SP Sports Weekly: Luguentz Dort’s gamble

The State Press sports editors break down reporter Alex Weiner's story on a former ASU basketball player

Sports editors Alex Coil and Koki Riley interview writer Alex Weiner on his recent piece on Luguentz Dort, a former Sun Devil and current shooting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dort left ASU early to declare for the draft and while he was not picked, he found playoff success afterwards in Oklahoma City. 

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KOKI: 

Hello everybody and welcome to episode two of SP sports weekly, your weekly roundup of State Press sports content. My name is Koki Riley and I am joined by Alex Coil and we are the sports editors here at The State Press. 

So, joining us on the podcast this week is Alex Weiner to talk about his recently released piece on a former ASU guard Luguentz Dort and his successes during the NBA playoffs against another former Sun Devil named James Harden. Thank you for joining us on the podcast today. Alex, how are you doing? 

WEINER: 

Thanks for having me. I'm doing well. This was a fun one to do, got to talk to a few people that were at ASU with coach Burno and the strength coach, coach Marshall. Even got to throw it back a little bit with Kodi Justice. So that was a lot of fun. So, I'm excited for the Lu Dort pod! 

KOKI: 

This is the Lu Dort pod at the moment. And so other than the obvious playoff success that Dort had, what about the story sort of attracted you?

WEINER: 

I think that it was just interesting how he sort of retained information from like a couple of years ago and was able to use it in this playoff series, because if you read the article, these two, Harden and Dort, played against each other and pick-up games over the summer at ASU a couple of years ago. And according to the strength coach, coach Marshall, it didn't go great for Lu. He was sticking his hands in too much. And when, you know, if you ever watch the James Harden basketball game, if the defender sticks his hand out or his hands not where it's supposed to be, Harden's going to use that and he's going to draw a foul. That's just how it works. He's one of the most smart basketball offensive players in the NBA.

So, when Lu Dort was doing that, Harden would kind of show him a little bit, oh, here's how you do this, here's what I'm looking for in your hand movements and in your body position that I can exploit from you. And so, he retained that information and lo and behold, about two years later, they ended up playing in a playoff series against each other. And Dort is the starting wing for the Thunder and tasked to guard Harden and so he was able to use all the information that he had and what he learned from Harden previously and kind of turn it against him.

COIL: 

Now, obviously not only did Dort have a really good playoff series guarding Harden, but he also had a really good time in the NBA, really a pretty good season enough to get his first NBA contract after being undrafted and being in the G-league. In your reporting of this story, how did you find out about how he got there and what were some things that he maybe had to improve on to get to that NBA contract level?

WEINER:

Yeah. So, he wasn't a free agent for very long after he got drafted. So, coach Burno actually said like Dort wasn't totally panicking. He just sort of knew we had a mindset that, OK, I wasn't taken, there's a lot of people I have to prove wrong because there was 30 teams that had two opportunities to take me or, you know, trades and stuff like that with different picks, but basically 60 picks wasn't taken and he now had to prove why he should have been. 

And so what coach Burno said he really improved upon was his basketball IQ and how much sort of smarter on the court he got, as he was working with, you know, professional coaches, whether it was in the G-league or with coach Billy Donovan staff up in the NBA. So, sort of where to go on the court, where to be offensively, how to move better off the ball, to get yourself into open spots in the corner for instance. Just a lot of stuff like that and positioning and sort of where to be and what to do. A lot of that stuff came to him and, you know, he was only one year in college, still had plenty of development to do, but it seems like he made some pretty good leaps as far as sort of the mental aspect of the game in year one.

KOKI: 

So earlier in your intro, you mentioned that you got to talk to Kodi Justice for this piece and as you say in the piece, he was at these games where Dort picked up Harden and sort of learned these little techniques. What was sort of the feedback you were getting from Justice about how those pickup games went?

WEINER: 

I mean, Justice, really just, his eyes were opened at the intensity that Dort had, even in pickup games when some guys are, you know, just focused on one specific thing. You're kind of there to like, OK, I'm going to pick my spots and then I'm sort of. Or guys are just sort of like playing, just to get some reps in, just to get some conditioning in. No, Dort was there just to, you know, he picked up who he was guarding full court and he kept that defensive intensity basically throughout the entire game. Kodi Justice, his main takeaway was this guy's motor is unbelievable.

So, he said that he went up to Doug Tammaro, the SID for basketball afterwards and he was like, there's something different about this guy, because I mean, he just doesn't stop and you know, we kind of see that ferocity when Dort was guarding Harden in the NBA too.

COIL: 

Now, when he played his one season in Tempe, it was kind of, he was borderline alright, is this guy going to be a first-round pick or is he going to need another year? And after year one, it was kind of like, yeah, maybe he should stay one more season to become a better shooter or a gain on some of his aspect because always knew he was a very good defender and very strong guard. When he decided to declare for the draft, a lot of people second guessed him. And then even more second guessing came when he didn't get selected. But in your piece, Burno mentions that he never said second guessed himself. How important was that in his development? 

