A G-League Peek
The Oklahoma City Thunder have always utilized their minor-league franchise for developmental purposes. If you’ve followed the team for a while, you may remember Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, and Perry Jones III being assigned to the (then) Tulsa 66ers quite often early in their careers. Their assignments for the (now) Blue helped each player–especially Lamb and Roberson–hone their skills. However, the inconvenience of the G-League team being roughly two hours away made assignments difficult to manage at times, specifically when the Thunder and 66ers played on consecutive days.
The problem was solved in 2014. After the 66ers encountered problems with their arena lease, the Thunder announced the team would move directly across the street from the parent club into the Cox Convention Center prior to the 2014-15 campaign. With the move came a rebrand, and the Oklahoma City Blue was born.
Moving across the street from the Peake comes with more perks than easier travel: it allows players from the Thunder an opportunity to take in G-League basketball any time they like. OKC All-Star Chris Paul has been seen at multiple Blue games this season, including contests versus the Raptors 905 and the Texas Legends. CP3 was not alone. In both instances, he was accompanied by teammate and rising star participant Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
I had the pleasure of sitting directly behind Chris and Shai for one of these contests. My takeaway was that Paul has coaching in his DNA. In addition to giving members of the Blue constant advice and guidance, CP3 even provided some pointers for players on the opposing G-League team as well.
The Blue are currently eighth in the conference standings, needing to string together victories for a chance at the G-League playoffs. The Blue’s sub .500 record is not the result of a lack of talent, as OKC’s G-League affiliate currently boasts multiple attractive prospects. Let’s look at the most intriguing of the bunch: Luguentz Dort.
The call-up: welcome to Dort Knox
Two-way player Luguentz Dort seems to be the most likely G-League candidate to help the Thunder for the duration of this season and beyond. Among Blue players, he has recorded a team-high 14 appearances for the Thunder this season. Dort’s breakout moment for the Thunder occurred during a home match versus the Utah Jazz on December 9. Donovan played the 20-year-old late into the fourth, and Dort came up with a huge steal, helping the Thunder secure the win. Thunder teammates – including Dennis Schroder – were quick to show the rookie some love for his efforts. This moment laid the groundwork for Dort’s current run with the Thunder.
Dort is a natural defender, who moves his feet well on that end of the floor. Historically the Thunder have valued good defense over good offense. See for example: sticking with Andre Roberson, and their current third-year shooting guard, Terrance Ferguson. Dort is in the same mold. He is very raw, but as time progresses, his offense will hopefully develop.
Dort’s situation is the prime example of why opportunity can be even more vital than talent. Although Dort possesses the talent to play in the NBA (he has held his ground as a starter in this league), he would have never received the chance to play – outside of garbage time – if traditional starter (Ferguson) and backup (Abdel Nader) were not missing time for one reason or another. Due to their absences, Dort got his chance to shine, and he has made the most of his minutes.
In a recent contest against the Sacramento Kings, Dort recorded a career-high 23 points. It took Dort 14 games to record one 20-point performance. For comparison, Ferguson has recorded merely three 20-point performance’s in 171 career games.
So who should start when everyone is available to play?
Dort has earned the starting spot
Dort has performed well enough in his seven starts to remain the starter. With that said, it’s not just about who starts; what matters most is who finishes. It would be hard to fathom a scenario barring injury or foul trouble where Ferguson would close a game ahead of Lu Dort.
Dort has fared better running with both the starters and reserves. This season, Ferguson has recorded 13 statlines with more fouls than points scored (over a third of his games played). Dort has recorded one such statline (15% of his games played), which occurred in his second career NBA game. And how about these numbers? When Dort is on the court and Darius Bazley is off, Oklahoma City is plus-53 in 162 minutes. When Ferguson is on and Bazley’s not, OKC is even over 715 minutes.
The sample size is small, and Dort could be reaping the benefits from a lack of scouting reports. Maybe once the league begins learning his tendencies, he will regress and hit the proverbial rookie wall.
Or perhaps Sam Presti has finally found another diamond in the rough.