When Lu Dort burst on to the Thunder scene last season, it was a pleasant surprise. Here was this undrafted rookie finally getting his chance to show the NBA world just what he could do. Thunder fans quickly learned of his effort, energy, and tenacity. They saw his willingness to defend the opposing team’s best wing or guard, while also not begging for 20 shots a night on the offensive end.
He quickly became a fan favorite, and it all culminated in Game 7, when Dort scored 30 points against Houston while playing great defense on James Harden in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
At the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, Dort is picking up right where he left off.
Dort threes: going in
Through the first two weeks of the NBA season, Dort is averaging 12.4 points per game and 3.4 rebounds. He’s shooting 48 percent from the floor and 43 percent from three. Surprisingly, through eight games, he’s provided a nice release valve for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who often drives to the rim looking to kick out to open shooters. On wide-open catch and shoot threes, Dort is shooting 53 percent according to the NBA’s tracking data.
Dort’s shooting provides a needed wrinkle in a Thunder offense that tends to struggle with generating good shots for stretches during games. The most common offensive shot for him comes in the mode of a no-dribble catch and shoot three. And on those shots, Dort shoots 46 percent. In contrast, he hasn’t made a single three-pointer after at least one dribble all season.
I know it is a small sample size, but he’s already significantly improved the team’s confidence in his jump-shooting abilities. And due to his jump shot going in at a higher rate, other elements of his game are opening up.
Dort attacks: driving in
Dort is driving to the basket better than ever. Early this season he looks controlled and paced on his attacks to the rim. Teams have to honor that he is shooting well from behind the arc, and because of that driving lanes have opened up.
He is attacking the top foot on closeouts and utilizing his frame to create space around the rim to get layups up and over the defense. His tough finish in Charlotte over Cody Martin is a good example:
He’s coupled great finishes like this with acrobatic ones that showcase his newfound body control on aggressive drives. Against the Orlando Magic, Dort went deep into his bag of tricks to pull off a reverse layup that mimicked something Kyrie Irving might do:
Dort’s body control and improved three-point jump shot are much different shades of his offensive game from last season. He isn’t just a one-way defender that scored 5 or fewer points as often as he did 10 or more in 2019-20. He is and has the potential to be, so much more for the Thunder.
Just look at this move to get past Evan Fournier, coupled with outstanding soft touch on the reverse layup:
Sam Presti found another diamond in the rough. When Dort showcased to the NBA world just what he could be, Presti signed him to a team-friendly extension. Now he’s exceeding that first impression: Dort’s offensive game is the real deal.
Now, I am not saying Dort will be a superstar. Those basketball players are few and far between. Instead, Dort could be a star in his role. And every championship-level team needs a player like that on its roster.
If Dort provides 10-16 points every night, while giving the Thunder amazing defensive effort – the sky is the limit for him as a player. If the outside jump shot continues to fall, he makes the perfect off-guard to complement Shai. Dort is better than advertised, and in this rebuilding year, the Thunder are to see his growth.