Luguentz Dort

Northwest Notes: Braun, KCP, Edwards, Dort

The Nuggets can’t just plug Christian Braun into the starting lineup if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leaves in free agency and expect the same production, Sean Keeler of the Denver Post writes.

Keeler notes that the team tried to overcome the free agent loss of Bruce Brown with a combination of Braun and Peyton Watson, but those second-year players couldn’t replicate Brown’s impact. If KCP does sign elsewhere, the Nuggets will need at least one proven veteran shooter behind Braun to slot into the bench. Keeler also notes Caldwell-Pope posted a 122.4 offensive rating per 100 possessions this season, compared to Braun’s 110.0 mark.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • A more aggressive Anthony Edwards and a more physical, forceful defensive effort against Luka Doncic could allow the Timberwolves to turn the Western Conference Finals around, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports opines.
  • Edwards concurs with Goodwill’s assessment, vowing to be a bigger offensive force in Game 3 this evening, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I’m going to be super aggressive,” Edwards said. “I haven’t taken more than 16 shots in each game. So I’m going to be ultra-aggressive coming out, for sure.” The Timberwolves guard also says he and his teammates are unfazed by the prospect of being down 2-0 in the series and needing to win at least two road contests. “It didn’t do nothing but add fuel to the fire for Game 3,” Edwards said. “I think all my teammates ready to go, it’s fun. … I think we’re in a pretty good mood. Everybody’s smiling and joking. We know we’re a good team. We know it’s not over. I don’t think anybody’s worried. Just know we got to come ready to play tonight.”
  • In his series of player report cards regarding the Thunder, The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto notes that Luguentz Dort has improved his offensive game to complement his elite defense.

Alex Caruso Wins NBA’s Hustle Award For 2023/24

Bulls guard/forward Alex Caruso has won the Hustle Award for the 2023/24 season, the NBA announced in a press release written by Brian Martin.

According to the league, the award “honors a player who makes impactful effort plays that might not appear in the box score.” The award was created eight years ago, with Grizzlies guard Marcus Smart being a three-time winner.

Some of the hustle statistics that the NBA tracks include deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drawn, screen assists, contested shots and box-outs. Caruso led in the league in deflections per game (3.7) and on a per-minute basis, he ranked first in loose balls recovered and seventh in charges drawn.

Caruso, who was named to the All-Defensive First Team in ’22/23, is one of the NBA’s top defenders and is known for his all-out playing style. He ranked fourth in the league in steals per game (1.7) and averaged a career-high 1.0 block per game this season.

As Martin details, when Caruso was on the court, Chicago had the equivalent of Boston’s 110.6 defensive rating, which ranked second in the NBA. When he wasn’t playing, the Bulls had the equivalent of the league’s 24th-ranked defense.

A former undrafted free agent who made it into the NBA by working his way through the G League, Caruso won a championship with the Lakers in 2020. The 30-year-old had a strong all-around season in ’23/24, averaging 10.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 3.5 APG on .468/.408/.760 shooting in 71 games (28.7 MPG). Several of those figures represented career highs.

Caruso will earn $9.89MM in ’24/25, which is the final season of his contract. He’ll be eligible for a veteran extension this offseason.

The top five finishers for the 2023/24 Hustle Award were, in order: Caruso, Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, Warriors guard Brandin Podziemski, Thunder wing Luguentz Dort, and Hornets forward Grant Williams.

As Howard Beck of The Ringer tweets, the award is determined by aggregating the hustle stats the league tracks, so there is no voting panel.

Thunder Notes: Dort, Williams, Playoff Series

Luguentz Dort‘s smothering defense on Brandon Ingram has made him the MVP of the Thunder‘s first-round series so far, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. With Zion Williamson sidelined by a strained hamstring, the Pelicans need Ingram to carry a larger-than-usual share of the offensive load. Dort has made that impossible, holding Ingram in check as Oklahoma City has built a 3-0 series lead.

“My main thing is just to make everything tough,” Dort said. “Whatever I gotta do, if it’s a crazy contest or just running by a guy, anything that I can do to mess up a shot I’ll do it.” 

