Continuing the deep dive into Canadians in the first round of the NBA playoffs
You can read Part #1 here.
It’s been a roller coaster of a playoffs for Shai. He’s had some big moments, like his clutch corner threes in game three and game seven. However, he’s struggled mightily in a number of games this series and shied away from the ball in crunch time.
The Rockets were able to make life difficult for Shai on offense all series. The Rockets perimeter defense did a decent job of keeping Shai in check but it was their help defense that swarmed Shai on drives and made life tough.
|Drives Per Game||FGA (per game)||FG%||FTA|
In the series, despite his drives per game, his attempts and efficiency on these plays dipped because of the Rockets help defense. I was mistaken in thinking the Rockets’ lack of height would be advantageous for Shai. Instead, their switch-heavy defense was effective at holding Shai to just 16.3 points per game on 43.3% shooting from the field (down from 19.0 points per game on 47.1% FG% in the regular season).
From the start of game 1, the Rockets were focused on neutralizing Shai’s drives to the rim. Shai is a slippery guard on the perimeter and gets past Tucker, his initial defender, which is something he did consistently this series. The Rockets help defense was content with helping off of non-shooters in Adams, Dort and Ferguson to clog up the paint. Here House just abandons Ferguson as he fills to the corner and is in perfect position on the help. Great job to stay vertical and force Shai into a tough layup.
Another instance where the Rockets are fine with leaving Ferguson (who shot 2-11 from three this series) open for three as Covington comes over to make this layup attempt just a little more difficult and forces the miss.
More of the same in game 2. Shai gets by Rivers but is met by James Harden and Jeff Green who dares Shai to pass it to Dort in the corner. Not enough space for Shai and he gets his shot blocked. The defensive attention the Rockets showed Shai was incredible and really slowed down the OKC offense.
On this sequence, the Rockets swarm the paint with 3 defenders in the paint and get the block. Poor spacing from the Thunder as Gallinari being in the bottom corner could have given them an open look.
On the few possessions the Rockets help defense wasn’t there, Shai was able to get his spot and convert in the paint. Unfortunately, the Rockets defense and rotations were stellar this series and these sequences rarely happened.
This was one of Shai’s better sequences in the series in terms of finishing at the rim. Slices through the late help defense and the signature soft Shai touch at the rim for the bucket.
Even in a game 7, the Houston Rockets were loading up on Shai’s drives. Harden completely ignores Dort in the corner and goes to help on the opposite side of the paint. Shai makes the right play and hits Dort, a pass he wasn’t making enough earlier in the series. The Rockets insistence on containing Shai’s dribble penetration very nearly cost them the series as Dort caught fire from three in game 7.
An interesting development was Shai’s 3pt shooting in the series. With the Rockets help defenders hugging the paint, it was no surprise that Shai’s 3pt attempts rose from 3.6 to 5.0 in the playoffs. What was surprising was Shai hitting 40.0% from three and shooting 43.5% on pull-up threes.
At the beginning of the series, the Rockets defenders were giving Shai a cushion to contain his dribble penetration. That led to a lot of clean open looks, which Shai was able to convert on.
Shai loves to go to this step-back to his left when pulling-up from three. Much like Jamal Murray, Shai’s balance is excellent and it really helps him stay under control. This shot became a weapon for Shai in the series and it punished the cushion the Rockets were giving him.
Here it is again, this time with more defensive pressure. The mechanics on his jumpshot have looked a lot smoother and quicker in the playoffs which is a good sign for the development of Shai as a live dribble shooter.
While the offensive struggles I can understand with how Houston schemed against him, I was disappointed with Shai’s defensive effort this series. He struggled mightily staying in front of everyone and Houston’s ball handlers were hunting for switches onto to Shai.
Here he starts off in good position but lunges at the ball twice for no real reason. The second lunge puts him out of position and Gordon gets right by him with ease.
Shai was just lost on the defensive rotations on this play (though Gallinari was also at fault). Overhelps twice when his teammates were there and gets stuck in no-man’s land. There’s a moment of hesitation when he freezes which leaves him woefully out of position to defend Westbrook.
Shai’s lack of lateral quickness really hurts him when he has to defend quick explosive guards on the perimeter. Here he offers no resistance on the Westbrook drive and no contest on the layup attempt as well.
Again the lack of lateral quickness and the poor positioning. He gives Westbrook a lane to the basket rather than forcing him back to the middle where all the OKC help is.
The first round has showed the world what makes Dort such an impactful player. Unfortunately, it has also displayed his severe limitations as a player right now.
