"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
Today, Oklahoma City Thunder guard and Montreal native Luguentz Dort takes the spotlight.
Based on data collected by Krishna Narsu of The BBall Index, that's the percentage of time Luguentz Dort spent guarding No. 1 options in the 2019-20 season.
Why is that noteworthy? It was the highest rate in the entire league.
That's right - someone who didn't hear his name called in the 2019 NBA Draft and was on a two-way contract for most of the regular season spent a higher percentage of his minutes guarding No. 1 options than anyone else in the league. They were real minutes too. Dort appeared in only 36 games with the Thunder but started in 28 of them and averaged 22.8 minutes per game. He finished the season ranked 26th among all rookies in total minutes played.
The closest player to Dort when it came to guarding No. 1 options was his Thunder teammate Terrance Ferguson, whom Dort replaced in the starting lineup in the second half of the season. After them: Royce O'Neale, Torrey Craig, Ben Simmons, Dorian Finney-Smith, Bruce Brown, Jrue Holiday and Kris Dunn, all of whom are known as defensive-minded players.
|Player||Minutes guarding No. 1 options|
Now, just because a player spends a high percentage of their minutes guarding No. 1 options doesn't mean they're particularly good at it. Take Ferguson as an example. While he's a capable perimeter defender, I'm not sure anyone would label him as a lockdown defender. Him picking up the assignment of guarding the opposing team's No. 1 option was born more out of necessity - easing the workload of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder's two leading scorers.
Dort, however, has proven to have the defensive chops to be something special on that end of the court.
First and foremost, Dort came into the NBA with the reputation of being a solid defender. As NBA.com's Eric Fawcett wrote before the 2019 NBA Draft, he has all the tools to "be a solid defender as a pro." Secondly, it didn't take Dort long to showcase his defensive versatility when he started getting called up by the Thunder midway through the season.
Over the 36 games he appeared in, he showed that he has the size to disrupt smaller guards like Trae Young, both inside the paint and out on the perimeter.
The speed to fight around screens against dominant pick-and-roll scorers like Donovan Mitchell.
The discipline to not be baited into committing fouls against some of the league's best foul drawers like Damian Lillard.
Even the strength to hold his own against players like LeBron James in the post.
Dort then had a coming out party in the playoffs. Although the Thunder lost in the first round, they pushed a Houston Rockets team with championship aspirations to seven games in part because of Dort's defence on James Harden.
Harden finished the series averaging 29.7 points, 8.0 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game - numbers on par with what he averaged in the regular season, earning him the third-most votes for MVP - but the stats point to him being a completely different player when he was being guarded by Dort. According to NBA.com's tracking numbers, Harden shot 31.5 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from 3-point range when Dort was defending him. Against everyone else on the Thunder, Harden combined to shoot 56.2 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
The NBA's tracking data is far from perfect, but it became clear to anyone who was watching those games that Dort was the Thunder's best option against the three-time scoring champion. Harden praised Dort after the series, saying he is "going to have a great career." Harden's teammate Austin Rivers took it a step further, revealing that the Rockets "couldn't wait to get him off the court" because he was "sliding them feet on everybody."
Dort still has a lot of developing to do to reach his full potential, particularly on the offensive end. Almost half of Dort's field goal attempts this season were 3-pointers, but he made only 29.7 percent of those opportunities during the regular season. That's simply not going to cut it. And yet, he's already made a name for himself as a defensive stopper, the type who can contain some of the league's best players.
It all comes back to that one simple number...
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