The tank may be struggling, but Luguentz Dort certainly is not. It’s safe to say that the last five games have been the best basketball he’s played during his three-year career that began when Sam Presti took a chance on an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State.
Dort took his time getting into rhythm this season, averaging just 12.5 points on 34% from the field and 22% from three in his first eight games.
Since then, he’s been on an absolute tear. Five straight 20+ point games, including 34 most recently against the Houston Rockets.
Perhaps the biggest reason for his scoring surge is the uptick in his three-point percentage. 37.5% over the last five games. His shooting, while extremely inconsistent, has improved over the last two seasons. Recently he has looked very comfortable shooting the ball off the catch.
There is an argument to be made for Dort as the strongest pound-for-pound player in the NBA and he certainly knows how to utilize that strength. He’s made bodying defenders on the attack the staple of his offensive game. Look at him go straight into the body of the 6’11”, 275lbs Omer Yurtseven on the fast break and then finish through the contact:
Now, this is just mean on Dort’s behalf. He sends Blake Griffin flying to the floor with the left shoulder. Is it an offensive foul? Perhaps. Is it a demonstration of extremely impressive strength? Definitely.
Dort being strong isn’t a new revelation, he’s been built like a brick wall since the day he came into the league. However, he is only just figuring out how to utilize it. Throughout his rookie year, he was perceived as a really good defensive player with next to no offense. In just three years, Dort has gone from an incapable offensive player to someone that is a big threat off the dribble thanks to his strength, improved ball-handling capabilities and tendency to get hot from three.
If you were to show this video to a Thunder fan in 2019, they would’ve been impressed with your video editing skills:
But this is not CGI; this is reality. And Dort continues to make massive strides in areas that were once weak points of his game.
His presence as an off-ball cutter is deadly. On this play, he was seemingly supposed to receive a hand-off from Mike Muscala, but Muscala handed it back to Josh Giddey instead. Recognizing this in an instant Dort cuts back door and, since Richaun Holmes is playing so high up on the pick and roll, there is nobody there to pose a real challenge at the rim.
His percentages around the rim have been pretty ordinary over the last two years, but this year he is finishing at an extremely impressive 63.8% from 0-5 feet, ranking at 27th in the league for players with 60 or more attempts. If he can keep making crafty finishes through contact like this, he will continue to be a problem at the rim for defenders.
Still Dort on D
This piece was written to break down his scoring hot streak, but we can’t talk about Lu Dort without mentioning his defense. He very well could be on track to make his debut appearance on an NBA All-Defensive team this season.
He has a god-given ability to fight over screens and stay in front of his man. Potentially Stephen Curry’s two worst games of the season came against Dort. As we all know, Curry loves to run around off-ball screens all game. He wasn’t able to freely do that with Dort on his tail.
Here he manages to fight over a stagger screen and recover to take away the opportunity for a shot, a motion that produced one of the greatest dynasties ever for the Warriors:
We have all seen this play, the play where Dort locks up De’Aaron Fox and forces the steal leading to the game-winning layup, but seeing it one more time certainly won’t hurt.
Now look at this hustle defense on Furkan Korkmaz. He causes him to stumble and lose the ball before diving to recover it. “Dorture Chamber” is undeniably a fitting nickname for Luguentz.
He is always active with his hands, but smart enough to avoid fouling most of the time. Similar to his offensive game, Dort loves to use his chest and broad shoulders on defense to put some of his weight onto the defender and knock them off course. He’s a high energy defender, but also has high IQ. A very rare combination that will no doubt see Dort cemented as one of the best guard defenders in the NBA.
To summarise his recent scoring surge, he’s been hitting the three at a much higher rate, showing a vastly improved ability to create shots off the dribble and using his strength to finish at the rim. He has taken a sizeable step in each year of his career and that trend seems to have continued. Thunder fans are surely happy with what they’re seeing.
We know Dort can get hot and go off for impressive scoring performances, now we just need the consistency. Five straight games is a good start, let’s hope he keeps the ball rolling.