OKC Thunder: Luguentz Dort's stay in starting lineup uncertain
Eighty percent of Billy Donovan’s starting lineup for the season restart can be written in pen. Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams started every game when healthy.
The final spot is undetermined. Luguentz Dort is likely to be penciled in Aug. 1 against the Jazz, but Donovan didn’t commit to that plan Saturday after the Thunder’s practice.
“Lu’s done a really good job,” Donovan said. “For me to sit here and say that he’s starting when we get back to playing, I wouldn’t say that. I’m really trying to be open-minded to let these guys play and compete and find out where they’re all at and how well they’re playing with one another.”
Terrance Ferguson made 36 starts to begin the season. But when Ferguson missed eight games in January due to undisclosed personal reasons, Dort, an undrafted rookie, was given his chance in the starting lineup.
Dort’s defense was an immediate hit. He started the Thunder’s final 21 games before the season was suspended March 11, and became a fan favorite given his unlikely story as a two-way contract player starting for a playoff team.
“I think when Lu did end up starting for us, there was different things that we were dealing with,” Donovan said. “Terrance (Ferguson) was out for a little bit. Obviously Andre (Roberson) was out … At a certain point we were a little bit thin in the backcourt, and Lu being able to come in and help like he did was a big, big help for our team.”
Dort, Ferguson and Roberson — defensive specialists with limited offensive arsenals — are all candidates for the starting wing spot each has held.
Roberson started 269 games for the Thunder from 2013-18, but he hasn’t played since rupturing his left patellar tendon 30 months ago. Roberson has been a full participant in the Thunder’s first Disney World practices, but his return — much less a return to the starting lineup — is far from certain.
Ferguson became the starter after Roberson, but Ferguson has dealt with multiple off-the-court issues this season. On the court, he shot worse than 40% from the field and became unwilling at times to take open 3-pointers.
The Thunder was outscored by 3.0 points per 100 possessions with Ferguson on the floor. The Thunder outscored opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions with Dort on the floor — a net rating difference of 7.6 points in Dort’s favor.
“I’m not opposed to starting him,” Donovan said of Dort. “I thought it was a good lineup for our team.”
Dort reached a multi-year contract agreement with the Thunder last month, and now he doesn’t have to face the two-way constraints that kept him from practicing with the team.
“It feels good,” Dort said Saturday. “It’s way better to be on the court with the guys instead of just watching film.”
The Thunder practiced Friday, Saturday and Sunday inside the Disney World bubble. Dort guessed they were his first practices with the team since a little after training camp in October.
“Lu’s kept himself in good shape,” Donovan said. “He still has that same edge, he's still playing hard, he's still defending. He's still doing the things that he did for us at a high level back in February and March.”