After a season of struggles at the rim, Lu Dort is finishing stronger

After a season of struggles at the rim, Lu Dort is finishing stronger

If you were frustrated by Dort’s struggles around the rim last season, you weren’t alone. The Thunder guard was too. So he spent part of his summer looking at the “crazy shots” he took last season

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Nov 16, 2023, 6:00am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Nov 16, 2023, 6:00am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — If you ever threw up your hands last season and wondered why Lu Dort took that shot at the rim; why he challenged that group of defenders; why he seemed to struggle so much around the basket, you were not alone. 

Dort wondered the same thing. 

The Thunder forward shared your frustrations. 

So he spent a chunk of his summer re-living those moments, binge-watching brutal misses around the rim. 

He didn’t like what he saw. 

“I spent a lot of time in the offseason watching film and seeing some of the crazy shots I took in the past couple years,” Dort said. “The thing is to get better, it’s and it’s all about that.”

The result of all that looking back is that Dort — while hardly an elite finisher — has taken a step forward early this season.

Entering Thursday’s game at Golden State, Dort is shooting 55% on shots at the rim, defined as those four feet or closer. 

That’s not high-end territory for a wing player — teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shoots 66% at the rim; the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic 77% — but it’s an improvement for Dort. 

Last season, he made a career-worst 49% of his attempts at the rim, hitting 153 of 313 shots at close range. 

Dort doesn’t get to the rim much. He takes 8.5 shots per game, and almost half of them are catch-and-shoot jump shots. But a hot-shooting start to the season — he’s making 47.1% of his 3-pointers — has meant more teams are closing out to him, allowing him to attack. 

And while scoring at the rim likely will never be a critical piece of his game, he figured it needed at least to be a better one. 

So he looked back — at least season especially — and tried to figure out what he was doing wrong. 

What he found in part was that the old basketball adage “be quick but don’t hurry” sometimes applied. 

“Sometimes when I go to the rim, I’m going full speed and I gotta brake at some point and read the defense,” Dort said. “So that was big, and I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that.”

Another lesson: Sometimes discretion at the rim is the better part of valor. Last season, Dort drove the ball 9.4 times per game and shot 40.2% on driving shots. This season, his driving attempts are down to 4.6 per game, and his shooting is up to 50%. 

He’s also passing slightly more on drives — about 52% of the time, up 6%. 

“The best thing I can do for my teammates sometimes is taking open 3s,” Dort said. “Sometimes it’s just going to the lane and seeing who’s open instead of just me forcing my way to the rim and trying to go score on I-don’t-know-how-many guys.”

An example: With about three minutes to play Sunday at Phoenix, Dort had the ball in transition. His path to the rim was contested. 

Rather than drive into the paint, he backed out and the Thunder set its offense, a pause that ultimately led to Jalen Williams driving for a layup and a foul. The ensuing free throw put OKC in front 102-95, and it went on to win 111-99. 

That, maybe more than the numbers, is a reflection of Dort’s growth. 

The temperament it takes to adapt around the rim — and to watch film of yourself flailing and failing there — isn’t new for Dort, Thunder coach Mark Daigneualt said. 

Since Dort entered the NBA, Daigneault said, “he’s always had humility; he’s always had character; he’s always been self-reflective.” 

And he’s always been good. At some things. 

“From day one, he could guard Donovan Mitchell,” Daigneault said. “He guarded Donovan Mitchell the first week that he was a player in the NBA. But it’s taken him a long time to see the pictures offensively, to make the reads offensively.”

But there are indications he’s getting there. 

The emergence of Williams and the addition of Chet Holmgren have meant a different offensive role for Dort. He’s scoring 13.1 points, which would be his lowest average since his rookie year. Same for his 8.5 field-goal attempts. 

But he’s shooting what would be a career-best 48.9% from the floor. HIs effective field-goal percentage — a metric that takes into account the added value of making a 3-point shot compared to a two — is 61.7%. He’s never finished a season with an eFG% higher than 49.3%. 

It’s a small sample size. It might not hold. 

But early indications are that some unpleasant offseason film study is paying off. And that’s a start. 

“He hasn’t learned how to self-reflect over the summer,” Daigneault said. “He’s always been humble and self-reflective. He’s just learning how to apply that self-reflection to an area of his game that obviously he needed to improve. He recognized that; we recognize that. He’s done a great job.

Warriors’ Green suspended, Curry out vs. Thunder 

Warriors forward Draymond Green has been suspended for five games for his role in an altercation between Golden State and Minnesota on Tuesday in which Green put Wolves center Rudy Gobert in a headlock, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday.

Green’s teammate, Warriors guard Stephen Curry, will miss at least the first of the Thunder’s two games at Golden State this week. The Warriors announced Wednesday afternoon that Curry had undergone an MRI to determine the extent of an injury to the sore right knee that kept him out of Tuesday’s loss to the Timberwolves. 

The MRI did not reveal any structural damage, according to the Warriors, but Curry will miss Thursday’s game with OKC and be evaluated later this week. The Thunder and Warriors play again on Saturday in San Francisco. 


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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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