Thunder rookie Luguentz Dort making strong case for full-time deal

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was a point late in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the San Antonio Spurs when Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul was fired up and ran to rookie Luguentz Dort to say something.

It seemed important.

"Chris tells me a lot of stuff," Dort said with a laugh. "I can't remember the one you're talking about."

It's a standard scene lately with the Thunder at almost every available opportunity -- Paul talking to Dort, encouraging him, instructing him, coaching him -- because in an odd twist, the Thunder's starting shooting guard hasn't practiced with the team in more than a month.

Dort is on a two-way contract that splits his time between the Thunder and their G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. That allows Dort 45 days maximum with the Thunder, which includes games and practices. So when the Thunder practice, Dort sits to the side and watches, using individual film sessions as a way to stay prepared.

"I've got to do stuff on my own just to stay in good condition and stuff like that," Dort said. "It's not that tough. The fact I can watch them so I can still learn the plays and stuff like that. But the fact I don't run, I've got to [do] stuff on my own."

Already a fan favorite, Dort has stayed ready, breaking through as a surprise starter and impact player on a potential playoff team. In Sunday's 131-103 win over the Spurs, Dort sparked multiple runs, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting plus three steals in 24 minutes. He was a game-high plus-36, the best plus/minus mark for any two-way player this season, and the best in the past 20 seasons by a Thunder rookie.

"Confidence," Paul said of what sets Dort apart from other young players. "Sometimes young guys are scared to mess up, scared to make mistakes, scared to take shots. Earlier when he first got to us, he wouldn't have taken the shots he's taking now. I think it's just great because everybody on our team respects how hard he competes and how hard he plays."

Undrafted out of Arizona State, Dort became the Thunder's full-time shooting guard on Jan. 20 when regular starter Terrance Ferguson missed a couple of weeks tending to a personal issue. Dort seized the opportunity, showcasing his two-way ability with a career-high 23 points against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 29.

Dort has appeared in 21 games, starting 13. While his official day count is a little hazy, it's said to be somewhere in the 30 range. Dort's contract expires at the end of the G League season, meaning to be eligible for the NBA playoffs, he would need to have his contract converted. The Thunder have an available roster spot and all indications are Dort will be on a full-time contract sometime in the next few weeks.

"Right now I'm just staying patient," he said. "I know it's a great organization and they know what they're doing, so I'm really just staying patient and just playing basketball. I can't wait until it happens, of course, and that's my goal, but right now, I'm just staying patient and playing."

Dort, 20, is averaging 6.0 points per game this season but makes his impact primarily on the defensive end, regularly taking the assignment of the opposing team's best offensive player. On Sunday, it was DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

Dort was one of eight Thunder players in double figures against the Spurs, a first in the 12 seasons since the franchise moved to OKC. It was the eighth time the Thunder have had at least seven players hit double-digit scoring this season, the most in a season in Thunder history.