Lu Dort may already be one of the best point of attack defenders in the NBA. His unique combination of strength, length and lateral quickness overwhelms even the best offensive players. Add in his defensive basketball IQ and discipline and you have a special perimeter defender. Just ask James Harden, who was shadowed by Dort in 6 of 7 games this series (Dort missed one game with a knee sprain).
Diving into the numbers and Dort’s defense on Harden looks historic. When Dort was off the court, Harden’s scoring efficiency skyrocketed across the board
|Dort On/Off Court||Offensive Rating||eFG%||TS%||FG%||3P%|
In the 39:23 that Dort and Harden were matched up in the series, Harden was shooting 31.5% from the field and a measly 26.3% from three. The defense from Dort this series was nothing short of spectacular.
This sequence early in game 2 was the epitome of Dort’s defense on Harden throughout this series. We see Dort’s incredible strength and lateral quickness to body up Harden on the drive and completely turn Harden away. Then the discipline and patience to stay in front of Harden and not lunge at Harden’s dribble moves was exceptional. A 14 second sequence of an individual defensive masterclass.
From early on in the series, Dort made it known that he would not switch off of Harden. The Rockets tried to screen Dort off and he just fights through it to get back to Harden. Again doesn’t bite on the dribble moves and Dort had an interesting contest on Harden step-backs this series. Rather than keep his contest hand high, he aggressively swipes down as the shot is released. Curious if this was his own thing or the Thunder coaching staff directions. Whatever it was this aggressive contest was working.
More of Dort just fighting through screens. Covington sets two screens in a row to try and get a switch but Dort would not let that happen. Also check out the quickness and hustle to go under the screen and still cut off Harden at the elbow.
Another interesting tactic from Dort was the way he contested Harden drives. When Harden was able to get deeper dribble penetration, Dort would jump backwards, rather than jump straight up, like a fencing feint. With Harden a master at drawing fouls and leaning into defenders, the lean back catches Harden by surprise and he has no lift on the layup. Incredible discipline again and Dort gets the block.
Wherever Harden was on the floor, Dort was right in front of him. Even in transition Dort hustles his way back and meets him before Harden even crosses half court. I have never seen a defender be this good at deterring Harden from driving and again we see the swipe down from Dort, this time with both hands.
The strength of Dort is on full display here. Forces Harden to catch the ball all the way in the corner and bodies him up until Harden has nowhere to go. Dort shut down everything Harden wanted to do on this offensive possession. Just tremendous work.
You could tell Harden was feeling frustrated with Dort’s incredible defensive effort. In game 7, Harden just tries to force his way to the bucket. However, Dort just kept moving his feet and moving backwards and Harden just loses balance.
The hustle displayed from Dort on this sequence is why I have been a big believer in Dort. The Rockets set THREE screens to try and get Dort off of Harden. However, in true Dort fashion, he fights through all three screens and gets back in position to contest the shot.
The offense on the other hand was brutal for most of the series. His game 7 performance was nothing short of spectacular though as he scored 30 points on 6-12 shooting from deep, the most points from an undrafted player in a game 7. However, for the majority of the series, Dort was an offensive liability. He shot just 26.0% from three on 8.3(!) attempts per game and the Rockets were daring him to shoot. Dort wasn’t much better on catch and shoot threes as he shot 25.5%. At this point the offensive game is just not there for Dort.
The Rockets were such non-believers in Dort’s shooting that they didn’t even bother contesting on his three point shots. Dort was shooting an atrocious 22.2% on open threes (closest defender 4-6 feet) and 28.2% on wide open threes (closest defender 6+ feet) in the series. Here Gordon follows the gameplan perfectly and Dort chucks up a bad miss.
Dort actually hit the three here but the lack of respect is comical. Tucker and Harden don’t even put in an effort to act like they want to contest the shot.
The Rockets stuck Harden on Dort on most possessions and it allowed Harden to roam around like a free safety on defense. It helped the Rockets load up on guys like Paul, Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander and for most of the series, Dort failed to make them pay (though in game 7 he very nearly eliminated them with his hot shooting).
While Dort’s shooting is still a work in progress, he’s got a tight handle and good burst. Unlike someone like Andre Roberson who couldn’t handle the ball, Dort is a lot more guard oriented in his offensive skillset. Here he makes a nice decisive decision off the catch. Immediately attacks the basket and drops if off when the help defense comes to him.
This sequence was one that got me really excited. His handle is good enough to get by defenders and he is explosive downhill. If he can learn to keep himself under control on drives, I can see Dort’s offense being a slight negative as early as next season. Until he can shoot consistently though, his impact on offense will weight down his overall impact in games.