Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
Oklahoma City have lost five games in row since their last win against the Houston Rockets 12 days ago. Oddly, it does not feel like the Thunder are slumping. Oklahoma City have been very competitive against some of the stronger teams in the league.
In Friday’s game, the Thunder took the surging Wizards to the last few minutes of the game before poor late game execution took the win away from the team. The misfires late in the game are moments from which the Thunder can learn a lot of lessons. Closing a game out requires every person to understand their role and what is required of them at that particular moment in time.
For Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, closing games was relatively uncomplicated last season. He would receive the ball and it would be up to him to create a look in an isolation setting. Coach Mark ran that type of action quite a lot last season as it was the Thunder’s best offensive option by far.
This season, there is a different sort of chemistry in the starting lineup. The addition of Giddey and the growth of Luguentz Dort means that the Thunder now have three options who can be trusted when the game gets tight. For all three players to be effective in clutch situations, they cannot be cold and must have a feel for the basketball.
It is a learning process for the starting five and Coach Daigneault. Coach will need to find a way of balancing the use of Shai, his best closer while getting touches for the Thunder’s other two key offensive contributors.
Luguentz Dort has been a bright spot in this recent run of games. With Shai being injured, there has been an emphasis on the team stepping up to recreate some of Shai’s shot creation. Lu Dort has engaged with the challenge and stepped up his shot volume.
Dort’s efficiency was slightly lower in the last five games than his season average but he contributed valuable points and elite defense to a Thunder team that really needed Lu to be at his best. He has made another leap in his play which is quite honestly unbelievable.
I never thought Dort would be a legitimately decent third option on a team but the stats over the first 18 games of the season has proven me wrong. He is shooting 55.2% on all 2-point field goal attempts this season. Last season, he shot 43.2% on all twos. The improvement below the arc has meant that Dort is currently averaging 56% TS.
He is an efficient scorer from the field and it is not difficult to see why. For all of Dort’s controlled, organised brilliance of defense, he was always a wild man on offense. Lu would drive into space, lose sight of where he was and blow an easy finish. Dort’s finishing around the rim was eerily reminiscent of second year Hamidou Diallo; the ideas were sound but the execution was really poor.
Like Diallo, Dort has slowed the pace of his offense just slightly and his overall scoring game has benefitted tremendously. Lu’s footwork is much tidier and his finishing around the rim is tighter. Dort is shooting 70% from within three feet of the bucket as a result of playing a little slower.
Luguentz Dort has also become much more effective at the free throw line. Last season, Dort shot just 74.4% on all freebies. He is shooting 85.7% from the stripe this season. Free throws are one of the most efficient looks in basketball and Dort is now more ruthless capitalising on easy opportunities.
Dort’s improvement is real and I would not be surprised to see him have a big night against the Rockets. He will make mincemeat of Jalen Green or Kevin Porter Jr. Dort is simply too strong and skilled for either Rockets guard.