What is Lu Dort’s Ceiling?

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London Hayes, Reporter

Luguentz Dort had the best game of his career on Tuesday night, scoring 42 points against the Utah Jazz in a loss. Dort’s non-stop work ethic, and everything he’s overcome, make these moments that much sweeter. It seems like it was only a few months ago when Dort was a rookie in the NBA Playoffs, tasked with guarding one of the best offensive players ever, and he did a fantastic job at it. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago because, well; it wasn’t. 

Dort’s progression over the past few months has been amazing and extremely fun to watch. After the playoff series against the Houston Rockets, many were exposed to the legend of Lu Dort. He played suffocating defense on James Harden, and scored 30 points in game 7, joining LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the only players under the age of 21 to score 25+ points in a game 7. Everyone knew at that point that his defense was among the most elite in the league even as a rookie, but his offensive game was still a question to be answered. 

This season in 43 games, Lu Dort is averaging 13.3 points per game on 34% shooting from three, as well as still playing elite defense on some of the league’s best offensive weapons. Dort’s three point shooting is still arguably a weak spot in his game, but it has drastically improved since last season. Last season, especially in the playoffs, his shooting was exposed until game 7 of the Rockets’ series. Dort would often be left wide open from three, because teams would take their chances with a guy who shot under 30% from behind the arc. 

Although, things have been different this season with teams at least attempting to close out on three point attempts from Dort. He is still given a lot of space behind the line because of his ability to drive to the bucket and get points at will due to his linebacker build. 

So, if Dort can evolve his offensive game past what it already is now, how good can he be? 

Will He Get That Much Better?

This is a question that a lot of people don’t ask when considering a player’s potential. The common question is “how good can he be?” rather than asking if a player can really reach that level. The easy answer for Dort, and any young player for that matter is yes; he will get much better. But how much better exactly? 

A good comparison that Dort has drawn already is the Celtics’ Marcus Smart. The thing is though, Dort is almost already averaging better stats than him (standard and advanced), and arguably a better defender than Smart. This is why Marcus Smart is a good comparison if someone thinks that Dort might not get that much better. 

Through 37 games, Smart is averaging 13.4 points per game on nearly 36% shooting from three, along with playing All-NBA level defense. Over his seven seasons Smart has averaged 10.2 points on 32% shooting from three, and has made the All-Defensive first time twice (2018-19, 2019-20). 

Many expect Dort to be a part of an All-Defensive team this season, which in his first full season would be quite the accomplishment. Whether he makes first or second team is yet to be decided, but regardless it would be a great start to his career. With constant improvement he could pass up the Marcus Smart comparisons and draw some bigger ones. 

Borderline All-Star

Dort reaching this level of play would not be disappointing by any means, and if he ever were to reach this level, he would likely exceed every expectation that was ever given to him before he was drafted. This would mean he draws a comparison to a player like Jrue Holiday, which is a great player to compare him to, as their playstyles and skills match up extremely well. 

This season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Jrue is averaging 17.2 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 40% shooting from three, as well as playing All-NBA level defense yet again. Throughout his career, Jrue has peaked at 21.2 points per game in 2019 with the New Orleans Pelicans. He made his only all-star game in 2013 with the 76ers, but has always been considered a borderline all-star and one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders. 

Dort reaching this level would call for him to be a liable second or third option on a contending team. Dort’s offensive production and efficiency would also need to take another step up, because scoring a lot of points is important, but being efficient while scoring those points is also important. This is the thing that Jrue is really good at. 

Many believe that this would be Dort’s absolute ceiling just due to the fact that he’s 21 years old with room for his game to grow, but also because of his size. At 6’3, unless you’re an outlier like Stephen Curry, it is very difficult to become a superstar in the league.

Superstar Two Way Player

If anyone knows a thing about Lu Dort, it’s that nothing has ever come easy for him; and leaping to the level of star or even superstar isn’t something you can put past him this early in his career. Many would see this as Dort reaching absolute peak potential in the best situation possible, because it would be amazing to see him make it that far as an undrafted rookie. The comparisons that would best fit Dort as a star or superstar level player are a fun-sized version Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard

For the past nine seasons, Jimmy Butler has either been above, or hanging around the 20 points per game mark with the Bulls, Timberwolves, 76ers, and Heat. Over his entire career Butler has averaged 17.3 points per game with four All Defensive team nominations, as well as three All-NBA nominations and five all-star appearances.

In Kawhi Leonard’s last four full seasons, he has averaged over 25 points per game along with his championship win with the Toronto Raptors as the main option. Over his entire career, Kawhi has averaged 19.3 points per game, as well winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and both Finals MVPs in his two finals wins. Kawhi has also accumulated six All Defensive team nominations, four All-NBA nominations, and five all-star appearances. 

Elite two-way players are a rare occurrence, and you can really only count on one hand the amount of top tier two-way players in the league at the moment. Lu Dort has the potential to reach this level, but it would require an amazing increase in offensive production and efficiency, and him to be a main option on a team that is competing for a championship. 

It’s important to remember that this is not saying Dort will reach star level, but he has the potential to, assuming he puts everything together. His defense as mentioned is already at an elite level, which is amazing for a 21 year old who went undrafted. Offensive consistency will be the key for Lu Dort to become a top tier player in this league, and who knows what will happen with him. But one thing no one should do is doubt Lu Dort. In the wise words of Chris Paul, “ride with Lu Dort until the wheels fall off”, because he is indeed a special player.