Dort has been an impactful defender since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Coach Mark Daigneault calls him “relentless” on defense and says he has learned tricks over the past five seasons that have made him even better.

“Some of the stuff with Ingram, even off-ball … he’s just giving the guy different looks,” Daigneault explained. “That’s not the scouting report. That’s just us kind of unleashing him on the game. There’s more of a method to that madness than maybe meets the eye.” 

There’s more on the Thunder:

  • Jalen Williams survived an injury scare after being hit in the eye on the first possession of today’s game, according to Brett Martel of The Associated Press. Williams was taken to the locker room to have his eye checked, but he was able to return late in the first quarter and wound up scoring 21 points. “Dub’s very talented,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He was clearly big tonight, very impressive and nothing we’re not used to.”
  • With the series well in hand, the Thunder’s biggest concern might be finishing off the Pelicans too quickly, suggests John Hollinger of The Athletic. Game 4 is Monday, and if OKC completes the sweep, the team could have up to eight days off before its second-round series begins. Counting the time off after the end of the season, the Thunder may end up playing just four games in a three-week stretch.
  • The Thunder have figured out how to capitalize on the trend of positionless basketball that has swept the NBA over the last few years, Rylan Stiles writes for Sports Illustrated. Stiles notes that virtually every player on Oklahoma City’s roster can do something to create plays on offense. “I think one of the things that I think is pretty evident, especially when you watch the playoffs — the teams that are the most formidable in the NBA are the ones that offensively have multiple creators,” Daigneault said.

Thunder Notes: SGA, J-Dub, Dort, Dieng, Daigneault

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will miss his third straight game on Friday in Indiana due to a right quad contusion, tweets Rylan Stiles of Inside The Thunder.

Head coach Mark Daigneault said the MVP candidate was sent back to Oklahoma City on Thursday and he’ll also miss Sunday’s game in Charlotte, which is the finale of a four-game road trip, per Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman (Twitter link).

We need to make sure he doesn’t decondition during this time and gym access on the road is much more difficult to come by,” Daigneault said.

Second-year guard/forward Jalen Williams will also miss his third straight contest on Friday due to a left ankle sprain. He was initially listed as doubtful.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • In an interesting story for The Athletic, Fred Katz examines Luguentz Dort‘s defensive impact for OKC, describing how the 24-year-old has added layers of complexity to the way he approaches many aspects of the less glamorous end of the court, including certain “quirks” he uses to throw star players off-balance. According to Katz, Dort has spent more time guarding the opposing teams’ highest-usage player than anyone in the NBA. “We can shift him anywhere,” Daigneault told The Athletic. “He can guard any player. There’s no one he can’t guard.”
  • He hasn’t played much at the NBA level in 2023/24, averaging just 11.0 MPG in 31 appearances, but second-year forward Ousmane Dieng has been more assertive this season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s NBAGL affiliate, Stiles writes for Inside The Thunder. Dieng, the No. 11 pick of the 2022 draft, hit a game-winner in the first round of the G League playoffs, eliminating the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s affiliate.
  • Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle expects Daigneault to be one of the frontrunners for the Coach of the Year award in ’23/24, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. They’ve drafted with the idea that positionless basketball is the future and there’s a lot of evidence that is the case,” Carlisle said. The second-youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder won 40 games last season and already have 54 in ’23/24 with six games remaining in the regular season.

Suns Notes: Young, Thomas, Durant, Thunder

Given a rare opportunity to crack the rotation on Wednesday in Denver with Jusuf Nurkic out, Suns forward Thaddeus Young played well, posting six points, nine rebounds, and a +15 mark in 18 minutes of action.

However, Young was a DNP-CD again in Oklahoma City on Friday, with head coach Frank Vogel explaining this week that the team views the veteran as a small-ball center who’s a better fit in some matchups than others, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

“That’s why we didn’t go out and get just another guy that’s the same as Drew (Eubanks) and Nurk,” Vogel said. “We went out and got somebody that has a little bit of a different dynamic. I think in a next-man-up setting like this, it helps, but if you get in a playoff series where there’s certain matchups that we’re struggling against, you have somebody that can give a different element to our attack. We’re excited to have him.”

