It's hard to make an All-Defensive Team.
Like, really hard.
Whereas there are three All-NBA Teams, there are only two All-Defensive Teams. That means 10 players every season get the honour of being selected to an All-Defensive Team, broken down into four guards, four forwards and two centres.
One guard hoping to crack one of the teams this season is Oklahoma City guard Luguentz Dort. Undrafted in 2019, the Montreal native has made a name for himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, someone who is capable of getting under the skin of the best of the best.
Time will tell if Dort did enough to earn an All-Defense nod, but he built himself a case worthy of real consideration.
Let's take a closer look.
Your favourite player doesn't want to see Dort
BBall Index has a stat called matchup difficulty, which uses the NBA's tracking data to calculate how often players spend "guarding players of different usage tiers," essentially allowing them to see who takes on the toughest assignments. Dort's matchup difficulty rating this season? 100, making him one of only two players - the other being Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neal - with a perfect rating.
Some of that is out of necessity. The Thunder are an up-and-coming team without many defensive-minded players, making Dort their best option to take on the challenge of guarding the opposing team's best player. And yet, Dort proved to be a pesky defender last season when he gave James Harden trouble in Oklahoma City's first-round series with the Houston Rockets. This season, he continued to frustrate the league's best offensive players.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Dort has the height to match up with both guard positions. His 6-foot-8 wingspan makes him tough to score over...
...and he's one of the best in the league at getting around screens, making him a difficult matchup for pick-and-roll heavy guards.
Seriously, trying to screen Dort is a game within a game.
He's also built like a brick wall. Weighing in at 215 pounds, he uses his strong upper body well to keep players in front of him on drives to the basket.
The tracking data is far from perfect, but it's telling that Dort held players to 0.83 points per possession in isolation this season, ranking him in the 63rd percentile.
Plus, they call it the Dorture Chamber for a reason.
That size comes in handy when Dort has to scale up as a defender. He spent the bulk of his minutes defending guards this season - 64.7 percent, to be exact - but Dort defended a decent amount of bigger wings, such as DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
What he lacks in height against those players he makes up for in strength and activity.
Speaking of activity, Dort never seems to run out of gas. It's exhausting watching him play defence sometimes.
It's not rare to see him make multiple efforts in a single possession when he's off-ball, this being one of his more memorable sequences this season:
All of this is to say that the NBA is a star-driven league and Dort has quickly established himself as one of the best star defenders, especially at the guard position. Every team in the league wishes they had a Luguentz Dort.
Again, the tracking data is far from perfect, but it points to Dort having a lot of individual success against the likes of Donovan Mitchell, LeBron James, Khris Middleton, Jamal Murray and Damian Lillard this season. Stephen Curry not so much, but that speaks more to how ridiculous he is than Dort's defensive chops.
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John Wall is another one who might stand out, but that comes with the territory of guarding the league's best players.
You win some...
...and you lose some.
OK, but what do the other numbers say?
If you're into counting stats, Dort's defence won't jump off the page.
Dort ranked behind 100 players with 0.9 steals per game, behind 111 players with 1.6 deflections per game and behind 59 players with five charges drawn. His steal and block percentages were around average for his position, per Cleaning The Glass. (That's not a huge surprise considering the assignments he takes on and the fact that he's more of an on-ball defender than off-ball defender, but still worth mentioning).
The on-off numbers shine him in a slightly better light. According to NBA.com, the Thunder held opponents to 111.6 points per 100 possessions with Dort on the court this season compared to 113.1 with him on the bench. That's the difference between Oklahoma City ranking 13th in defensive rating and 23rd.
The advanced stats are more mixed. Whereas Dort ranked behind only eight players in FiveThirtyEight's Defensive RAPTOR, behind 35 players in ESPN's Defensive Real-Plus Minus and behind 45 players in Dunks and Threes' Defensive Estimated Plus-Minus, he ranked 129th in Defensive Box-Plus Minus and 215th in Defensive Win Shares.
Basically, it comes down to what you value - assuming, of course, that you value any advanced defensive statistics, which are far less reliable than advanced offensive statistics.
As good as Dort was defensively this season, he still faces some stiff competition for All-Defense.
To name a few players who will be in the running at the guard position: Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Marcus Smart, Jrue Holiday, Matisse Thybulle, Chris Paul, Fred VanVleet and Dejounte Murray.
Remember, there are only four guard positions up for grabs. Some of the players mentioned are guard and forward eligible, but even moving someone like Butler to forward doesn't create a clear opening for Dort.
As I said at the top, time will tell if he will crack one of the two All-Defensive Teams, but simply being in the discussion is an incredible feat for Dort in only his second season. And even if he doesn't earn an All-Defense nod, it's safe to assume that he'll be a staple in these discussions in the years to come.
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