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Early Returns: Luguentz Dort is starting to look like one of the premier 3&D wings in the NBA

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Dort’s hot shooting has been impressive

Chicago Bulls v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Luguentz Dort announced himself to the world during the Thunder’s first round series against the Houston Rockets. Dort’s bruising, intelligent defense on James Harden slowed the Rockets’ offense to a crawl and gave the Thunder a fighting chance to win the series. His defense was clearly impressive but his offense did make it difficult to keep Dort on the court at times.

Lu struggled to knock down outside shots consistently; he went 0-9 from 3-point land in Game 5 and finished the series shooting 26% on 8 3PA per game. The Rockets were able to sit off Dort and clog the interior. Houston did not fear Dort when he was sitting in the corner.

Dort was able to compensate for his lack of shooting by being aggressive off the drive. Dort used his physicality to shrug off defenders and get to the rim with varying degrees of success. Dort going to the rim for looks did generate efficient offense but it compromised floor-spacing for the Thunder.

In Game 7 of that series, we saw Dort take over the game and show what he could be with a little work. Dort dropped 30 points on Harden’s head and made it rain from downtown. Lu went 6-12 from outside as he set about winning the series for the Thunder. It was impressive, it was ridiculous, I simply could not believe what I was seeing.

Coming into this season, nobody really knew what to expect from Luguentz Dort. There was a lot of hope that he could be a league average shooter but that sort of improvement was improbable. He had shot 29.7% on 3-point shots in 2019-20; 35% from deep seemed like a long shot.

Dort’s start to the season surpasses those expectations, Lu has been a reliable option from beyond the arc. Luguentz Dort is shooting 43.7% from downtown on 5.5 3PA per game through the first twelve games on the season. His efficiency has been impressive and defenses have not been able to disregard Dort as a shooter like they did last season.

This sort of efficiency does require some caveats. The sample size is still relatively small, Dort has only taken 71 3-point attempts this season and there needs to be more evidence before a reliable judgement can be made about Lu’s shooting.

The other caveat is that there should not be the expectation that his hyper-efficiency from outside can be maintained. There has never been a jump from bad shooter to elite in one offseason. Moreover, players who are inefficient shooters tend to top out as serviceable from deep; they reach the ceiling, they do not break through it.

Dort regressing in terms of efficiency would not be surprising, in fact I would expect Dort’s shooting to dip down from 43.7%. That mark feels unsustainable. Even if Dort regresses, his overall improvement will be impressive. A player with his defense and this efficiency from deep is one of the best 3&D wings in the league.

The other point worth noting is that Dort’s volume has also increased dramatically. Dort is taking 5.5 3PA per game which is a mark comparable with other 3&D wings such as Malik Beasley. The combination of efficiency and volume has turned Dort into a useful tool for the Thunder. It will also change the way that defenses guard him.

One of the big criticisms of Terrance Ferguson was Ferguson’s reticence to shoot the ball last year. Ferguson shot 36.6% on 3-point shots in his best season for the Thunder but the issue was that he did not take enough attempts for defenses to take him seriously on offense. There were a lot of times where Ferguson sat in the corner and it felt like the Thunder were playing 4v5 on offense.

Dort has never been shy about casting his jumper up but the increase in efficiency means that defenses cannot sag off him. A defender has to stay attached to Dort in order to prevent Lu from knocking down four or five threes in a game.

Dort’s improvement has not come from Lu camping out in the corner and benefitting from the shorter 3-point shot. His shot profile is different to what would be expected.

The lion share of Dort’s looks are coming from above the break and he has been a marksman on these attempts. An above the break three is worth the same points as a corner three but the location of this shot affects a team’s defense differently. A help rotation from the middle to the corner is easier than a rotation to the break as it is a shorter distance.

Getting out to the break means more distance to cover and the added distance means the help rotation has to be timed more accurately. This sort of shot places a lot of pressure on the opposing team defense to make the right read every single time which is incredibly difficult to do.

His improvement as a shooter is tangible and I would argue that video illustrates the small changes that he has made to his jumper in order to be a more efficient shooter.

This clip comes from the first round of the playoffs last season. There is a lot to like in Dort’s form here; the dip loads upward momentum which allows Dort to get the shot off faster. His release point is at a good height and within his eye-line. However, there are a few issues with his mechanics.

On this possession, Dort’s guide hand is placed on the side of the ball and influences the accuracy of the shot. It seems like he is shooting with both hands which can reduce the control that a player has on the shot. This control is further reduced when Dort’s arms splay out after the shot. The shot goes down in this clip but these little issues mean that his release is not clean and tidy.

This possession comes from the Thunder’s game against the Jazz early in the season. There are a lot of similarities with his form in the prior clip. The shooting dip and his release point are unchanged. However, there are differences in his release.

Dort’s guide hand now rests on top of the ball and does not influence the flight of the ball at all. The shot’s propulsion stems solely from his shooting hand. Moreover, his shooting arm remains a lot tighter after release; the follow through after the jumper is more compact. These are marginal difference to his form in the Houston series but these little details make his shot more controlled and more repeatable.

The next thing that Dort needs to tackle is his finishing off the drive. Dort has started to work his way inside a lot more this season. Dort is converting these looks at a 58.8% mark. He has been solid but there is so much scope for improvement.

Dort has a rare blend of physical strength and speed, Dort can beat players off the drive using his physical attributes. However, Lu’s finishing is relatively raw. He has started to work in a reverse layup but Dort usually settles for simple off-glass layups.

This sort of finish does work but it is fairly easy for the defense to block the shot off the backboard. It would be useful for him to develop a counter such as a runner or floater to keep the defense guessing. Having a finish that does not require him to go all the way to the hoop would be useful when shooting over taller defenders.

I have to say that Luguentz Dort has been hugely impressive to start the season. He has improved offensively without sacrificing any of his elite level defense. In the first twelve games of the season, Dort has displayed that he can be brilliant in the 3&D role.

Over the course of the last twelve months, Luguentz Dort has firmly established himself as a key member of the Thunder’s rotation and future. It has been an incredible rise for the Haitian-Canadian guard. For the first time since Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder have somebody on the wing who can shoot efficiently from deep and defend.