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Growing Up Thunder: Luguentz Dort turns it up

Growing Up Thunder: Luguentz Dort turns it up

Luguentz Dort has gone from undrafted free agent rookie to starting shooting guard, providing the Thunder with a huge spark as he’s moved into that role.

Dort has shown tremendous hustle and willingness to fight through everything on defense. When you watch him play, you think to yourself, “how does this guy have so much energy”? He has no off switch, and he brings it on nightly basis.

Dort has shown he’s earned an NBA contract, and it’s likely that he will receive one once he accumulates the maximum of 45 days of NBA service.  There is no need to worry about whether Dort will remain with the team for the rest of the season and the playoffs.  OKC has a plan.

The Thunder are 14-5 with Dort in the starting lineup, indicating the impact he’s had on the team.  Dort’s 19 starts are also a record for most starts on a two-way contract.

We will venture through what Dort has done this year. Will he keep this play up? Will expectations be too high? Can he be a starting guard on a playoff team? Many questions still loom.

Rise in the NBA

Dort started off the year in the G-League. He played there as if he had the sliders turned off in NBA 2K. The league was on easy mode for him and he used that to help build his foundation.

In the NBA, he started off getting just a few minutes a game. Then, when Terrance Ferguson was unable to start due to personal reasons, Billy Donovan inserted Dort into the starting lineup, a role he hasn’t relinquished, relegating Ferguson to the bench.

His shooting line isn’t spectacular–42.7%/31.1%/75.9%. But what what Thunder shooting guard has ever had a great shooting line? The franchise grooms their shooting guards to be defensive stoppers.

One thing he does well is he attack the basket. Dort is willing to go down the lane and not settle for a shot, which gives the defense an extra crinkle to worry about. Dort also has great awareness of spacing, filling gaps well.

He currently boasts a 0.4 defensive win shares and a 0.8 DBPM, demonstrating his activity on defense.  Dort holds offensive players to just 38.3% shooting and 27.6 on 3-point attempts.

Dort has had high praise from his teammates and coaches. His willingness to learn and get better is only going to help his growth. Although Dort hasn’t been practicing with the team, per Donovan, once Dort obtains an NBA contract, getting reps in with the team will enhance his growth.

Drop off expected?

While the defensive numbers paint a good picture, Dort still has work to do on the offensive side.  Dort continues to struggle from 3-point range and from the mid-range. Although he has shown glimpses, Dort still is a project.

His free throw percentage has never been high at any level, and his current FT% of 75.9% may go down along with more volume.  A poor free-throw shooter can really have a huge negative impact in close games, so developing from the charity stripe would be integral for his game. However, based upon his past, Dort will have to prove himself at the line with more volume and opportunities.

As games start to tighten up and become more oriented in the half-court, he will be tasked with more–more screens to fight through, more complex offenses and much more. Teams will also gain more tape on him and be looking to exploit weaknesses.

Could teams potentially sag off him in the playoffs and force him to shoot? We know all too well that feeling as Thunder fans. Teams are smart in the playoffs and will do whatever it takes to get an advantage. Will an undrafted rookie be able to rise to the challenge?

Final verdict

The last report card I did on Dort, he was in the G-League, fully expecting to see him get an NBA contract at some point. That is now almost a reality.

There will be shortcomings on the horizon, but the kid is only 20 years old. There are growing pains with every player in this league, and he will be no exception. But the fact remains, all 30 NBA teams passed on him including the Thunder.

It’s a credit to the Thunder that the team nabbed him after the draft.  But as an undrafted player, Dort knows he has to prove himself and will have a chip on his shoulder, wanting to show what 29 other teams missed out on. Often, that chip gives players an edge and extra motivation to succeed.

Dort will be blessed with an NBA deal very soon. He’s earned it, and he will have to continue to earn it as the season and his career goes on. Based upon the work Dort has put in so far, it’s not hard to see him becoming the starting shooting guard of the future for OKC.

The clock has already started on making that a reality.