One of the great casualties of Chris Paul getting traded, and the Oklahoma City Thunder falling off the casual NBA map, is far too many fans have no idea what is going on with Lu Dort, who got his 15 minutes of fame in the bubble for being a brick wall defender who literally had James Harden calling for screens, if not shying away from the ball altogether, just to not have to deal with him.
If you haven’t watched Dort since then, however, you remember him as a one-way player to the point of offensive liability — a sub-30-percent 3-point shooter defenses were all too happy to leave wide open as he laid brick after brick or passed up shots that stalled OKC’s possessions. If this is the case, you will be shocked to learn Dort is shooting over 43 percent from beyond the arc this season.
And we’re not talking about a low-volume sample. He’s shooting five triples per game. On Friday, Dort shot a season-high 11 3-pointers, making four, as OKC quietly pulled its record to 6-6 with a win over Chicago.
Dort’s final line on Friday went like this: 21 points, five rebounds and six steals. Per StatMuse, that makes him the third player in Thunder history to post at least 20 points, five rebounds and five steals in a single game before the age of 22. The other two? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Not the worst company.
Dort, who shot 29 percent from deep last season, and 26 percent in the playoffs, has now made at least one 3-pointer in each of OKC’s 12 games. His 28 total made 3s are more than Jamal Murray and Bradley Beal. Good luck leaving Dort alone these days: Entering Friday, he was making 50 percent of his unguarded jumpers, and the 1.27 points per possession he’s recording as a jump-shooter rank in the 88th percentile league-wide, per Synergy.
Dort’s evolution is happening at warp speed, as he’s quickly gone from a stand-still shooter — and a bad one at that — to one who is regularly seeing plays develop and moving into position for shots. Watch here as Dort, rather than standing still and making it easier for his defender (Patrick Williams) to recover out to him, quickly relocates to ensure an open shot and fires without hesitation.
That was the start of 10 straight third-quarter points for Dort, who has also shown an ability to put the ball on the floor this season. Watch here as he catches in early offense and immediately crosses over Williams — a pretty stout defender himself — on his way to the rim, where he has the frame to bounce off contact and finish.
On the very next possession, Dort hit another 3-pointer as OKC was well on its way to erasing a 22-point deficit.
That is the confident stroke of a guy who wants to shoot rather than one who has to shoot, for fear of screwing up the rhythm of the possession with his hesitance. There is absolutely no hesitance in Dort’s game to start this season. Look here as Dort rebounds and pushes, and when neither defender shows any urgency in coming over the ball screen, he pops without a second thought.
And again, this is to say nothing of Dort’s six steals on Friday. That is not an easy number to come by, and those thefts are hardly the work of an opportunistic gambler. Dort is as sturdy a defender as you’ll find. He almost never reaches or slaps. His ability to move laterally and keep his chest in front of the best penetrators in the world is incredible. And his grit is inspiring. As an undrafted player who started his career in the G League, he plays every second like his job is on the line.
Dort’s defense was going to be enough to keep him in the NBA for a long time, but this kind of offensive development, should it continue, is going to lead to some serious money when he comes into free agency. For now, Dort, who is making $1.5 million this season, is quite possibly the best dollar-for-dollar player in the NBA.