting wings: Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Ferguson, and Deonte Burton. Too many players in this mold would push the team in a direction that is counter-intuitive to the NBA’s pace and space mantra.
Let’s see what offensive development the next few seasons hold for Dort. That will be the key to his Thunder success.