According to Young, he and the Suns had conversations before he signed with the club about the certain lineups and sets he might be used in, so he’s not bothered by the fact that his minutes have been sporadic.

“I’m battle tested. I’m prepared to not play a whole bunch of games just like I did and go in and walk right in and fit like a glove. For me, it’s never going to be about the minute aspect of it,” Young said. “Yeah, I would love to play a lot of minutes. I would love to continue to be able to play at such a high level, but at the end of the day, whatever coaches, staff and the team needs me to do, I’m going to do it.”

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • After word broke that he was signing a second 10-day contract with Phoenix, Isaiah Thomas said he’s “super thankful” for the opportunity that he’s gotten from the club, according to Rankin. The veteran guard has appeared briefly in just two of six games as a Sun so far, but he has reportedly looked good in practice and earned praise from Vogel for his locker room presence. “He’s been a really important voice,” Vogel said on Friday. “Two-time All-Star that guys respect and he’s got a high IQ. So he can point out things that we can do better, we’re not doing well enough. Everybody in the locker room respects him and likes him and his voice carries weight. That’s what you want with guys in those type of roles.”
  • The Suns have slipped out of the top six in the Western Conference and have the NBA’s most difficult remaining schedule, but Kevin Durant believes that, with the postseason around the corner, the club has done a good job building chemistry. For the most part, we understand each other. We see each other’s tendencies,” Durant said (Twitter video link via Rankin). “That’s what you want from a group is to start to understand each other more. We’re doing that.”
  • Following Friday’s loss in Oklahoma City, Vogel called on the NBA to take a closer look at “all the flopping” that Thunder wing Luguentz Dort does (Twitter video link via Rankin). “It’s ridiculous how he gets calls,” Vogel said. “If they’re going to get calls like that, they’re going to have an advantage. You can’t just fall down every time there’s contact and get a whistle.” Given that the Thunder are a potential first-round playoff opponent for the Suns, Vogel’s comments come off as a “preemptive working of the referees” for that possible matchup, suggests Kurt Helin of NBC Sports.

International Notes: All-Star Game, Embiid, Wembanyama, Canada

In an appearance with Gayle King and Charles Barkley on CNN (video link), Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA will consider a U.S. vs. international format to revamp the All-Star Game. It’s one of several ideas that were brought up after last month’s All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, which concluded with the East defeating the West 211-186 in a contest that was low on competitiveness and defensive effort.

Silver called it “a great weekend, but it was not a basketball game,” and said changes to the format are being studied.

“I think maybe as opposed to trying to create a super competitive basketball game, which I am not sure the teams or the players really want, we should do different things and make it a celebration of basketball,” Silver said. “… “We are going to look at U.S. vs. international. I just think maybe we are past that point where we are going to play a truly competitive game.” 

There’s more news from around the basketball world:

  • Joel Embiid opted to join Team USA in the Summer Olympics, assuming he’s healthy enough, but French basketball officials say they had serious discussions with the Sixers center before the decision was made, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Jean-Pierre Siutat, president of French basketball, and former NBA player Boris Diaw, general manager of the French men’s team, contend they had two meetings with Embiid regarding the possibility that he might play for France. “He said, yes, I want to (play), make the (passport),” Siutat said. “So I make the job, with the help of the government, to get a passport for him and for his son. And all the time, he said, ‘I want to play for the national team of France.’” Embiid disputes that version of events through a spokesman, claiming he never asked for a passport, Vardon adds.
  • Victor Wembanyama is setting the bar high as he tries to win a gold medal while playing at home in Paris, according to a Eurohoops story.  “Any other result than the first place would be a failure since we could have done better,” the Spurs rookie said. “You shouldn’t have any regrets, but it’s a very achievable goal”.
  • Canadian coach Jordi Fernandez is looking to fill out his Olympic roster around a core group consisting of Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderLuguentz DortRJ BarrettKelly OlynykNickeil Alexander-WalkerDwight Powell and Dillon Brooks, notes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Jamal Murray is expected to join them if health permits, and international star Melvin Ejim could get a spot as well. Koreen expects Canada to search around the NBA for the remainder of its 12-man roster.