WEINER: 

Well, yeah, cause it's like a massive life decision. I mean, you're deciding whether or not just like go full in, on the NBA and if it doesn't work, you can really kind of spiral into another direction. Luckily for him, he got picked up pretty quickly afterwards, which, you know, a lot of people, some people expected them to be a late first round pick. So not totally surprising that he got picked up pretty quickly afterwards. 

Burno said he bet on himself and he didn't really have, you know, his mind didn't deviate from that goal of going to college for one year and then I'm going to go to the NBA and I'm going to be an NBA player and started off in the G-league. But he played really well in the G-league and he ended up landing on a team that really needed him because the Thunder was sort of a brand-new team last year. Or I guess this season with Chris Paul coming in, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with Danilo Gallinari, but they didn't have that other wing who could defend because Andre Roberson was injured for most of the year. So that's where he sort of filled in really perfectly. 

But just to go back to the question, it was massive that he was like all in on keeping that goal because that gave him a motivation that there's no going back now. I better fix what I need to fix, get even stronger than I was, which he looks, he looks massive. And when you're watching him in the playoffs, I mean, he doesn't really look like a 20-year-old rookie. I think all of that really sort of helped his motivation get up to where, you know, he was able to make a jump from promising, but really raw, to a really strong NBA caliber defender like we saw. And he still has lots of work on and he still has to be motivated to do that too. 

KOKI:  

So, we mentioned earlier in the piece, earlier in the podcast, excuse me, that a lot of the intrigue of this idea is the fact that Dort wasn't only improving his skills at ASU during these pickup games, he was doing it against not only another former Sun Devil, but a former NBA MVP in Harden. I just kind of want to talk a little bit about the sort of impact Harden had on Dort specifically in terms of the little things that he was teaching him that ended up being a real nuisance for him two years later during this playoff series between the Thunder and the Rocket.

WEINER: 

Yeah. I think the main point there is teaching Dort to keep his hands back and when Dort was sort of like reaching for the ball a little bit, keeping his hands sort of active in James Harden's face, Harden reads those angles really well and is able to manipulate you. When we watch Dort in the playoffs and he's guarding Harden, his hands are way back and his shoulders are pinched and his hands are up shoulder width, but he's keeping them back. So, James Harden can't like twist into them at all and with Dort’s conditioning in the motor I talked about earlier, his legs are strong enough to really keep him in front of Harden. 

Burno said another thing that Dort really improved upon just defensively was with his footwork. Like when, you know, Harden kind of pushes off on him a little bit or gives him a bump, he's able to keep his feet underneath him and stay in position to contest really regardless of getting pushed or knocked or whatever it is. So, I think that was probably the main segue because you watch them, he really is putting a lot of effort and keeping those hands back, you can really watch it. And they really worked as it kind of created sort of a space where Harden really couldn't go because Dort's feet were able to keep him in front of there too.

COIL: 

Kind of towards the end of your piece, you mentioned, or at least you have a quote from Burno saying that, he's headed into year two and he's still an undrafted rookie. He’s like, it doesn't change like that people didn't see him, at least in his current state, as valuable enough to draft and he still started in the G-league. Now he has that NBA contract, but Burno said something about he has to start over. How does Dort stay in the NBA and stay there for a long time? 

WEINER: 

He is going to be in the NBA with that contract and how does he stay there for a long time? He has to continue to be a stopper. I mean, defensively, he looked about as good as you can for someone his age taking on the tasks that he had, but he's going to have to continue working really well, working hard on his defense and making sure he kind of perfects that. I mean, who knows, maybe he ends up being sort of like a Tony Allen type who is just on a perennial playoff team who was sort of an invaluable piece, not because he scores 20 points a game, but because you can put them out there with any lineup and he can guard multiple positions. 

Another way is simply Dort has to get more sound on offense. We saw throughout the Thunder-Rocket series, he exploded in the last game, but he really wasn't very good scoring the basketball before that. I mean his three-point shooting, they were leaving him wide open for a reason. I mean, he went 0-for-9 nine in one game and these weren’t like, Oh, you know, they're just not going today. These balls were not really close. So, he's going to have to work on that jump shot to make it more consistent for sure and maybe when he plays in more games, he gets more comfortable taking it to the basket because when he was at ASU, his jumper wasn't his most dangerous weapon offensively. It was taking it to the hole because he's just stronger than everybody else his size and if you can take a smaller guard off the dribble and take it to the basket, he has a really good shot at finishing or at least getting to the free throw line. 

KOKI: 

Thank you for joining the podcast, Alex. Thank you for your insight on Lu Dort’s story during the playoffs and at ASU. Thank you. 

WEINER: 

Thanks for having me. 

COIL: 

That was Alex Weiner on his piece on Luguentz Dort’s success in the NBA. We thank you for listening to episode two of SP Sports Weekly. And for more content like this, visit statepress.com. Follow us on Twitter @statepress and @statepresssport and like us on Facebook. For Koki Riley, I am Alex Coil. We'll see you next week for SP Sports Weekly.


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Reach the reporters at ancoil@asu.edu and kbriley@asu.edu and follow @anc2018 and @KokiRiley on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.



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