The Whiteboard: Luguentz Dort’s contract is a heist for the OKC Thunder

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Luguentz Dort is far from a household NBA name, so here’s all you really need to know if you’re unfamiliar: He’s an undrafted rookie out of Arizona State, he was having one of the more underrated seasons in the association for a very good Oklahoma City Thunder squad, and he is now one of the best value contracts in the entire league.

Bold statement? Maybe there’s a bit of bias coming from this writer/former Sun Devil, but in all honesty, no. It’s not really all that bold.

When Dort went undrafted in 2019, it only took minutes for the Thunder to pick up the phone and give him a call. He’s had to work his way up from “two-way contract” to “NBA starter,” and that rapid rise has been fun to watch.

According to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, the Thunder have converted Dort from a two-way contract to a four-year, $5.4 million deal. As Early Bird Rights’ Jeff Siegel reports, he’ll get $156,000 for the rest of this season, then three years at the minimum after that, with a team option for 2022-23. All in all, he’s only guaranteed for $2.3 million over the next four years.

Again, it’s understood that Luguentz Dort is an NBA unknown at this point, but it’s worth re-emphasizing that this contract is an absolute heist for OKC.

There are several reasons for this. For starters, he’s extremely young at only 21 years old. He fits right in with the kind of long-term core Oklahoma City is trying to build with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Hamidou Diallo and the armada of extra first-round draft picks that general manager Sam Presti has assembled.

For another reason, he’s pretty damn good at basketball! Although he’s only averaging 6.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 22.0 minutes per game on the season, don’t let the base numbers fool you. Not unlike his lone year at ASU, when he posted 16.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game but only shot 40.5 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from 3, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of Dort’s game and how he would function at the pro level — at least, not at first.

The 6-foot-3 guard quickly proved it was the defensive end where he’d stake his claim to rotation minutes, using his burly build, strength and lateral foot speed to make an impression in the G League. Playing on a two-way contract limited his opportunities early on, but as Terrance Ferguson and Abdel Nader failed to impress, Dort slowly started getting more chances — like his first NBA appearance, where he secured a late steal that set up Adams’ epic touchdown pass to Dennis Schroder for the game-tying layup.

In his first start on Jan. 20, he was matched up with former MVP James Harden — the league’s leading scorer and an absolutely brutal player for anyone to defend, let alone a rookie. Dort held his fellow Sun Devil to 29 points on 29 shots, including 1-for-17 from 3. He’s been starting for the Thunder ever since and has been tasked with the most difficult defensive assignment in the backcourt 31 percent of the time, per stats guru Micah Adams. Yet he’s almost always been able to hold his own.

He helped stifle Devin Booker, forcing him into seven turnovers in a Thunder win on Jan. 31. He held Jamal Murray to 21 points with five turnovers in a win on Feb. 21. He’s faced Buddy Hield, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Trae Young, and though no one can “stop” scorers of that caliber, Dort has capably stood his ground.

OKC is 16-5 since Lu Dort entered the starting lineup and 22-7 with him on the court overall. His 21 NBA starts are the most for any two-way player ever, and he’s averaged 7.1 points per game on 35.7 percent shooting from deep during that span. His Net Rating of 4.6 trails only Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Danilo Gallinari among Thunder rotation players.

Not bad for a guy who was once playfully teased Wilt Chamberlain-style after he scored the first two points of his career!

Three days after the tragic death of his good friend Kobe Bryant, Dort put up 23 points on 5-of-6 shooting from distance with zero assists — a fitting tribute to the Black Mamba. While the former ASU product will never be that same caliber of scorer, it’s impressive how quickly he’s showing he can be more than just a lockdown defender. His skills need sharpening, but the ability to catch and fire from the perimeter, as well as attack off the bounce, leaves plenty of room for growth within a Thunder system that’s proven successful in cultivating young talent.

At the mere price of $5.4 million over four years, Oklahoma City has turned a fan favorite energy guy into one of the most underrated bargain deals in the league. You may not know Luguentz Dort from the first 21 starts of his fledgling NBA career, but it might not be long before he’s a fixture in the starting lineup for a very good, up-and-coming Thunder squad.

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