It was the first buzzer beater of Dort’s young career and one of the many new experiences the Montreal native encountered in his second season in the league. The undrafted wing went from being known solely as a defensive ace to becoming an offensive threat on opposing scouting reports, logging a 42-point game and even being named a 2020-21 NBA Rising Star. All the while, he continued to layer onto his identity as a defensive power by checking the league’s best offensive players each night.
“I don’t know that anybody’s role changed more from one year to the next than Lu Dort,” said Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti. “He was always guarding the best player, but then he went from guarding the best player to having the best player guard him. And so just the amount of load and the change in the mentality coming into the game for him, I am not sure it could be more drastic in a year’s time.”
As a two-way rookie, Dort joined the Thunder midway through the season and was asked to learn and fill a very specific defensive role which he dove into headfirst. Heading into year two with a full-time contract, the scope widened on what was asked of him on both ends of the floor each night. It was an increase in responsibility that Dort expected and prepared for. He approached the opportunity with the same workman’s mentality that earned him a starting role as a two-way player and eventually a full-time spot on the roster – with competitiveness and humility.
Dort capitalized on the various opportunities to elevate and stretch his game. For instance, with the Thunder’s primary ball handler in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the sidelines for the second half of the season, it opened up the door for Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault and his staff to test the waters with different players taking on some of those ball handing responsibilities – including Dort.
“It was one of the things that before the season, the coaches were talking to me about just developing that, and I feel like they did a great job with me, and I feel like I did a good job handling that, too,” said Dort. “It’s not an easy position at this level, and it took some time, but I feel like I can still improve.”