Why Frank Vogel called Lu Dort a flopper: It comes down to one thing

Why Frank Vogel called Lu Dort a flopper: It comes down to one thing

Coaches and players around the NBA are growing increasingly fearful of the Thunder.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 2, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 2, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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Frank Vogel is worried about the Thunder.

He said as much on Saturday.

Oh, the Suns coach didn’t utter those actual words. “I’m worried about the Thunder” never came out of his mouth. But his comments the day after an SGA-less Oklahoma City took Phoenix to the woodshed are a clear-as-day indication that Vogel has concerns.

Concerns that this Thunder team sitting atop the Western Conference standings heading into Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia has become a big problem for potential contenders.

Concerns that this OKC squad with its extremely young but extremely talented roster may be about to take over the West and more for years to come.

Concerns that may be shared around the NBA.

Before we get to what Vogel said on Saturday, let’s rewind on what happened Friday. 

The Suns came to town seeking their first win against the Thunder this season. Twice, OKC had gone to Phoenix, and twice, the Thunder had come away with victory. By 12 points in November, and by eight points in early March.

The Suns didn’t have all their big guns for either loss. Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal played in both games. Devin Booker did not. He has battled injury throughout the season and was out both times OKC traveled to Phoenix.

That changed Friday night. The Suns had their big three available, and with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sidelined nursing a quad injury, OKC seemed vulnerable.

Instead, the Thunder pounded the Suns, 128-103.

When Vogel met with reporters Saturday after Suns practice, he was asked for his thoughts about the loss. He talked about how he liked the Suns’ offense and its execution on several possessions where shots were missed, then how he disliked the number of turnovers they committed.

Then, he said this: “The league has got to look at all the flopping that Lu Dort does because it’s ridiculous how he gets calls. If they’re going to get calls like that, then you’re going to have an advantage. You can’t just fall down every time there’s contact and get a whistle.”

All the flopping?

Fall down every time?

What the what?

I’m not going to sit here and suggest Dort, the Thunder’s Doberman defender, never exaggerates to sell a call. I’m not even going to say he never flops. He does.

Every NBA player does.

Some do it more often than others, but on the flop scale, one being female soccer players and five being male soccer players, Dort is no more than a two. Definitely not a four or five like Chris Paul or James Harden, Patrick Beverley or Dillon Brooks, Bill Lambeer or Vlade Divac.

But listen to Vogel, and you’d think Dort is hitting the floor as often as he getting down into a defensive stance.

Watch the Thunder regularly, and you know that ain’t true. Dort navigates his way around contact all the time. Through it. Over it. Under it. Sure, he initiates contact, but he takes plenty of contact, too.

I’m guessing it all evens out in the end.

Dort was whistled for a flopping technical in the second quarter against the Suns on Friday. But in the NBA’s review of the technical — the league looks at all of them to see if they’re legit — it rescinded the call.

Thrice Dort has been called for a flopping technical this season.

Twice the NBA has overturned the call upon review.

Doesn’t exactly sound like a habitual flopper.

So, why would Vogel call out Dort? Why would the coach try to brand the defender as a flopper?

My guess: Vogel is planting seeds he hopes will blossom come playoff time.

There’s a good chance the Thunder and Suns will face each other in the first round. OKC is almost sure to land one of the top three spots in the Western Conference while Phoenix is a strong candidate to be in one of the bottom three playoff spots. If the teams do find themselves paired up, OKC will have home-court advantage after having swept the season series from Phoenix.

That’s a dreadful scenario for the Suns.

Vogel knows Dort would be matched up with Durant, as Dort has been much of the time during the three regular-season games. In those contests, Durant went a combined 23 of 50 from the floor for 74 points. Not terrible, but KD didn’t go nuclear on the Thunder.

He didn’t score more than 28 points in any of those games.

Probably most alarming to Vogel, Durant’s free-throw attempts went down every time the Suns played the Thunder. He attempted 11 in the first game, six in the second and finally three in the third. 

He made all but one of those free throws.

That’s easy money for Durant, and in the playoffs, a couple of free throws could be the difference between victory and defeat, between moving on and going home. And for a Suns roster built to win now with expensive veterans, the prospect of losing a first-round series to a bunch of guys who aren’t even old enough to rent a car has to be worrying.

So, Vogel is trying to plant seeds of doubt. Maybe some officials will hear about what Vogel said of Dort. Maybe a couple of those officials will unconsciously link Dort with flopping. And maybe, just maybe, come playoff time, one will be calling a Thunder-Suns game, see Dort go down, have a split second to make a judgment and decide that he flopped.

Sure, it could be overturned at the moment. But if it can’t be challenged and reviewed, it might stand.

And depending on when it happens, it could be a game-changer. Maybe even a series-swinger.

Even if it’s rescinded later, the difference may still have been made.

Vogel said what he said because he’s looking for any advantage he can get. He knows this Thunder team is trouble for his team, which has three great stars but woeful bench depth. He knows OKC might just run and gun, hustle and muscle Phoenix out of the gym and the playoffs.

It’s funny: earlier this season after one of the losses to the Thunder, he tried a blanket “They fouled the s*** out of Kevin Durant,” but seeing how that didn’t seem to have made a difference, Vogel pointed his verbal flamethrower directly at Dort.

It’s similar to the complaints we heard earlier in the season from Anthony Edwards. The Timberwolves star focused his angst on Gilgeous-Alexander after a tight Thunder win in which SGA scored 33 points and went 12 of 13 from the free-throw line.

“It’s hard to (win) with the calls that Shai gets,” Edwards said back then. “It’s hard to shut him down. You can’t touch him at any time of the game, so it’s super hard to beat. That team is a good team, especially when they get calls like that.”

Can’t touch him?

Calls like that?

Oh, brother.

But again, Edwards is worried about the Thunder. He sees what a threat OKC is. Same for Vogel. So both of them are saying things that they hope might stick. Like Dort flops. Like SGA gets all the calls. 

I’m guessing there’ll be more of this as the Thunder grows and matures and gets even better.

In their hearts, they won’t know if it’ll make a difference, if it’ll work. 

But when you’re worried and fearful and scared, you’ll say anything.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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