On his 22nd birthday, there's no better time to focus on how Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort has the tendency to join elite company.
Join us in wishing @luthebeast of the @okcthunder a HAPPY 22nd BIRTHDAY!#NBABDAY #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/KJQuVpiy52- NBA (@NBA) April 19, 2021
Eight months after the Montrealer broke a Game 7 scoring record previously held by LeBron James with a virtuoso performance against the Houston Rockets, Dort again dispelled some notions about his offensive game with a career-best 42 points against the Utah Jazz and their fourth-rated defence just six days prior to turning 22.
DORT: "I was cookin'" during career night
With his career night, Dort again joined elite company, a fact that is illustrated perfectly by a few numbers.
7: The number of triples Dort knocked down.
While he knocked down six 3s in Game 7 of the opening round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, Dort surpassed his previous regular-season high of five made 3s, set twice.
6: The number of players in Thunder franchise history to score 40 or more points in a game.
- Kevin Durant (45 times)
- Russell Westbrook (43 times)
- Paul George (10 times)
- Luguentz Dort
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- James Harden
5: The number of Canadians to score 40 or more points in a game in NBA history.
4: The number of players to score 40 or more points against the Jazz in the 2020-21 season prior to Dort.
With his performance, Dort joined four All-Stars (three starters) and two legitimate MVP candidates for the 2020-21 NBA season.
2: Dort ranks as the second-youngest player in Oklahoma City franchise history to score 40 or more points in a game.
The first? Durant, who recorded 11 games of 40 or more prior to his 22nd birthday. Dort, who scored 42 points on April 13, 2021, did so six days prior to turning 22.
Now about what this performance means in the grand scheme of things…
What Dort was able to do against Utah was nothing short of special and the feat was made even more special by the company that he joined in the process. But what's more important than both of those facts is how he was able to do it.
Known almost exclusively as Oklahoma City's defensive ace, Dort's 3-point shooting is often disrespected as teams dare him to take open looks as if they'll live with the results. Such was the case in the 2020 Playoffs and it was again the case on multiple occasions against the Jazz.
MORE: Montrealers take centre stage in meeting between Raptors and Thunder
On Dort's first made 3 of the game, Donovan Mitchell goes under a dribble handoff - the typical defensive coverage to those deemed non-shooters - creating the space for Dort to knock down a largely uncontested 3-pointer.
It was the first of four 3s he sank en route to scoring 18 points in the opening frame.
On one possession, the defence seemingly lost him. On two others, a similar action with Dort receiving a screen at the nail resulted in him coming off to hit two assisted triples from the top of the key.
After his big first quarter, Dort's last three triples came in the final frame with two being ruled as pull-up 3s - Dort shot 2-for-5 (40.0 percent) on pull-up 3s against Utah, something he has done at a 26.5 percent rate this season, per NBA.com Stats.
In addition to his shooting, Dort took on more responsibilities as a pick-and-roll ball handler in the absence of Gilgeous-Alexander. According to InStat, Dort was the pick-and-roll ball handler for a season-best 15 possessions, scoring 22 of his 42 points in such situations, a rate of 1.47 points per possession.
For reference, Dort is averaging two possessions as the pick-and-roll ball handler per game this season and has scored at a rate of 0.89 points per possession.
The rate - and frequency - with which he scored in the pick-and-roll against the Jazz shouldn't be viewed as sustainable. (Trae Young leads the league with 14.3 possessions per game as a pick-and-roll ball handler, for what it's worth). Still, Dort is showing his potential as a pick-and-roll scorer, which would add to his versatility on offence in the future
It can't be overlooked that Dort's performance came when Oklahoma City was without its leading scorer in Gilgeous-Alexander and arguably its most intriguing prospect in Aleksej Pokusevski. In the future, when the Thunder are at full strength, Dort will likely be the team's tertiary ball handler after rookie Théo Maledon and Gilgeous-Alexander.
That being said, it's getting to the point where opposing defences can ill-afford to "hide" players on Dort or allow his primary defender to roam as he continues to improve as a shooter and is learning how to make teams pay by making plays out of ball screens.
While all small sample sizes should be taken with a grain of salt, Dort's career performance kicked off a three-game stretch in which he averaged 32.3 points while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) April 19, 2021
Luguentz Dort | vs. Toronto
5 THREE POINTERS
2 ASSISTS#ThunderUp | @okcthunder pic.twitter.com/yxb2KrtEOU
It's something to build upon if nothing else.
For an Oklahoma City franchise that has 34 draft picks over the next seven years, the focus is clearly on building for the future, with an emphasis on developing key pieces in meaningful situations. As they look to return to prominence in the future, the Thunder won't need Dort to be a 40-point scorer or even a 20-point scorer for that matter.
But what his 42-point performance against an elite defence will do is provide him with the confidence to be the 15-point scorer this team needs him to be, which will open things up even more for Gilgeous-Alexander, Maledon, Pokusevski and all of the future prospects to join in the coming years.
And in case you needed a reminder about the defence, Dort held Mitchell to seven points on 2-for-8 shooting on over 30 partial possessions during his career scoring night, per NBA.com.
It might soon be time to replace "defensive ace" with "two-way ace."
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