As time goes by, it is becoming even clearer just how miraculous it was that the Thunder were able to sign Lu Dort as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 NBA Draft. The Five Star Recruit, (highest ranked Arizona State signee since James Harden), Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, and flat-out defensive fiend somehow was passed up by everyone in the Draft. The Montreal native, built like a linebacker, possessing exceptional footwork, (developed during his days as a soccer player), superb athleticism, good ball handling, and outstanding moral character were mindbogglingly dismissed at the Draft. The one weakness to his game was his perimeter shooting, having an erratic release that could swish nothing but net one time, then sail over the backboard on another attempt. If I was to bet why teams passed, it would be because of that, but still, right up to the Draft, he was still, questionable shot and all, projected as a First Round Pick by experts. For teams to not even take a flyer on him was wild.
According to Dort, Sam Presti and OKC were the first ones to call him after the Draft, offering him a Two-Way Contract. Dort took the deal, betting on himself to prove the doubters wrong. As a player on a Two-Way Contract, Dort was limited to Forty-Five days with the Thunder, (including practice and games). The vast majority of his time was expected to be with the developmental team, the OKC Blue. While Dort did indeed start the season with the Blue, unexpected circumstances, (roster injuries, etc.), lead to his joining the Thunder squad early in the season. He was immediately pressed into action, having to defend premier NBA talent such as Damian Lilliard and Donovan Mitchell, which is a tall task for an experienced player, let alone an undrafted rookie on a Two-Way Contract. When the roster returned to normal, Dort went back to the Blue for a while, but he would get his chance again soon enough.
When Dort returned to the Thunder squad, he immediately made an impact. One of his best plays of the season came in a thriller against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He played tenacious defense and helped force a critical turnover, which allowed the Thunder to hang in the game, setting up for the iconic “Steven Adams to Dennis Schroder Hail Mary” to win the game, also known as the “Untucked Jersey Game”, (Chris Paul with a masterclass in sports rulebook knowledge.) Dort soon earned a permanent starting position, became a key member of the team, guarding the opposing team’s best player, and giving maximum effort every night. While the offense was not his calling card, Dort would chip in the occasional corner three and put back an attempt at the rim, helping the team however he could.
Another wild aspect of Dort’s story is that he was doing all this WITHOUT PRACTICE! Before the rules were changed in the lead-up to the 2020-2021 Season, practices were counted as part of the Forty-Five Days a Two-Way player was allowed. So, to recap, Dort was an undrafted rookie on a Two-Way contract, starting on a playoff team, and tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, all without practicing with the team at all. He was operating purely off of instinct, film sessions, and chemistry with the team – simply incredible stuff.
Heading into the NBA Bubble, the Thunder converted Dort’s Two-Way Contract into a full-fledged, multi-year deal, meaning he was now a permanent member of the OKC Thunder squad, and someone they apparently wished to keep long term within the organization. Lu Dort had truly become a marvelous success story, but this was only the beginning. In the Bubble, Dort absolutely hounded players on the defensive end, showcasing his trademarked toughness and effort in the lead-up to the Playoffs. During the First Round Series against the Rockets, Luguentz Dort became a household name. Dort spent six games absolutely haunting James Harden, (who had been maintaining blistering points per game and efficiency average), making one of the best scorers the league has ever seen look mortal. On the biggest stage in sports, a Game Seven, Dort put it all on the line. He scored thirty points while making James Harden’s game a living nightmare. While Harden had the last laugh and won the game, Dort had accomplished far more; he had become a household name, earned respect, proven himself right by betting on himself, and ascended from a Cult Hero to a rising star.
Heading into the 2020-2021 Season, expectations have risen dramatically for Dort. Where he began as a player with zero expectations, he is now a key member of the Rebuild, alongside SGA and Bazley. While some considered his legendary Game Seven performance as an outlier, (greater than expected shooting from an erratic scorer), his most recent performance against the Utah Jazz, (a predicted top 4/5 Seed in West), shows that was not the case. He scored a career-high (Regular Season), 26-points on a very efficient offensive performance while making Donovan Mitchell’s night pale in comparison. Once again Dort had thoroughly outplayed the superstar he was matched up against. While some have been hesitant to proclaim Dort anything more than a Three and D type player, his scoring came in a variety of ways, featuring drives to the basket, drawing fouls to go to the Line, and a clearly improved perimeter shot. Add to this a great display of ball handling and offensive movement, his potential is clearly much more than that of a simple role player. It’s time to stop suppressing expectations for Dort: he has shattered them each and every time someone has tried to put a ceiling on his talent. As he has proven over and over again, it is unwise to bet against him, so let Dort’s game speak for itself.