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Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Luguentz Dort

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I remember the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals as the first time I was convinced that a LeBron James surrounded with a competent supporting cast would make a dominant team. But seeing LeBron and Wade dominate that playoff series against MVP Derrick Rose was not the only impression I took away – it was also the playoff series when one Jimmy Butler showed what he was capable of.

Jimmy Butler in 2011 was not yet the franchise centerpiece he is today with the Miami Heat. Jimmy was that athletic defender with enough size to bother a prime Wade or LeBron, catching lob passes from D-Rose or Luol Deng, a capable starting forward to have on any team unless relegated to a sixth-man role. His shooting percentages then don’t come close to what they’ve been since becoming an All-Star. And yet the Jimmy Butler in 2011 would fall under a type of player that’s sought after on every modern NBA team – a 3-and-D guy; a type of player confident shooting his open threes, while on defense fearless guarding the opposing team’s best player.

Career Progression

We see the same pattern of career progression as Jimmy Butler’s when we look at either Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. On the same draft where Butler was picked last in the first round, Kawhi was picked midway at 15th. Both players were evidently steals by each team that drafted them, which is no coincidence that both players are always atop the NBA in steals. Paul George only a year earlier was drafted at 10th, just a shy above 15th or 30th, but a draft steal nonetheless which is why Paul too, is one of the NBA’s steals leaders all the time.

These three players were outside the top-five picks in their respective drafts but we see any one of them playing today and we’re able to watch a player, especially on a good night, put on a performance worthy of a top-five player in the NBA. It’s crazy how these players were mere ‘3-and-D’ guys at the first phase of their careers.

Kawhi Leonard during the 2019 playoffs and leading up to the NBA Finals was being considered, especially by the media, as the new best player in the world (especially because LeBron was out due to injury). We saw Kawhi dazzle in that NBA Finals against a Golden State Warriors that had won three of the last four years’ NBA championships. He took an already good team to the height of greatness, something far more challenging than turning a mediocre team into something good or at least watchable.

Jimmy Butler’s coming out was during the Bulls' transition period with Derrick Rose. After Derrick Rose’s devastating injuries, the Bulls franchise slowly transitioned into making Jimmy Butler the primary option. And when Derrick Rose was shipped to another team, we also saw Jimmy Butler carry a team alongside solid post-prime co-stars in Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo. We most especially saw Jimmy Butler’s talent shine above his other talented teammates in Embiid and Simmons during his quick stint with the Sixers. Finally, the prime Jimmy Butler appeared in last year’s NBA Finals when he and his Miami Heat teammates posed a legitimate threat to LeBron’s Lakers.

And as for Paul George, he has come a very long way from being a long, athletic wing defender for the Indiana Pacers. He was even still battling for playing time with other talented wings in Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson. And then when the primary scoring option Granger fell to injury, he slowly assumed that star role and eventually became an All-Star in his own right, often in the conversation for best two-way player in the NBA. He knew his talent would go to waste on a team that didn’t attract other superstars, so he did his time with the OKC Thunder. But with the harsh disappointments of losing early in the playoffs twice, both against less talented teams, he sought for more winning opportunities teaming up with the other big name we have talked about – Kawhi Leonard.

Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Paul George – flashback to their first two years in the NBA, no one then could really imagine them becoming the perennial All-Stars that they are today. And could we, at this point, connect the dots and somehow think that the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Luguentz Dort is on the same career path?

Lu Dort, The Dorture Chamber

Luguentz Dort, or Lu Dort as he is called by in-game announcers, was drafted 5th overall by the OKC Thunder in 2019. That’s way higher than Kawhi, Jimmy or Paul; but 2019 was a relatively weak draft. His stats as a rookie were not Rookie-of-the-Year worthy, with averages of 6.8 points and 2.3 rebounds on 22.8 minutes. A good indicator for Lu Dort in his rookie season was the 0.9 steals, which unfortunately hasn’t bumped up despite the 29.8 minutes per game he now averages in his second season – but a better indicator for him is the eye test which has earned him the nickname ‘The Dorture Chamber.’ His stellar defense on LeBron James in a February 2021 game against the Lakers put him on a lot of fans’ radars.

At this point of Lu Dort’s career, it’s still too early to say that Lu Dort will follow the same career progression as Kawhi’s, Jimmy’s or Paul’s. But Lu Dort has enough comparable attributes to indicate that he just might transform his current role as just another 3-and-D guy, into a perennial All-Star:

  • Good Size – 6’3” and 215 lbs. I know what you’re thinking – 6’3 is too small to be a wing defender. Kawhi, Jimmy and Paul are each at least 6’7”. Despite the lack of height, Lu Dort makes up for this with his 215-pound frame which is what Michael Jordan weighed in his Bulls’ dynasty years. Dort also has a 6’9 wingspan which is a solid length for any defender.
  • Promising Shooting Improvement. From being 29.7% from the 3-point line in his rookie season to 33.2% now in his second year, Lu Dort shows promise in becoming more than just a defensive specialist. His shooting volume from there has also already doubled. Shooting is the one attribute that takes NBA players years to improve on, especially when starting out with bad shooting mechanics. Year-on-year shooting improvement is something Kawhi, Jimmy and Paul have each shown.
  • Great with Good Teammates. Lu Dort is not the first name you hear if you ask anyone to name a current OKC Thunder player. It is far more likely that you will hear Shai Gilgeous Alexander, who ironically fits into the Kawhi-Jimmy-Paul mold better in terms of size and progress so far. But it would be cheating if I’d dedicate this article to someone who is already likely to become the next star (from once just being a 3-and-D guy) instead of speculating on someone relatively unknown. One attribute though that Kawhi, Jimmy and Paul showed early in their careers was that they were great despite being around talented teammates. Kawhi of course was with the Duncan trio, Jimmy was with D-Rose, and Paul was with a deep Pacers team.

All in all, Lu Dort is worthy of following in the footsteps of these three NBA superstars. All he needs is playing time, continuous improvement, and experience. He just might be an All-Star someday.

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