Moore: Lu Dort Might Be the Best James Harden Stopper We’ve Seen

Credit:

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: James Harden and Lu Dort

Respect the Dort.

James Harden is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history. Not in today’s NBA. Ever. He is probably in the top-five for shooting guards, ever, and he has faced elite defenders before and left them in the dust.

But Oklahoma City found something in Game 3. And while that game went to overtime and the Thunder still face an uphill battle, it’s important to look at, and consider for betting purposes.

Lugentz Dort, undrafted out of Arizona State last year, has become maybe the best Harden stopper we’ve seen.

Typically, once Harden gets his first step, it’s over. But Dort has unbelievable recovery skills thanks to his raw speed and footwork, and the ability to control his body to corral Harden without drawing the avalanche of fouls Harden usually draws.

Dort is shading Harden right at all times, which is the right move. Harden always wants to get to his left, to the middle of the floor. But here Dort just slides back to corral and forces a pass-out instead of a devised one.

 

The Rockets went to ISO early vs. Dort and found it to be so disruptive they started layering in more screens. This is where pure raw effort comes in. The Rockets are always trying to force you to switch so Harden gets the mismatch. Dort simply fights his way through to reject it:

Again here, even though Harden gets the assist off a red-hot Jeff Green, Dort  corrals him.

Here, Harden gets all the way around the screen and thinks he has daylight, only for Dort to come swooping in like Batman.

 

Dort was such a problem that Harden actually turned to the post-up, something he almost never does, just to try and use his raw strength against Dort. It was successful on a few possessions, netting a pass to Tucker underneath and on this simple post move.

 

But that also makes it easier for the Thunder to crowd Harden with purpose, instead of scrambling, knowing where the rotations need to be.

Our Fantasy Labs Prop Bets tool has Harden going under in points (36.5) and over in assists (8.5), but just barely. Also notable that the combined projected total in the tool for points and assists is 42.3.  His points-plus-assists total is 44.5 at FanDuel (-115).

This is all before we factor in Russell Westbrook, who worked out Sunday and whose status for Game 4 is unknown. If Westbrook returns, Harden’s usage is likely to dip and the Thunder will keep Dort on Harden.

Billy Donovan also didn’t mirror Dort and Harden’s minutes, something you can expect in Game 4. Harden shot 33% with Dort on the floor in Game 3. Harden also went 1-for-12 on threes vs. Dort, and some of those were just misses on good shots Harden can hit. But Dort also had an unorthodox method of lunging towards Harden and then pulling back at the last second to not pick up the foul:

 

With it all considered, the under on Harden’s points and assists has good value, whether Westbrook plays or not. Harden may rack up the assists, but you can expect more Dort, and until Harden shows he can beat this matchup (like he admittedly has beaten almost all the rest), there’s value in fading him.

Dort’s been that good.

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