Does Luguentz Dort Have the NBA’s Most Valuable Contract?

Luguentz Dort, who spent his rookie season on a two-way contract with Oklahoma City, recently inked a four-year contract with the Thunder. According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Dort’s deal is worth $5.4 million and steadily increases each year. Dort’s entire deal (if fully guaranteed) is less than the average yearly player salary; roughly $6.7 million. What makes his contract so invaluable?

Defense like this.

In Dort’s first career start for Oklahoma City, he held James Harden to 4/15 from the field when he was Harden’s primary defender. He was routinely able to keep himself in front of Harden without biting too hard and sending him to the line. Dort’s stellar outing earned him a starting gig and was indicative of what would cement his place in the Thunder rotation.

Hustle Plays

According to B-Ball Index, Dort is in the 97th percentile in defensive miles p/75 possessions and 87th percentile in loose ball recovery rate, which B-Ball Index posits “often correlates with grittiness and effort on defense.” In conjunction with on-court play, these stats enhance the image of Luguentz Dort and the attributes that led to his earning a half-decade contract.

Dort shows exceptional flashes at the point of attack, often creating problems for primary creators on opposing teams. He has the quickness to hang with smaller guards, but also utilizes his strength and frame really well to knock ball-handlers off of drives.

Dort excellently uses his hip to bump off Devin Booker and force him into a contested jumper
Dort shows off his lateral quickness preventing the Lou Williams drive, he unfortunately bites on the pump, but that shot is insane.

Dort simply contests anything and everything. If the ball is in the same zip code, his hands are up and you can often see him screaming in to close out on a shooter. Dort contests 5.6 threes p/75 possesions, putting him in the top 6% of the league. However, this is slightly misleading and a bit of a double-edged sword. While contesting shots is important and largely effort based, contesting shots the right way is key.

Room For Improvement

Dort takes a poor path to contest and gets beat off the bounce

Routinely in game, Dort will closeout at full speed leading to him getting side-stepped and beat to the basket. If he works on his path closing to shooters and not over-contesting, that could significantly boost his defense. It would also help him to lower his foul rate; he currently fouls opponents on 5.6% of defensive plays per Cleaning the Glass, which puts him as nearly the most foul-prone wing in the league.

His off-ball defense also could improve with some tweaks and adjustments. Dort isn’t the best at navigating screens, often times losing his man on immediate contact.

Lavine misses the shot, but Dort doesn’t see the screen coming at all. Anticipating the screener will be huge for his development

Dort also tends to play a little too high which can really negate his strength as he’s more easily knocked off-balance.

Dort’s Future

This article may seem really seem really nit picky, but there’s a reason for that! Luguentz Dort is a special player with the ability and mentality to become an elite on-ball defender. If he cleans up some of his off-ball habits and improves his court awareness, he’ll likely be regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball.

However, I do think the evolution of his offensive game is paramount to his ceiling. His ball skills are fairly raw, which limits his positional versatility. He really lacks the length and size to credibly guard bigger wings, as they can rise up over him for lightly contested jumpers. That’s not an indictment of Dort, more to point out that size matters in the NBA. If he can improve his ball-handling and become more playable at either guard spot, that bodes well for his ability to be a starter in the league. Even if he doesn’t, he’s going to be a rotation player in Oklahoma City and the league for a long time off of his defense and energy alone.

Luguentz Dort right now is a steal, in three years, it could be criminal how underpaid he is.

(I hope for his sake that he works out a new contract as he progresses I don’t love that player’s get underpaid/underappreciated.)

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