National Post (Latest Edition)

Dort could be major force for Canada

Thunder’s rising forward on Nurse’s radar

- Mike Ganter Postmedia News

Nick Nurse had a number of reasons to smile Sunday night.

His team, bereft of most of its top end talent due to injury and needed rest, went out and played a solid game — led by Canadian Chris Boucher and his 31 points — in beating a young Oklahoma City Thunder squad.

Boucher’s developmen­t has been a story all season long. It’s coming even quicker now that Nurse is able to play him exclusivel­y at power forward, something the Toronto Raptors coach has been talking about for a good part of the year.

But the easy post-game smile was about more than just Boucher.

On his own team there was the steady hand rookie Malachi Flynn is showing in running the team in the absence of Kyle Lowry and Fred Vanvleet. Flynn, the Raptors’ first-rounder this past season, is a big part of the team’s future and right now he’s responding exactly the way they had hoped when putting the ball in his hands.

There is also the improved rebounding and interior defence Nurse is seeing and appreciati­ng thanks to the arrival of Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie.

That’s all at the forefront of Nurse’s brain as he shepherds this year’s nomad Raptors through a very difficult year.

But Nurse has another job as well and assuming he allowed for a few moments to consider that job as head coach of Canada’s national team as well, Nurse pretty much had to be pinching himself.

Three Canadians started the game Sunday night, three Montrealer­s in fact. That included Boucher, who has played the past two years with the Raptors, and Birch, who is relatively new to the Raptors but was with the senior men’s national team in China and is a known commodity to Nurse.

The third isn’t as well known, but it sounds very much like whatever there is to learn about Luguentz Dort, Nurse is keen to get started.

Dort has played internatio­nally for Canada in the past as a younger man and was among the 29 invited to attend a training camp in advance of Canada’s participat­ion in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.

However, Dort wasn’t among the 19 who actually took part in the training camp or the 12 who went to China. Like many of his NBA cohorts, Dort had to focus on the upcoming season, his first with Oklahoma City.

Since that time, Dort — who only turned 22 on Monday— has quickly progressed from a guy who dominated the Thunder’s inactive list, to a guy who came off the bench to a guy who the Thunder can’t do without in their starting lineup.

Nurse really hadn’t seen the complete Dort package in person until Sunday night and he came away impressed.

“Leaps and bounds,” he said when asked the rapid progress of Dort, who is averaging 13.9 points per game this season but in the last week alone has had games of 42 (vs. Utah), 29 and 26 points despite coming back from a concussion and dealing with a hip injury.

“He’s becoming a force, like not just a roster player, he’s becoming a force out there,” Nurse said.

“The way he can put his shoulder down and get to the rim and the way he’s starting to shoot the ball and the way he can really change the game defensivel­y ... there’s not a whole lot of guys in the league that can do that. I mean there are some, but he is one of them.”

How that translates to the internatio­nal game is something Nurse is keen to find out this summer.

Canada will attempt to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics through a last-chance tournament that will be held in Victoria from June 29-July 4.

Initially when the dates were changed, it appeared the timing would overlap with the NBA regular season and playoffs, but a condensed and shrunken schedule for the 202021 season now means the league will be firmly into the second round, if not the beginning of the conference finals, by the time the Canadian team requires its NBA talent.

Dort, whose Thunder are not going to make the playoffs, will be well finished his NBA duties by then as will teammate Shai Gilgeous-alexander, though he continues to deal with a plantar fasciitis problem at the moment.

Nurse sounds very much like a man who has plans for Dort this summer.

“He’s got incredible demeanour,” Nurse said. “There’s no nonsense and he really does three facets of the game that are really critical. The driving, the shooting and the defending is pretty good.”

Birch paints even a rosier future for his potential summer teammate.

“Man, he’s a great player,” Birch said after watching Dort put up 29 points while handling the kind of top tier defensive duties the Raptors normally send OG Anunoby’s way.

“He’s the future, not only for Canada but I think the league, just the way he defends and also the way his offensive game just is developing right now. He’s going to be a problem, he’s probably going to be one of the best two-way players when it’s all said and done.”

That would put him in the select company of guys like the L.A. Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Miami’s Jimmy Butler and not long from now, maybe even Anunoby.

“I just have a lot of respect for him,” Birch said. “You know a lot of guys, a lot of young guys don’t work like that, but you know he’s trying take his game to another level.”

In his post-game interviews with the Oklahoma City media, Dort said he was hoping to “try out” for Canada’s senior men’s team this summer.

Based on his progress to date, that tryout might not be necessary.

 ?? JEFFREY SWINGER / USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Team Canada head coach Nick Nurse got to see Oklahoma City Thunder forward and Canadian Luguentz Dort
in the Raptors game against the Thunder, and is looking forward to Dort trying out for the national team.
JEFFREY SWINGER / USA TODAY SPORTS Team Canada head coach Nick Nurse got to see Oklahoma City Thunder forward and Canadian Luguentz Dort in the Raptors game against the Thunder, and is looking forward to Dort trying out for the national team.

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