Growing Up Thunder: Luguentz Dort has serious potentialnatashapanchal.com

Growing Up Thunder: Luguentz Dort has serious potential

60 players heard their name called in the 2019 NBA draft. None of them were Luguentz Dort, who was projected by many as a second round pick. Some scouts even mentioned the possibility of a team biting late in the first round to draft him.

But predictions are predictions. No team took a chance and drafted Dort. So he hit the wire as an undrafted free agent.

Not too long after the draft, OKC signed Dort to a two-way contract, which allows him to play in the G-League for the 2019 season, as well as spend 45 days with the Thunder. Essentially, OKC signed a player with first round talent on a two-way deal.

Doing it all in college

Dort attended Arizona State for (only) the 2018-19 season. His shooting line was very suspect at 40.5/30.7/70, occasionally air balling free throw attempts. But he was very strong and used his strength well to overpower defenders. 

His PER was 16.5, his TS% was 51.8 and his eFG% was 46.7. Averaging 16.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, he racked up 1.5 win-shares in his 34 games1. His OBPM was 2.2, showing his positive impact on offense despite those low shooting percentages. 

Dort was very good on the defensive end in college, often using his 6’8″ wingspan to interrupt passing lanes and cause deflections. He averaged 1.5 steals per game and was responsible for 1.6 defensive win-shares and a 1.5 DBPM. 

Dort finished the season ranked top-10 in several PAC 12 categories: points, steals, free throws, eFG%, usage and field goals. He did all this playing 31.5 minutes per game, which ranked 19th in the conference, and 1,072 total minutes (10th). 

He simply put up results in the time he was on the court, helping Arizona State to a 23-11 record and the NCAA tournament as a first four game. ASU defeated St. John’s in that game, as Dort was 6-11 from the field to lead the team with 21 points.

Things change

At the draft, Oklahoma City still employed Russell Westbrook and Paul George–and one of the highest cap numbers in NBA history. Adding a young player as talented as Dort seemed to be a no-brainer. He was cost-efficient and could provide results far more then what his pay scale was.

The Thunder were desperate to find any way possible to upgrade their team with limited funds. Darius Bazley was set to make a fixed amount graded on the rookie scale, so any player OKC could scour remaining players in the second round or undrafted as bargains.

Things would change just two weeks later. The George trade dropped. Not too long after that, Jerami Grant was shipped out. To top it all off was Westbrook, and a bloated cap sheet was now the least of OKC’s worries. 

Destined to duck the tax (one small trade to shed $921K will get them under the line), OKC still has a great value in Dort. Having him on a two-way makes it easier to accomplish that than having another player making more.

Hanging with the pros

Dort played in all five games for OKC in the summer league. He averaged about 18 minutes per game with had up-and-down results. He shot 48.6% from the field, but struggled from three (23.1%) and at the free throw line (54.5%). He had two sub-par games mixed in with two good games where he scored in the double-digits.

He showed his potential at times, making good moves to get to the basket. His breakout game came in an 84-81 win against the 76ers. Dort shot 6-12 and totaled 15 points, showing good court awareness and using his strength multiple times to win his matchups. 

In his first professional action, Dort showed he can compete with professional players, finishing the summer league averaging 8.6 points

But preseason wouldn’t prove much of what Dort can do on the court, and he saw only 7.5 minutes per night across four games. His shooting splits were again a little concerning at 42.9/33.3/57.1, but he showed some good court presence. He took care of the basketball, only turning it over three times.

Averaging 4.8 points per game, Dort made what he could of the limited opportunities, which is tough to do in the preseason because teams are getting their players up to speed on basics like the playbook and cardio for the regular season. Putting much stock in preseason play isn’t the route to go.

G-League on Easy Mode

via Thunder

Let’s get to the fun stuff! Dort has been fascinating in the G-League. He seems like a man playing among boys, showing why some thought he could slide his way into the first round. Dominating the G-League has become routine for Dort. The league consists of a lot of guys who have either been in the league or have NBA level talent, so seeing him easily tear the league apart is a welcome sight for OKC fans. 

In the Blue’s first game of the season, he led them to victory while playing an NBA2K game with all the sliders turned off. He dropped 35 points on 12-19 shooting and, even more impressively, 4-9 from 3-point land. Although he did struggle again at the free throw line (5-9), he has been improving there in the following games.

He was able to get anywhere on the floor at any time, making a fool out of any defender thrown at him. Here is a little video of all he was able to do that night against the talented South Bay Lakers, carving up the defense with layups, jumpers and dunks.

In eight G-League games, Dort is averaging 21.9 points on 48.7/34/67.4 shooting splits. He still isn’t knocking down 3-pointers consistently (34%), but over his last two games he’s 6-14 from deep. In his outing on November 23rd versus the Texas Legends, Dort was able to drop 32 points on 10-14 shooting. He was 7-7 from the line and showed his dynamic ability here, getting dunk after dunk and driving to the rim with ease.

Diving into his advanced stats, you’ll find some of the numbers he is putting up are elite. With a 25.1% usage rate, Dort is putting up a TS% of 66.3% and eFG% of 56.2%. His playmaking ability is continuing to grow each game; his passing and court awareness has gotten better with more action.

Dort’s (literal) strengths

Getting to the free throw line is something he excels at. If and when his shot isn’t falling, he can get to the line to kick start his scoring. He displays an explosive first step with great athleticism, and his ability to handle the ball is a positive he can use that to breakdown a defense. One important trait he has is his ability to create his own shot. That’s big in today’s game; when play breaks down he won’t have to rely on others to get him looks.

His big frame allows him to dominate smaller defenders and his quickness is too much for bigger defenders. It’s a good combination to have for a guard and makes him a mismatch in many situations.

His defense is already above average and he has the tools to be very good. He should be able to use his length to effect passing lanes and make it difficult for offensive players to get much space to shoot.

via Thunder

Dort’s (figurative) shortcomings

He has a lot to work on in the G-League. He’s more of a combo guard, not really a shooting guard or a point guard. He doesn’t shoot well enough to be a two guard and doesn’t pass well enough to lead an offense.

Let’s start out with the obvious: he can’t shoot the 3-pointer. At every level, he hasn’t displayed an ability to knock it down from deep consistently. He has good games here and there, but nothing over an extended string of games.

He has the opportunity to change that, but as of now it’s just not his game. Anything within 15 feet is where he needs to stay; 3-pointers should come from off-ball looks and play designs. He shouldn’t settle for a 3-pointer when trying to create his own shot.

He also hasn’t been much of a distributor (2.6 assists per game). He has shown more awareness in the G-League than the summer league, but it’s still below-average. Developing this aspect of his offense would open up his game.

More to come

Dort is a really strong talent who should’ve been drafted. I think he will prove his value to this franchise in the future. His offensive game is very good and he has all the tools to make him good on both ends. At 20 years old, he should continue to refine many parts of his game.

The future is bright with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley. Dort will have every opportunity to be a part of the Thunder’s young wave. This season, he will gain a lot of experience in the G-League and will have a few opportunities with the Thunder. Since OKC was able to get him without using a pick, they get to develop him on that two-way contract. Depending on how OKC approaches the trade deadline, they might even look at converting him to a full contract like they did with Deonte Burton last season.

Lastly, it can’t be stressed enough: he has a chip on his shoulder! He wasn’t selected despite being on many mock draft boards and receiving high marks from scouts. That’s enough to show that the young man has something to play for, and he could prove to be the steal the Thunder needed.