1 wild statistic that captures Lu Dort's value to Thunder

Sacramento Kings v Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings v Oklahoma City Thunder / Joshua Gateley/GettyImages

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, and Chet Holmgren headline an ascending young OKC Thunder team that just captured the top seed for the first time since 2013. Although their star trio certainly deserves the bulk of the credit, plenty of role players have played a significant part in the club's successes. 

Starting shooting guard Lu Dort is the current longest-tenured Thunder player, as he burst onto the scene as a rookie by ferociously guarding prime James Harden during the 2020 playoffs.

The Arizona State product has morphed into a perennial All-Defensive candidate through his hounding on-ball defense and elite screen navigation. 

One stat in particular sums up Dort’s value to the Thunder.

Lu Dorts impacts OKC Thunder in a major way on defense

Per Basketball Index, he leads the NBA in their metric matchup difficulty, which estimates the difficulty of a defensive assignment on average. Essentially, no player across the entire league spends more time guarding elite offensive options than Dort. 

Not only does he often limit elite creators and force contested shots, but Dort’s defense is crucial for backcourt partner Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

First, it allows Gilgeous-Alexander to mark a weaker player and subsequently rest as much as possible on defense, thus giving him more energy to carry the offense. When minutes and intensity inevitably increase this postseason, that extra rest will be huge. 

Second, the MVP candidate can play off-ball and disrupt passing lanes, which is his best defensive trait. Gilgeous-Alexander led the league in steals this season because of his length and anticipation combination.

He’s a decent on-ball defender but an exceptional off-ball one. Dort taking the hardest assignments allows Gilgeous-Alexander to play his optimal defensive role and wreak havoc. 

Finally, Dort’s offense deserves a shoutout too.

The veteran happily accepted a lesser role and drastically bumped up his three-point shooting to nearly 40 percent. Dort’s decision-making on drives also radically improved this year.

Overall, the Thunder rosters one of the best 3-and-D players across the NBA in Lu Dort, and they have him signed for the next three seasons too.