And-Ones: Scoring, NBA Cup, 2024 Draft, Two-Ways, Howard

In a memo obtained by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA told teams the league office “did not deliver a directive to reduce scoring” during a competition committee call earlier this week, but the post-All-Star break trend “will continue to be monitored.” As Wojnarowski writes, teams are scoring about four fewer points per game on average since resuming play at the end of February.

Slower pace, style of play, competitive intensity, officiating focus have been contributing factors identified so far,” the NBA said.

According to Woj, the league also stated one focus area for the meeting was centered on offensive players “hunting for fouls and veering off paths into defenders.” That has also been a point of emphasis for officials — and a “contributing factor” in the reduced scoring output of late.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA also informed teams that it was considering a couple of changes to tiebreakers for next season’s NBA Cup, which was called the In-Season Tournament during its debut in 2023/24, Marc Stein reports (via Twitter). Changes under consideration would impact tiebreakers for point differential and head-to-head results, per Stein.
  • Unlike in 2023, when there was a consensus No. 1 overall pick for well over a year, there’s a huge variance in where players are projected to be drafted in 2024, as Michael Scotto relays in the latest aggregate mock draft for HoopsHype. Scotto spoke to several NBA executives to get a feel for some of this year’s top prospects, including Alexandre Sarr, who is ranked No. 1 in aggregate but as low as No. 7. “I think Sarr has everything to his game,” one executive said. “He needs to go somewhere that’s patient with him. He can be a really good two-way player you can build around in two years. I believe in his shooting and shot blocking.”
  • Frank Urbina of HoopsHype ranks the most successful players who have previously been signed to two-way contracts. Austin Reaves (Lakers), Duncan Robinson (Heat), Alex Caruso (Bulls), Naz Reid (Timberwolves) and Luguentz Dort (Thunder) make up the top five of the 15-player list.
  • Former NBA player and assistant coach Juwan Howard has been fired as head coach of Michigan, the school announced in a press release. Howard compiled a 82-67 record in five seasons at his alma mater, making the NCAA Tournament twice (in 2021 and ’22), but the Wolverines went just 8-24 this season and were eliminated in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

Thunder Notes: Biyombo, Dort, Offense, SGA

There was a scary moment on the sidelines during the first half of the Thunder‘s victory in Portland on Wednesday, as big man Bismack Biyombo collapsed without warning as his teammates were coming to the bench for a timeout (Twitter video link via Clemente Almanza).

Biyombo eventually got up and walked to the locker room under his own power, and head coach Mark Daigneault said after the game that the big man was doing OK, per Justin Martinez of The Oklahoman.

“He’s fine,” Daigneault said. “He just fainted, basically. But he was in the locker room at halftime, laughing and joking. And he stayed back there, but he’s doing fine.”

Biyombo, who has played limited minutes in four games since signing with the Thunder nearly a month ago, has been cleared of any serious medical issue, but will undergo further evaluation on Thursday, tweets OKC sideline reporter Nick Gallo.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • Speaking to Mark Medina of Sportskeeda, Thunder wing Luguentz Dort shared his thoughts on the Thunder, the Canadian national team, and his approach on defense, among other topics. While he’d like to make an All-Defensive team, Dort made it clear that goal is secondary to helping his team win as many games as possible. “That’s just accolades,” he said. “I feel like the best thing I can do is to do anything to help my team win. I’m doing this for my team. I’m not doing this to make an award. So I don’t really go out there and think about it. I try to be the best player that I can be on the court.”
  • While the current iteration of the Thunder has drawn plenty of comparisons to the previous Oklahoma City team that featured rising stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, Chris Herring of ESPN sees a connection between this season’s group and the Warriors circa 2012-16. In an interesting Insider-only story, Herring breaks down the similarities between how the two clubs use (or used) guard-to-guard screens to fuel dynamic offenses.
  • Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman examines Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s case for Most Valuable Player and considers what it would take for the superstar guard to surpass Nikola Jokic as the frontrunner for the award.

