OKLAHOMA CITY — After going undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft, Luguentz Dort has gone from a two-way contract player with the Oklahoma City Thunder to an integral part in head coach Mark Daigneault’s system in the Cinderella City.
This season, the 23-year-old Dort has scored 14.0 points per game to go with career-best averages in rebounds (4.3) and assists (2.2). He also has started all but one of his career-high 57 games. Last Friday, the former Arizona State standout scored 19 points, including four 3-pointers, and made four steals in a 130-103 home rout of the Utah Jazz.
Just a half-game out of the play-in tournament and three games out of the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, the Thunder (30-34) will look to extend their two-game winning streak at home Tuesday against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
When Oklahoma City reached the NBA Finals in 2012, Dort was only 13 years old with dreams of making it to the NBA while growing up in Montreal. Those were great days for the Thunder, who were led by the star trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The franchise hopes to replicate that success with a new generation of young talent — namely All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 2021 No. 6 overall pick Josh Giddey and 2022 No. 2 overall selection Chet Holmgren.
Dort has developed into a key piece of OKC’s rebuild. The 6-foot-3 guard sat down with Bally Sports to discuss a myriad of topics, including his soccer background, Canadian basketball, his Haitian ethnicity and the future of the Thunder.
Did playing soccer earlier in your career help you with playing guard in the NBA?
I want to say yes. Honestly, soccer does help your timing with your feet. I was a goalkeeper, and I transitioned to being a striker. I mean, just growing up playing soccer I didn’t think that it would transition as well as going to play basketball, but I really think it did.
Dancing is coordinated movement just like hoops. Did your background in soccer help you on the dance floor just like it did with hoops?
Not that I’ve experienced (laughing). … I only went from soccer to basketball. So if someone danced (with) pretty good footwork, then I guess it would work in basketball. But mine was just basketball.
You killed it in the NBA bubble a few years back in Orlando. Was the lack of fans a good or bad thing when it comes to focus?
I want to say it was a little hard because I was so used to playing in front of a lot of people, and even in college, we had a lot of fans when I was playing at ASU. So it was different that everything was virtual with the screens and the fake fans on the screens and stuff like that … it was hard.
We all play this game to play in front of all the fans that are there for us, but, focus-wise, it was cool for me honestly. You just hear the opposite teams and the coaches and stuff like that, so I don’t think that part was really hard for me. But I wished that we could’ve played in front of the fans.
What was the day in the life of Lu Dort during your time in the bubble?
Everything was the same every day, honestly. If we didn’t have a game or practice or anything, we got to walk around the campus that we were at for a little bit. There was a game room. But the thing that I really enjoyed was spending a lot of time with my teammates. And that was my first year and I was still new to the NBA and got to spend a lot of the time with the older guys on the team. I got to learn the life of an NBA player.
Did you get to know people in the bubble from opposing teams during down time in the bubble?
Not really. Not actually, nah. Because actually we were so close to the playoffs, so I didn’t really know anyone on the other teams. And then we were so focused on our team trying to win whatever (number of games) trying to make the playoffs.
What impact did Chris Paul have on the Thunder when he was here?
He has a lot. (He was) especially on me my first year because I was so new to everything — honestly, to the level of the competition, the way to approach games, doing scouting of the other players and all that. So he really taught me a lot, and it was good to have a vocal leader like that in my locker room the first year. I’m so grateful to have had Chris Paul my first year.
Canada is shining in the NBA, including the Thunder with you being from Montreal and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being from Toronto. Is there such a thing as a Canadian rivalry being from different parts of Canada?
I don’t think that there’s really a rivalry. (Smiling) I feel like that the Toronto, Ontario area had the most talent. They always had us back then at my age. But apparently — I was watching recently — that it’s a lot of players now from Montreal and Quebec that are coming out, so the games are a little more tight right now because there’s more competition than it used to be back then. So it feels like my years were the first years where we started competing with them, and now I feel like that we’re all equal. But I don’t think that it’s a rivalry.
Do you consider yourself a tastemaker or pioneer culturally in the sense that you represent Montreal while playing in the NBA?
Definitely. I just feel that, one, I’m a French speaker and I represent Montreal just from that. And I’m Haitian-Canadian. … The Haitian community is big in Canada, and wherever I go, I always have that with me. Not only do I say that I’m Canadian, but I also say that I’m Haitian. And so I always carry that wherever I go.
How awesome is it to represent Canada as a member of the Canadian national team?
I feel like that it’s big. My parents are here from Haiti and we’re here in Canada (and) that gave me and my siblings a chance for a better life. So I’m grateful for that and I’m always looking forward to put on that jersey — just because of their history and now we have the chance to play and make a big jump and a big run and we’re going to be a part of history. And this is the beginning of us representing our country, and it’s gonna be huge!
Some players say Kobe Bryant was their basketball muse and some people say Michael Jordan was their hoops muse. What got you wanting to pick up a basketball?
(Smiling) Yeah! What got me into basketball were my friends at first. Because you know I was a soccer player and all my friends were playing basketball, so that’s how it really transitioned from soccer to basketball. And then Toronto was the only team that we had, and growing up, I really couldn’t watch the Laker games and the Boston games and all that. So I had to watch (the Raptors).
That was the only team that we could watch on TV, and DeRozan was probably one of them that we all really watched on TV. And if I had to add some other guys: Andrew Wiggins in high school, you know, had one of the top basketball mixtapes so we would watch that, and Steve Nash. Everybody had been talking about Steve Nash back in Canada, so I’ve heard of him and watched his highlights a little bit. But on TV, it was really DeMar DeRozan carrying the team.
Do you think DeMar DeRozan and Vince Carter as Toronto Raptors legends inspired kids in Canada the same way Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did for American hoopers?
Yes! (Carter) was one of the biggest stars that we had in Toronto when I was young, and he was an NBA All-Star for years and did so many good things for Toronto.
In this recent stretch after the All-Star break, you’ve been one of the most aggressive Thunder players on the offensive end, and you do it on the defensive side as well. What’s in your Wheaties?
(Laughing) It’s the work, man. And really the love for the game!
What will the Thunder look like as a whole when a healthy Chet Holgren is added to the mix?
Oh, it’s going to be different! He’s so huge around the paint, and he can stretch the floor defensively. And it’s going to be hard to finish over him because he’s so tall and he’s such a good shot blocker. And offensively, he can shoot the ball and can roll as well, so it’s going to be tough to guard him.
Who does Gilgeous-Alexander’s game remind you of?
That’s a good question! I mean, he’s so smooth — I don’t want to say Allen Iverson because he’s taller than A.I., but the way that he beats people one-on-one? … It’s tough. When you’re on an island with him, I don’t think that there’s anything you can do to stop him.
I think that he’s pretty unique, and I don’t think that there’s anybody that I can really compare him to. The way that he finishes around the rim, the way he gets to his spot to the mid-range or the 3, he’s definitely hard to guard.
Kobe was known to speak Italian to Sasha Vujacic in games. Have you ever spoken French to Gilgeous-Alexander to throw off the opposition?
(Laughing) Shai doesn’t speak French! The thing with Canada is that only one province speaks French, so it’s technically one state that speaks French and that’s Quebec. That’s where I’m from, and Shai is from Toronto. So they learn French growing up, but it’s not like it’s the language that they learn in school.
Are there other players in the league that you actually do speak French with while they’re on the court?
Oh yeah, for sure. Most definitely! Ousmane Dieng on our team speaks French, and Olivier (Sarr) is from France. And sometimes when we’re on the court, we speak French. And Chris Boucher is from Montreal, and he speaks a little bit of French on the court, too.