The Oklahoma City Thunder starting the first night of a back-to-back in Tampa Bay to take on the Toronto Raptors, in this contest, each team sat their most important pieces. For the Thunder, Al Horford and Mike Muscala continued to sit, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is still sidelined with a foot injury, Gabriel Deck has yet to join the team, and Josh Hall is out as well. Toronto, took this to a new level, sitting Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG, and Jalen Harris. Even after being fined for Injury Report manipulation, the Raptors continued to sit players, just doing so now with the correct designation.
The OKC Thunder came out firing, specifically, Lu Dort who ripped off 21 points in the first 12 minutes going 7-for-7 from the floor. The ascending former two-way player who dropped over 40 points in Utah a few nights ago, has not slowed down offensively. Without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, most of the playmaking and scoring responsibility falls on Dort.
A day prior to his 22nd Birthday, Lu finished the night with 29 points, as the Toronto Defense began game-planning for him from the first quarter on. The Arizona State product scored just one point in the second frame, but the lack of scoring in quarters 2-4 relative to the first quarter, is not concerning.
When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returns, and the team gets better around him, defenses will not be able to game plan for and shut down Dort. SGA will also take pressure off Dort the playmaking. It is incredibly hard to play the level of defense Dort does while leading the charge offensively.
The most encouraging sign from Dort, beyond the counting stats, in this recent stretch of games is his ability to create a. shot for himself. Averaging 28 points per game since his return from injury, a mark that if he could do for an entire season would match Luka Doncic and Giannis, Dort’s ability to stop on a dime, step back, and have defenses on their heels giving him space to pop a mid-range shot around the elbow, is critical for his development, especially as he continues to develop his ability to finish at the rim.
I remember another Oklahoma City Thunder guard, who Lu Dort admired growing up, that could have electric finishes and stop on a dime for a mid-range jumper in his prime.
Aleksej Pokusevski joined LeBron James in being the first rookie since LeBron to put up 5+ points, rebounds, blocks, and assists game. Poku could not find his groove from beyond the arc, going 0-for-8, but he impacted the game in a lot of different ways. His driving ability was jaw-dropping, and his ability to whip passes on a frozen rope to his teammates, at his size and mobility, was unfair.
The Thunder got a massive loss in their quest to fade for Cade and now travel to take on Thunder legend Russell Westbrook, who is looking to get Washington into the playoffs (play-in). A Washington win would help both sides in their end goal this year.
For more on this game, listen to the Locked on Thunder Podcast, is Lu Dort a superstar in the making?