Will Lu Dort see a new role for the OKC Thunder?

Luguentz Dort #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Luguentz Dort #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder are trying to take another leap this season. After a 16-win improvement a year ago, the Thunder will add 2022 2nd overall pick Chet Holmgren, the 10th overall pick in the 2023 Draft Cason Wallace, and two-time EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic to the fold. That trio compliments a blue-chip superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and one of the league’s best young cores.

As we head into the most anticipated season of OKC Thunder basketball since 2017, Mark Daigneault has a set starting five when healthy. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams, and Chet Holmgren are poised to be the first five in each contest on paper.

Can the OKC Thunder find an effective role for their defensive ace, Lu Dort, this season?

The OKC Thunder fanbase has routinely questioned Lu Dort’s spot in the starting five, and it is safe to say he would be the first of the group that the fanbase would replace. However, the organization and head coach, Mark Daigneault, make no bones about how much they value the defensive ace, and for good reason.

On top of locking up the opposition’s best player, Dort represents one of the best leaders on this young Thunder squad and is trusted by his bench boss. Sam Presti has praised Dort for his ability to give opposing coaches headaches every night.

Lu Dort played in 74 games a year ago, posting 13 points,  four rebounds, two assists, and 1.3 STOCKS (steals plus blocks) per game. Dort shot 38 percent from the floor, 33 percent from beyond the arc, and 77 percent at the charity stripe. The offensive woes continued to include over a turnover per game.

However, the value comes from Dort’s incredible defensive prowess, deflecting passing, diving on loose balls, and drawing offensive fouls at a historic clip. To have a guy that you can stick on Kawhi Leonard for a 12-second possession to end the game victorious is a massive boost to this young Thunder team. Those results can swing entire seasons in a narrow Western Conference playoff race.

The only blemish on Lu Dort’s resume is his offensive inefficiency. He grades out as an “average” offensive player, according to Synergy, with “below average” rankings in transition, on cuts, coming off screens, and a “poor” grade at the rim.  Can the OKC Thunder craft an offensive role for Dort that keeps him in the starting five long-term?

To this point, Mark Daigneault has been comfortable exploring the roster, including giving players a longer leash to grow their game and test the limits of their skillset. Dort has been trusted to handle some playmaking chances and, given self-creation, looks as a scorer during this rebuild process.

Now, with the goal of winning basketball games, it is likely time to reign back in Lu Dort offensively, but can you put the toothpaste back in the tube for such a confident player? There is no disputing Dort is horrendous at the rim, shooting just 49 percent at the ring last season, which places him in the bottom five percentile of the entire NBA.

His three-point shooting overall to this point has limited his 3-and-D ability, and he is not a high-level playmaker despite some decision-making improvements a year ago. So, what can change for the OKC Thunder wing?

Lu Dort has spent the last three seasons being the second most aggressive offensive player that dawns an OKC Thunder uniform. In year two of Jalen Williams, with the progression of Josh Giddey at the FIBA World Cup tournament and the addition of Chet Holmgren, that should quickly change. Limiting his offensive role by nature can increase his efficiency.

Despite the sour taste in some fans’ mouths, Lu Dort can still be a tremendous complimentary weapon for Oklahoma City. Since his rookie season, Dort has never shot below 40 percent on corner threes. However, he shoots above the break triples at just a 30 percent clip. With the number of playmakers and the pressure, this Thunder team will put on the rim, having Dort camp out in the corners to receive drive-and-kick chances could result in a massive offensive swing.

While we will eventually have to resign to the fact that Lu Dort is just an awful rim finisher, his frame still gives hope that with more tame drives, his percentages could increase. Being more cautious with his drives and working for three-point shots that benefit him could lead to a new-look Dort offensively.

Ultimately, this is a massive season for Lu Dort. As the sand falls through this Thunder, rebuild’s hourglass, fans will increasingly get restless and look for upgrades to this roster. Dort is under a microscope in that regard. With the most talent around him that he has seen since his rookie season, Lu Dort can make a statement.

Next. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can take another leap this season following his rise to Superstardom. dark