Thunder Notes: Williams, Micic, Dort

Thunder reserve big man Jaylin Williams will miss some early regular season games due a hamstring strain suffered in practice, Brett Dawson tweets. Williams will be reevaluated in a couple of weeks.

Williams projects as Chet Holmgren‘s backup this season after starting 36 of 49 games last season during his rookie campaign. A second-round pick in 2022, Williams averaged 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 18.7 minutes.

Olivier Sarr and Ousmane Dieng could see more action until Williams returns.

We have more on the Thunder:

  • Vasilije Micic has noticed some major differences between the EuroLeague and NBA, as relays. “It’s open space, with a much higher pace of play compared to the EuroLeague,” he said. “The paint is more open, providing a lot of opportunities for creative players to penetrate and gain an advantage, especially for skilled ball handlers. It’s also a bit easier to create from that spacing. I’m still trying to adjust. Everything is still new for me, but my teammates are helping me learn as quickly as possible. I believe that, together, we will get there eventually.” The former EuroLeague MVP signed a three-year, $23.5MM contract with Oklahoma City in July.
  • Luguentz Dort scored a team-high 24 points during the team’s exhibition game Thursday in Montreal. It was an emotional homecoming for the Montreal native, he told Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. He spoke in French to the crowd prior to the contest. “I just told them that we were honored to be here,” Dort said, “As a Montreal guy, it was an honor for me to bring my team here and play in front of them.”
  • Get all the details on the big Thunder-Rockets trade here.

World Cup Notes: USA-Canada Rivalry, Valanciunas, Latvia

They both fell short of the gold medal game, but Sunday’s meeting between Team USA and Canada could be the beginning of a significant rivalry in international basketball, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. The teams will face off for third place as the Canadians hope to win their first-ever World Cup medal and their first in any tournament since the 1936 Olympics.

Both countries have rosters filled with NBA talent, and both had successful runs in the World Cup before slipping in Friday’s semifinals. The U.S. lost to Germany by two points, and Canada fell to Serbia by nine.

“They haven’t won a medal since the 1930s, so they’re coming for us,” Tyrese Haliburton said. “I think both of our countries will expect to see each other for the coming years. So it seems like this is kind of the start.”

Familiarity is part of the storyline as players bring their NBA rivalries into international competition. There are even some ex-teammates involved as Jaren Jackson Jr. will face Dillon Brooks for the first time since Brooks left the Grizzlies in free agency to sign with the Rockets.

“I hope Dillon does talk trash,” Jackson said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be him. It wouldn’t be real.”

There’s more on the World Cup:

  • Following an All-NBA season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the biggest stars of the tournament, notes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. The Canadian guard is sixth overall in World Cup scoring at 23.6 PPG and he’s number one in terms of scoring efficiency. “It’s the change of pace, yeah,” Thunder and Canadian teammate Luguentz Dort said. “Also, it’s the way he explodes, the way he can get off the defender to rise for his shot. The way that he handles the ball, the way that he creates for himself. There’s so much more.”
  • Jonas Valanciunas has represented Lithuania in every major tournament since 2011 and he’s not ready to think about stopping, per George Efkarpidis of Eurohoops. The 31-year-old center considers it an important part of his basketball responsibilities. “I feel proud playing for my country,” Valanciunas said. “That is what I can give for my country. This is how I can put my country on the map. I am going to keep doing that (as long as) my body lets me and the team needs me.”
  • Latvia wrapped up the No. 5 spot in its first-ever World Cup, defeating Lithuania by 35 points on Saturday. It’s an impressive statement from a team that played without Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out the tournament to recover from plantar fasciitis, and lost captain Dairis Bertans to an injury, observes Aris Barkas of Eurohoops.