Thunder guard Luguentz Dort earned my respect after a specific play during the Houston Rockets game on Monday night. In his first NBA start, the two-way rookie made a landmark play to, in my opinion, jumpstart his career.
Dort fought his way around Clint Capela, jumped in front of James Harden just in time, and forced Harden into a game-altering charge.
Harden is the best scorer in the NBA and a top-three scorer in NBA history, while Dort is an unproven 19-year old from Canada that doesn’t even possess a firm NBA contract. He entered the Thunder game as a starter and held his own throughout.
Dort is just another young Thunder player that has shown a ton of promise. Trust me, there are more. Darius Bazley has shown flashes of being a solid professional, while Terrance Ferguson is a solidified lockdown defender. Hamidou Diallo is also turning into a solid player and an active defender in his second NBA season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander headlines them all, being at the brink of stardom.
The Thunder’s success and their future rely on these young pieces and the influx of draft picks they received in return for Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Jerami Grant. Other than practice, though, what makes young talent better? The answer is a patient and a competent leader and that leader has been Chris Paul this season.
With speculations all season being that CP3 won’t spend much time in OKC, that talk is slowly dying, especially after a Sports Illustrated article by Rohan Nadkarni.
“The younger Thunder players have also reaped the rewards of having someone like Paul around the organization, both on and off the court. Rookie swingman Darius Bazley has gotten advice from Paul on everything from work habits to figuring out how to find a woman he should settle down with. Bazley’s mom was going to miss the first game of his NBA career—a road matchup against the Jazz—until Paul found out. Paul put Bazley in touch with his own family to rectify the situation. Sure enough, Bazley’s mother was in Utah to watch her son make his debut”
With Paul doubtful to waive the final year of his contract where he’d make $44.2 million for immediate championship contenders to be more likely to acquire him, you have to think; how far is OKC from being a championship contender themselves?
It may be hard to see this as a true statement because today, the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers are the hottest names in basketball but looking at the three-year outlook for the Thunder, they’ll be a prominent team for years to come. The fact that four of OKC’s rotation players and one that may be breaking through in Dort are all under 22 years old shows where this franchise is headed once again.
No one foresaw this but the Thunder look like and have nearly the same promise as past Thunder teams with a young Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Harden, and Westbrook in the late 2000s ad early 2010s. Remember how quickly the Thunder ascended from the NBA’s bottom feeders to the creme-de-la-creme? I’d think the Thunder are in a decent position to reach those heights again with Paul at the helm, leading the team.
The main two questions are: which direction is Sam Presi going in with regards to Paul and how much longer will Paul, 34 play in the NBA? Paul may be even older three years from now, but when healthy he plays at an all-star level. Who’s to say he won’t be effective in three years, even if he’s not leading the league in clutch-time points, or scoring 27 points in a half? He’s a great leader and that’s what this young Thunder team needs.
Barring a disaster, the Thunder will be in the playoffs this year. Instead of the Thunder rebuilding, they should make a few alterations, while continuing to build around the core that they have. Just like 2008, the Thunder won 23 games then increased their win total to 50 in one season. The Thunder went from rags to riches in the matter of four seasons, and today they are nowhere near as low as they were when they started. They’re off to a great start to the new chapter.
So, is OKC a place where Chris Paul can win an NBA title organically?